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Coronavirus Concerns Spur Nigerian Authorities to Close Chinese Market in Abuja

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control home page displays a public health advisory on the coronavirus outbreak.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control home page displays a public health advisory on the coronavirus outbreak.

Nigerian officials raided and shut down a popular Chinese supermarket in Abuja this week over concerns about the spreading coronavirus.

The supermarket is a major gathering spot for Chinese citizens and expatriates living in the Nigerian capital. The aisles and checkout area of the Panda supermarket are usually packed with shoppers.

But all were empty Friday, two days after officials of Nigeria’s Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) closed the market.

The head of the commission, Babtunde Irukera, said the market was closed because of concern about imported products that could carry the coronavirus.

"The operatives of the place admitted that those things were imported from China,” Irukera said. “Our suspicion is not whether those products that we saw there are host carriers of the virus, but it was more of the fact that ... is there a potential for a risk?"

Numbers climb

More than 200 people have died since the virus was confirmed in Wuhan, China, and nearly 10,000 others are infected and fighting symptoms that include fever and respiratory difficulties. The WHO has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency.

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus on the African continent, although one suspected case has been reported in Botswana.

The head of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekwazu, said the government was not taking any chances.

"The first thing we're doing is learning everyday about critical aspects of the virus — how it is transmitted, how many people die from it, how many severe cases it causes,” Ihekwazu said. “There's new information coming up every day. We're working closely with [the World Health Organization] to identify specific measures for controlling the outbreak but also to advise government on what to do in terms of trade and travel and all of that."

Officials of the supermarket declined to comment on the shutdown.

Other businesses

Meanwhile, Irukera of the FCCPC said the regulatory agency planned to visit other Chinese-run businesses in Nigeria that might pose a risk of the virus.

"We've identified some locations in Lagos that we'd also be reaching to try and stop the supply of these products,” Irukera said. “There's a larger plan. I know that customs is on more sensitive alert — the ports authority, the ministry of health."

Nigerian health authorities have begun screening Chinese nationals entering Nigeria, and they also have urged citizens traveling to China to suspend their trips indefinitely.