By Libby George
LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria is investigating a reported sharp rise in deaths in the northern commercial city of Kano to determine if it is related to the coronavirus outbreak, health officials said on Thursday.
Nigeria has 873 confirmed coronavirus cases, 73 of them in Kano state. The national death toll is 28.
On Tuesday the local Daily Trust newspaper reported what it called the "mysterious" recent deaths of around 150 people in Kano city.
Sani Aliyu, who heads the country's COVID-19 task force, said a government team was collating "verbal autopsies" to determine whether the deaths were linked to the epidemic.
"We don't have a true baseline when it comes to the number of deaths. It's something we need to investigate quite closely," he said during a briefing with the World Heath Organization. "It may not necessarily be COVID."
A week-long lockdown in Kano state, which was extended this week, had limited citizens' access to clinics for other ailments, while the state's coronavirus testing lab was closed after staff became infected with the virus, Aliyu said.
He said the government was working with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to disinfect the lab and reopen it.
(Additional reporting By Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos and Garba Muhammed in Kano; editing by John Stonestreet)