COVID-19: FG may extend lockdown as cases rise to 305

  • WHO, SGF, NMA, caution against suspending restriction

Olufemi Atoyebi, Friday Olokor, Okechukwu Nnodim, Success Nwogu, Tobi Aworinde, Tunde Ajaja, and Afeez Hanafi

There are strong indications that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), may extend the lockdown order in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory.

This came after the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, spoke at Friday’s edition of the committee’s daily media briefing.

The PTF had earlier in the day met with the President at the Aso Rock Villa.

Buhari had, on March 29, ordered the lockdown for an initial period of 14 days to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of that day, Nigeria had 111 COVID-19 cases with one death, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The cases were recorded in 11 states and the FCT.

But as of Friday night, coronavirus cases had increased to 305 in the country after fresh 17 cases were recorded in the country. The states where the fresh cases were recorded were Lagos (8), Katsina (3), FCT (2), Niger (1), Kaduna (1), Anambra (1) and Ondo (1).

While 58 patients had been discharged, seven had died as of Friday night.

The new cases also brought the number of states affected to 18, excluding the FCT.

Lagos, FCT and Osun had the highest number of cases at 163, 56 and 20 respectively. Edo had 12, Oyo (11), Bauchi (6), Akwa Ibom (5), Ogun (7), Kaduna (6) and Katsina (4).

Enugu, Ekiti, Rivers, Kwara, Delta and Ondo had two cases each.

Benue, Niger and Anambra had one case each.

Speaking at the media briefing, Mustapha said, “The PTF, a small committee of us, this afternoon, had the privilege of further briefing Mr President on the assessment of our response to COVID-19 and, at the appropriate moment, we will continue to adequately inform Nigerians of government decisions.

“The decision on whether to extend the lockdown or not is exclusively the decision or responsibility of the President. Ours (the PTF) is to provide him with first-hand information that would inform that decision. So, I cannot speculate on that now. But looking at what is happening in other climes, you would be able to deduce what might likely happen, but I’m not in a position to speculate on that.

“I believe strongly that the information required to make that decision would be made available to Mr President, who would look at the holistic picture. It is not only the information that comes from the Presidential Task Force that would inform his decision; there are other sources of information that come to him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and he would consider all of them in arriving at a decision.”

Earlier when the PTF met with the President on Friday to discuss its progress on the national response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mustapha had told journalists at the State House that Buhari appealed to Nigerians to exercise more patience and understanding as the government continued to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Although the meeting was held behind closed doors, it was gathered that Buhari expressed optimism that Nigeria would beat COVID-19, flatten the curve and aggressively respond to the crisis.

The SGF said, “He (Buhari) was very satisfied; as a matter of fact, he wished us well and spoke openly as a father would about his compassion for the work that we are doing and the fact that he keeps seeing us going up and down, engaging with the public, engaging with the media and critical stakeholders.

“He (Buhari) appealed to the Nigerian public for patience and understanding, that we are dealing with an uncommon enemy, one that we can’t see or predict, all over the world. It’s called the novel coronavirus, which means it’s new and its characteristics are unknown; people are just trying to define it and find ways around it.

“His strong appeal was that, as much as possible, we should encourage people to observe the basic instructions that had been issued, in terms of keeping social distancing, washing of hands, maintaining cleanliness and staying at home, which is very critical and scientifically, it’s been proven that staying at home can prevent the spread by about 45 per cent.”

Mustapha expressed gratitude to Nigerian health workers, especially those who have been on the front line since the COVID-19 pandemic started. He assured them that government was working out incentives to further motivate them.

He said, “Let me use this opportunity to commend and thank our front-line health care workers for their commitment and sacrifices. The government is working on the issue of your incentives, medical and life insurance as you battle to save lives.”

‘Coronavirus has trapped us’

According to Mustapha, COVID-19 pandemic has trapped everyone in their countries, with no one in Nigeria being able to travel abroad for medical treatment. He said it brought out the reality of the necessity to build a strong health system.

He said the primary health care system was an exclusive responsibility of the councils while the secondary health care system was that of the state government, leaving the Federal Government with the responsibility of taking care of the tertiary health care system.

Mustapha noted, “We have over 10,000 primary health centres in Nigeria but how many of them are working? This is a major issue. That was why I said on Thursday during my address to the National Assembly that we need to sit back and reconstruct our investment into health care system.

“Right now, there is provision of one per cent from the consolidated revenue fund which goes into basic health care provision fund. We are doing good but not as we ought to. The Federal Government is doing a lot.

“Right now, nobody can go out to seek medical attention. This is the right moment to address this issue. Nobody ever thought you could not go out to seek medical attention but we are all confined here now.”

Speaking on the viral videos of Nigerians being kicked out of hotels in China over COVID-19, the SGF said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had taken action on the matter.

Detained pilots in Rivers’ll be released unconditionally — Minister

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the pilots of Caverton Helicopters who were arrested and detained by the Rivers State Government would soon be released.

Sirika said this while responding to a question on the subject during Friday’s briefing.

He said, “The pilots were carrying out national assignment because the speech by the SGF and the presidential address exempted oil and gas from the lockdown or shutdown in national interest.

“And these Caverton Helicopters’ pilots were flying into the military base on national assignment.

“Of course, I may not be learned but I am lettered and I understand, in this case, there is no conflict between the federal and state laws but I will not argue that on this platform. It is unnecessary.

“So, on whether the governor of Rivers State (Nyesom Wike) ought to know if the exempted Caverton flight would be landing in a military base in Port Harcourt belonging to the Nigerian Air Force, he did not need to know.

“That is answer number one. Answer number two, regarding the pilots, the pilots will soon be released, rescued and there will not be any conviction hanging on their necks.”

Sirika further said, “Arising from the constitutional provision and the powers of Mr President, the seriousness of this task force, the danger of COVID-19, the way we operate civil aviation and military aviation, that’s why I said the air force officer acted ignorantly to have called the governor when the chopper landed on his property.

“Also, the federal police who made the arrest within the premises of the military acted ignorantly as well. And I said they exhibited incompetence.

“This matter should not be over-flogged. The Federal Government is there for the 200 million people of Nigeria, regardless of whether you are from Rivers or Cross River, Kano or Kaduna.”

Don’t lift, relax restrictions, FG cautions states

In his brief remarks, the National Coordinator for the PTF on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, cautioned state governments against relaxing the lockdown order.

Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Ondo are among states that took the decision to relax their restrictions for Christians to commemorate the Easter celebrations.

Aliyu said, “We noted that some states had started lifting their bans or relaxing their containment protocols. This is really not the right time to do so, partly because we still have an ongoing pandemic, which is global.

“It is also not the right time to do so, because we could end up having reoccurrence of infections.

“At this point, I am appealing to our local community leaders, religious and traditional leaders, as well as the state authorities, to continue to support and encourage the public to maintain those protective measures.”

Aliyu explained that there was also a “very strong need” for state governments to work in harmony and align with the Federal Government to deal with the pandemic.

He further said, “I would like to ask state governments, working through the state task force teams or the state ministries of health, to consider setting up accreditation teams that would accredit, particularly private facilities, and public facilities.

“This is for the simple reason that it is really important that our front-line health care staff know how to use personal protective equipment and how to protect themselves from this infection.

“We are very keen to expand the availability of intensive care facilities beyond just the public sector.”

Chinese experts invitation

On the invitation of Chinese medical experts to Nigeria, Mustapha said their presence was “purely advisory and for capacity building, especially on the protection of our front-line staff, utilisation as well as maintenance of the equipment that they have brought.  They will not directly meet nor interact with our patients while in Nigeria.”

He said the Chinese were already undergoing the mandatory 14-day quarantine in Nigeria before they would engage in their primary role of providing guidance on usage and deployment of the equipment.

National policy on face mask

On the issue of face masks, the PTF chairman said the body was developing a national policy on its usage, explaining that Nigerians would be duly informed as soon as the policy was finalised.

More testing, isolation centres

On his part, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said with the testing capacity increased by the Federal Government to 10 centres, more people were being tested across Nigeria.

He added that the COVID-19 Accreditation Committee had begun the inspection of private treatment centres in order to increase bed spaces for infected persons.

He said although there was limited supply of protective equipment globally, Nigeria had enough in stock to protect majorly the health workers.

The minister reiterated the need for infected persons to give accurate information about their travel history and symptoms to protect their family members and health workers.

Physical distancing replaces social distancing

The Director-General, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the team had adopted physical distancing to replace social distancing that was earlier prescribed for Nigerians.

He said this was so because of the huge population of the country and its high density, which was rated fifth in the world. He said the closeness of people living in a geographical space made it easy to spread the coronavirus.

Ihekweazu said record had shown that mobility in Nigeria had reduced by 27 per cent. According to him, the figure has to be lower to ensure that the virus is completely eradicated from Nigeria. He noted that the obstacle would be bigger if economic and other activities were restarted before getting over the burden.

91 per cent contacts identified

The NCDC DG said 91 per cent contacts of all confirmed cases had been identified as of Thursday.

He said, “In the 30 per cent of the cases we have, we have not figured out how they got the infection. That is an early indicator of community spread. We can confirm that we know 91 per cent of all the contacts of all the confirmed cases.”

Don’t relax lockdown now –WHO, PTF, NMA warn

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation warned that any premature lifting of restrictions imposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a fatal resurgence of the new coronavirus.

WHO chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus, told a virtual press conference in Geneva, “I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions.

“WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone. At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly. WHO is working with affected countries on strategies for gradually and safely easing restrictions.”

Similarly, the Nigerian Medical Association on Friday called on state governments not to place religious consideration above public health issue in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement signed by the President of the association, Dr Francis Faduyile, and the Secretary General, Dr Olumuyiwa Odustote, the NMA called on states not to relax the lockdown measure yet because of Easter celebration or Jumat service.

The statement said, “The attention of the Nigerian Medical Association has been drawn to some isolated statements negating the established measure of preventing COVID-19 and orders by some state governors authorising the mass observance of Jumat prayers and Easter Sunday services.

“Of particular concern is the declaration by the Cross River State Governor that social distancing is not needed while wearing a face mask; a moratorium on the lockdown to allow mass gathering in mosques and churches starting from Friday to Sunday in Rivers State; and the lifting of the ban on Friday prayers by the Katsina and Kogi state governments.

“We are aware that similar orders have also been given in Ondo, Ebonyi and Imo states, which have approved mass attendance of Easter services.”

NMA warned that with more community transmission of COVID-19 being reported in the country, it was vital to eschew any measure that would promote mass gathering.

It added, “While appreciating the prime place of religion in our national lives and especially the value Christians place on Easter, we place on record that there is now the evidence of community transmission of COVID-19.

“As such, relaxing any guideline that promotes mass gathering in any part of our nation now can only heighten and not flatten the curve of transmission dynamics.

“We therefore pray all authorities concerned to rescind their decision in the interest of safety of lives and implore the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies to ensure that such gatherings do not take place.”

Similarly, a former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, said it was wrong to relax the coronavirus lockdown because of religious reasons.

Speaking on a programme on Arise Television on Friday, Obi said the coronavirus pandemic was getting out of hand and that the country did not have enough resources to manage it, TheCable reported.

He said states which had relaxed the lockdown for Easter celebrations did not have enough ventilators should the crisis escalate.

“It is wrong to relax the lockdown because of people going to church. Faith is a thing of the mind. You can worship without going to church,” Obi said.

“We have a crisis that we don’t have the resources to manage. The greatest country in the world is America. They are on their knees now healthwise and economically. We should not allow that because we cannot manage it.

“Lock up Nigeria and we will solve our problems from within.

(PUNCH)

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