As COVID-19 cases rise to 65: Lockdown imminent – FG




Buhari

The Nigerian government Thursday declared it was considering locking down the country as a major step towards stemming further spread of the dreaded CONVID-19.

The government said it had very small window to act and stop further spread of the pandemic, which it said stood at 51 Thursday.

“Today, we have 51 cases covering 8 states: Lagos–32; FCT–10; Ogun– 3; Ekiti–1;

Edo –1; Bauchi–1; Osun–1; Oyo–1 and Rivers-1,” Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed announced this Thursday while giving an update on  activities of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja.

On whether he and his colleague-ministers had undergone the COVID-19 test, the minister said all members of the presidential taskforce on the disease did, and that he tested negative.

Giving an update on measures at arresting the COVID-19 trend, the minister said: “I want to say straight away that our strategy at containing this pandemic is working, but we still have a long way to go. We know our priorities and we know our challenges. We have taken very bold measures in stopping international flights into the country, and we hail the state governments that have taken equally bold measures in their states, which include the closure of markets and the prohibition of large congregations.

“However, we are determined to be more aggressive in enforcing the measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus, such as social distancing; contact tracing; testing; isolation of suspected cases; and ensuring that our messaging gets down to the grassroots.”

On further tougher measures government intended taking, the minister said: “Gentlemen, I don’t intend to sound apocalyptic. But the truth is that time is running out. If we don’t urgently and more aggressively enforce the measures I have just listed, we have a short window within which to stop this pandemic or face an explosion in terms of the cases. We cannot afford to be complacent.

“In view of this, we are considering tougher measures to enforce compliance, stop the exportation of the disease to states that do not have it and minimize spread. Possible measures include stopping inter-state/inter-town travels, except for essential services; closing all motor parks and inter-state rail stations.

“Already, all train movements nationwide have been stopped. Using fire fighting and other adaptable vehicles and personnel to fumigate cities and towns. We will be considering and announcing new measures from time to time, but rest assured that whatever decisions we take will be in the best interest of Nigerians.”

Donations

The minister also said Nigeria had received some level of support in terms of donation of safety and test kits from the Jack Ma Foundation in China. “The supplies are 100,000 Face Masks; 1,000 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and 20,000 test kits

The face masks and the PPE will be distributed to the front-line health workers while the test kits will be shared among the five test laboratories.

“We are also taking measures to increase the number of bed spaces for isolation of suspects. The facilities we have now include the 60-bed Medical Centre in Zuba among others. We are still looking at other facilities within the Federal Capital Territory.”

Contact tracing

On contact tracing, the federal government said: “We have 4,370 people of interest whom we are tracing. We urge those who have had contact with suspected cases to immediately report to the authorities. We urge Nigerians to support the authorities in this regard. We are on the verge of reaching the level of community spread. We must stop this immediately or we will record exponential cases in the days ahead. There is no better way to say this.

“Let me say, without mincing words, that we are not getting the kind of cooperation that this moment deserves from Nigerians. Many are busy engaging in meaningless criticisms instead of complying with the stipulated directives to keep people safe. Some Nigerians who flew into the country from overseas filled wrong addresses and phone numbers in their forms, making it difficult to trace them when the need arises. Some Nigerians defied orders to stay away from large gatherings while some willfully flouted the directives to ensure social distancing. The government is doing its best but we need the citizens to do their best too. We have now gone past the stage of persuasion. It’s time for strong enforcement. While cautioning on fake news, the minister regretted that “the epidemic of fake news is now competing with the pandemic of , and this is not helping the fight against the disease.”

Among other fake news, Mohammed said, a section of the traditional media claimed “that President Muhammadu Buhari has been coughing and is now on ventilator.”

He debunked the claim, saying “Mr. President is well; he is kicking and is in charge.”

The minister warned against “scaremongering and irresponsible reporting on the disease. It is wrong to speculate on those who are positive or negative for without any empirical information. In any case, being positive to is not a death sentence, as we can see around the world.

“There is no need for the kind of scaremongering we are seeing in a section of the media. The danger is that this scaremongering can even discourage some who may want to come forward for testing. We therefore wish to appeal to the media to be more circumspect in their reporting.”

He commended some airlines for suspending domestic operations and announcing one form of support or another for the government’s efforts to tackle the pandemic, and called for further support from private sector players and individuals in this regard.

Lawan urges relief  

Meanwhile, Senate President Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has called on the federal government to immediately devise ways of providing relief for poor Nigerians whose daily livelihood would be affected as a result of the restriction on movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lawan made the appeal Thursday in Abuja against the backdrop of his meeting with some ministers and heads of government agencies Wednesday.

Besides mulling a total lockdown of business activities in the country, Lawan said plan must be devised by the federal government through the release of funds specifically for the purpose of purchasing food and pharmaceutical supplies for ordinary Nigerians.

He warned that not making provisions ahead of time to address the basic needs of poor Nigerians may likely lead to more problems for the government, and less result in controlling the spread of the disease.

“Our prayer is that we are able to overcome this menace of COVID-19 in good time, because it is really taking a toll on our lives. If we have to eventually shut down our country, then as a government we must be prepared to have some relief for the most ordinary people.

“As a government, we must find our own money to fund something for our people, because the United States of America that is talked about or the British Parliament is because this involves public funds. 

“I’m not seeing anything at the moment targeted at providing some relief. If we lock up Nigeria today, then we will wake-up trouble, because majority of our citizens go to market every day before they can get something to eat. 

“So, you lock them up in their houses with a threat of disease and without food. “We need to have something, a plan of some sorts, in addition to making sure we don’t lock up the farmers market for example, where people can easily go and buy something and of course pharmacies.

“We need to have some kind of supplies to people, I don’t know how we can achieve this, but we have to be ingenious. 

“This is a time to think deep and wide, to provide for our people, in order for us at least to deal with this challenge at the moment,” he said.

The Senate president urged the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to establish more testing and isolation centres as soon as more funds are released to it by the federal government. 

He added that the Senate committees on appropriation, finance and national planning would oversight the NCDC on the strict application of the N6.5 billion to be released for the fight against the pandemic. 

“I believe that our committees on Health, in the Senate and in the House, must be alert to this, when funds are released, so that they (NCDC) don’t just go on jamboree spending the money elsewhere, where we may not achieve this kind of spread that is extremely necessary,” the lawmaker said.

Lawan also assured the executive arm of government that both chambers of the National Assembly would be readily disposed in event of eventuality, to work on the planned review of the 2020 budget before the legislature reconvenes on April 7, 2020. 

TUC tasks FG

Also, making a similar case, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) urged the federal government to devise measures of alleviating the suffering of Nigerians during this outbreak of coronavirus in the country.

TUC President Quadri Olaleye made the call in a statement by the union’s Secretary General, Mr. Musa-Lawal Ozigi, Thursday in Abuja.

Olaleye, while commending government’s effort towards mitigating the spread of the virus, however, said some of its measures impacted negatively on the people.

He explained that the recent closure of the land and sea borders had rendered some Nigerians who earned daily living from the borders jobless.

The TUC president said the businesses of many Nigerians had also been affected by the border closure.

He said the importance of shelter could not be overemphasised, adding that many people might not be able to afford rent during the period.

Olaleye said: “We must appreciate government efforts so far, but there is need to draw attention to some deficiencies inherent, which may incapacitate an average Nigerian from adapting to all the measures.

“We call on federal government to devise a way to alleviate the suffering of the people as most Nigerians are daily paid workers.

“We are suggesting to the government to direct all home owners to do waivers on rents during this period as this will alleviate the burdens of Nigerians.

“We charge the government to reduce the tax burden on the workers and the general public through tax waiver.

“TUC is strongly requesting employers of labour, including government, to pay salaries promptly during this period, while ensuring no job loss, as this would not only sustain labour force but reduce unemployment rate.

“Similarly, the news of receipt of relief materials from Mr. Jack Ma, as donation towards combating the virus came very timely.

“So we urge the government to make the kits available to citizens freely as some of them are in short supply, while profit takers have increased the price beyond the reach of the poor Nigerians.”

He reiterated the union’s to support the government in curtailing the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Olaleye, however, urged the government to compel government officials with travel history in the last three weeks or that have contact with the like to subject themselves to test and self-isolation.

In solidarity, the TUC president directed all its state councils and affiliates currently embarking on or considering an industrial action to suspend such and join in the efforts to curtail coronavirus spread in Nigeria.

“We also appeal to the state governments and employers of labour to reciprocate this gesture by resolving the issues in dispute in the interest of peace and harmony.

“We use this opportunity to remind everyone, including those in power that we are all humans and connected in more ways than we know and should, therefore, treat each other as humans.

“Moreover, we are all accountable to God and should, therefore, embrace peace as that is the only way forward in the face of daunting challenges as we have presently.”

Diri, Akeredolu, others negative

Meanwhile, the trio of Bayelsa state governor, Senator Douye Diri, his Edo counterpart, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and that of Ondo state, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, have been reported to have tested negative for the virus.

Announcing  Diri’s status in a statement Thursday, the governor’s acting chief press secretary, Mr. Daniel Alabrah, said result of the test was obtained Thursday from the NCDC -accredited laboratory at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo state.

 “The result showed that Governor Douye Diri has no evidence of COVID-19 infection,” he said.

 Officials of the epidemiology unit of the state Ministry of Health led by the state epidemiologist, Mr. Ifiemi Iwuji, had Wednesday conducted the test and the samples sent to the Irrua Specialist Hospital.

 Before the governor opted for the test, he had been inundated with phone calls and messages following speculations on the social media that he might have been infected.

This was fuelled by his sitting next to Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi state who tested positive.

Similarly, Governor Obaseki was also said to have tested negative.

He has however opted to remain in self-isolation.   

A statement by his special adviser on media and communication strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, said the result was that of the rapid diagnostic test, while the governor awaits the result of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

“I can confirm that the governor tested negative for coronavirus when he ran the rapid diagnostic test for the virus. However, we are currently awaiting the result of more conclusive PCR test.

“In the meantime, the governor has decided to continue to work in self-solation and he is asymptomatic,” he said.

Also announcing the negative status of the Ondo state governor, the commissioner for health,

Dr Wahab Adegbenro said: “The result is negative, I can confirm that. The governor has even confirmed it himself this morning.”

In a related development, Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, also tested negative for the virus.
She announcing this on her twitter handle Thursday. 

Aliyu said: “Dear compatriots, I am glad to inform you that my results came out this afternoon and tested negative to COVID-19. Please stay safe and take every precautionary measure as outlined by NCDC.gov. Together, we are stronger”. 

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