Eased Lockdown: FG raises fresh alarm

Just three days into the eased lockdown, the federal government Wednesday said its assessment on the level of level of compliance showed the citizens were not prepared to stick to the rules.

It therefore warned that except there is a change of attitude, the situation might pose greater danger to Nigeria’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

After close to one and half months, President Muhammadu Buhari announced the relaxation of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states.

Top on the guidelines

And as a follow-up, the federal government, through the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 pandemic, released some guidelines guiding the operation in government offices and selected businesses.

In the guidelines which dwelled on gradual reopening of the economy, anyone operating in the public space must use non-medical face masks.

Also, while residents were allowed free movement within the hours of 6.00 am to 8.00pm, the government announced a curfew from 8.00pm to 6.00am.

Similarly, the federal government also prohibited inter-state travels, with the exception of those on essential services, while also banning a gathering of more than 20 people outside of workplace.

Furthermore, commercial vehicles were allowed to operate outside the curfew hours while also observing social distancing in the number of their passengers.

On Monday, Blueprint reported that there was non-compliance with the social distancing in banks and markets among other public spaces, with some residents not using face masks.

PTF’s concerns

Addressing journalists during an update on the task force’s activities in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said the level of compliance with the issued guidelines was not encouraging.

 He called on community and religious leaders to help government drive home the message of the reality of the pandemic and what should be done to put it down, just as he urged all to take responsibility for their individual safety.

Mustapha said:  “The overall assessment of compliance with the measures and outcomes of modelling we have developed, point in the direction of danger ahead. We therefore need personal discipline, increased awareness and enforcement.

“The PTF calls on community, religious and traditional leaders to take up this challenge. Similarly, we call on, trade associations, professional bodies and organisations to compliment the efforts of government. The PTF appreciates your current efforts but it has become very obvious that more needs to be done, together.

“Early assessment of the ease of lockdown phase indicates that Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the deadliness and the virulent nature of the COVID-19 and this gives us concerns on the high possibility of increased seeding of the virus to hitherto un-affected persons and populations”.

He listed some of the areas of worries to include; “non-compliance with social/physical distancing guidelines evidenced by higher than advised congregation of people in banks, traffic gridlocks especially at entry points to metropolitan areas and disregard of guidelines on carrying capacity of motor vehicles.

“Increased level of inter-state movements worsened by the dubious concealment of people in food carrying vehicles; Unhygienic and ill-advised use and sharing of masks especially multiple fittings before buying from vendors.”

On the Almajirai kids being returned to their state of origin, he said: “Once again, we appeal to the governors to please align their plan for the movement of Almajiri with the ban imposed by the president. We shall intensify our dialogue on this matter.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to re-iterate the fact that our individual and collective safety is in our hands and I re-echo my call and appeal to Nigerians to demonstrate our duty to ourselves and loved ones by minimising the risk of getting infected by the virus.”

Flight suspension

Also speaking on the aviation sector, the PTF announced a further extension on flights by four weeks, saying the decision was informed by the assessments made and advice provided by aviation industry experts.

He said: “Tomorrow marks the last day for the enforcement of the closure of Nigeria’s airspace to flights. We have assessed the situation in the aviation industry and have come to the conclusion that given the facts available to us and based on the advice of experts, the ban on all flights will be extended for an additional four weeks.”

NCDC on testing

In his update, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control Dr. Chikwe Ihekwazu said there were three goals to be achieved from carrying out regular tests.

He listed the three to include proximity, scale and future.

On testing for scale and future, he said the centre increased the number of testing centres from five to 21 with the aim of having one centre in each state of the federation.

Ihekwazu said while there were no confirmed cases in Kogi and Cross Rivers states at the moment, the centre was encouraging states to increase the collection of sample for testing while the role of the agency remains  giving  the required support.

Asked if the agency had nit failed, he said:  “History will judge us. This is not the time to trade blames. The NCDC has a staff strength of 300 and we have been working with other agencies of government and the states to do what we have been able to do so far.

 “This pandemic will not end next week and I know that I will be criticised for this. But we need to work together to achieve results. Neither treatment nor testing can get us out of this. We need your voices to get Nigerians to understand what is going on”

In his own remarks, National Coordinator of the task force, Dr. Aliyu Sani, said the PTF had called state security agencies and state structures to provide support and supervision that will ensure compliance to the eased lockdown guidelines.

While pleading for support from members of the public, Sani said Nigeria’s chances of coming out of the pandemic sooner depended on absolute compliance of Nigerians to the eased lockdown guidelines.

 “Presidential Task Force continues to be very concerned about the level of compliance with the eased lockdown guidelines that we introduced last week across the country, but most especially in Lagos.

“We have called on state security agencies and state structures to provide support and supervision that will ensure compliance to the eased lockdown guidelines. In this regard, we are appealing strongly to the public to cooperate with the state security agencies in the interest of public safety.

 “There is a very good reason why the PTF eased the lockdown last week. It was partly because we wanted to provide an opportunity to cushion Nigerians and by extension, opportunities for business to re-establish some economic activities towards the gradual re-opening of the Nigerian economy.

“We also had a bundle of measures which we realised, if fully implemented, if fully delivered by everybody, would have the same impact with that of an absolute lockdown. I must emphasize that the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria is far from over.

“Our chances of coming out of this crisis sooner, rather than later, depends on our absolute compliance to the eased lockdown guidelines. The guidelines have specific aspects within them that I will like to emphasize.

“We must do everything to prevent another spike and spread of the virus during the eased lockdown,” the national coordinator said.

‘Local herbs not ruled out’ 

Answering reporters’ questions at the briefing, Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire said the federal government would not settle for local herbs for COVID-19 cure now because such herbs were yet to be tested on any patient.

He said it would be risky to give patients to such claimants to the cure, in order to avoid toxic being administered on the patients.

“We have to test the efficacy of local drugs to see of it can kill the virus and also to find out that is in the process of killing the virus, it can affect the body. So, the institute will carry out the required test on the local drugs find out how it can work,” Ehanire said.

Kano

On Kano, he said:  “With regard to Kano, progress has been made in collaboration efforts with the State EOC to restore routine medical services to hospitals and further drive the ongoing investigations.

 “Organised ambulance service is already in operation bringing relief to citizens who need to access medical services, especially in view of restrictions of movement and also in emergency situations.

 “The Federal Ministry of Health is sending supporting teams to Sokoto and Katsina for training and capacity building in case management and infection prevention and control in the hospital setting. Other states shall follow at short intervals, to assist the State Ministries of Health in their response to the COVID-19 threat.”  

The minister appealed to state governments to increase the number of isolation centres as the cases of COVID-19 rose to 2,950 on Wednesday, blaming same on community transmission.

“The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nigeria has continued to rise not unexpectedly, in view of prevailing circumstances in certain states. As at 11pm on May 5, 148 persons had tested positive, bringing the total to 2,950 confirmed to have COVID-19 in 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

“We are encouraging and supporting states to increase the number of isolation centres nationwide, and we are extremely grateful to corporate organisations and philanthropists who have donated isolation facilities, diagnostic equipment, commodities and sundry supplies relevant to our response efforts to COVID-19 threat.

“We are clearly in community transmission phase, where much now depends on individual and collective behaviour and the urgency of behaviour change communication becomes apparent. Knowledge so far gathered about COVID-19 needs to be converted into practice, because our safety, now more than ever, depends on all of us,” he said.

The minister said there was the urgent need for people to adhere to health advisories by wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing, practicing hand washing or sanitizing, and observing standard respiratory hygiene.

 “If not, we expose ourselves and our loved ones to risk and inadvertently increase the period this virus will be with us and make life worse for all of us. For example, large crowds reported at certain events and the movement and repatriation of persons from one state to the other, do contribute to the problem and do not indicate a good understanding of the urgency of the situation.

“Therefore, I again appeal for considerate and responsible social adjustment to the challenges Nigeria faces. While we are striving to increase our testing capacity, we have noted the complaints about turnaround time to get the results of tests conducted. We are doing what we can to resolve them.

“We have also continued to train and retrain our health care workers as well as provide them with the necessary personal protective equipment. Community mobilisers have been deployed at the grassroots to continue to sensitize our people through the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency.

“We are encouraging and supporting states to increase the number of isolation centres nationwide, and we are extremely grateful to Corporate Organizations and Philanthropists who have donated Isolation facilities, diagnostic equipment, commodities and sundry supplies relevant to our response efforts to COVID-19 threat. One example is the This day Dome, which has been purposed by donors, to be a 320 bed Isolation Center with a 10 bed ICU, which is to be commissioned next week to significantly ease the supply of bed spaces,” he said.

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