By Jonathan Nda- Isaiah, FESTUS OKOROMADU, Nkechi Isaac, Tunde Oguntola and PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA, Abuja
The federal government yesterday extended phase one of the gradual easing of lockdown ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari across the country on April 27 by another two weeks.
It said the additional 14 days to the first phase of the eased restrictions will witness stricter enforcement and persuasion measures, preparatory to the full reopening of the nation’s economy.
“The measures, exemptions, advisories and scope of entities allowed to reopen under phase one of the eased locked down shall be maintained across the federation for another two weeks effective from 12:00 midnight today (18th May, 2020 to 1st June, 2020),” secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, declared during the daily briefing of the task force in Abuja.
The two weeks extension of phase one of the eased restriction, he explained, was also to enable other segments of the economy prepare adequately for compliance with the guidelines ahead of reopening in the coming weeks.
LEADERSHIP had yesterday reported exclusively that critical sectors of the economy were groaning under harsh business operating environment, which has forced companies and individuals to adopt cost cutting measures by laying off some staff, among others, leading to closure of thousands of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) with more expected to take the same path if the situation under the lockdown continues unabated.
But hinting about federal government’s plan to fully reopen the economy, the SGF who is also chairman of the PTF however said the reality on ground was that in spite of the modest progress made, the country was not yet ready for full reopening of the economy.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on April 27 ordered a “phased and gradual easing” of the lockdown in Abuja, as well as Lagos and Ogun States, begining from May 4.
The president also ordered a ban on all inter-state movements, even as he imposed a nationwide curfew from 8pm to 6pm daily.
Announcing the extension yesterday, Mustapha pointed out that during the phase one of gradual easing of the lockdown, “while some objectives were met, the PTF assessment showed that non-compliance was rampant but the PTF nevertheless continued to persuade the populace through its messaging and daily briefing on the need to take responsibility”.
He continued: “The reality is that in spite of the modest progress made, Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority.
“Any relaxation will only portend grave danger for our populace. Advisedly, the current phase of eased restriction will be maintained for another two weeks during which stricter enforcement and persuasion measures will be pursued”.
He listed other recommendations of the PTF approved by President Buhari to include: “Intensifying efforts to “tell (communicate), trace (identify) and treat (manage)’ cases; elevating the level of community ownership of non-pharmaceutical interventions.
“Maintain the existing lockdown order in Kano for an additional two weeks; Imposition of precision lockdown in states, or in metropolitan/high-burden LGAs, that are reporting a rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises.
“This would be complemented with the provision of palliatives and continued re-evaluation of the impact of the interventions. Aggressive scale up of efforts to ensure that communities are informed, engaged and participating in the response with enhanced public awareness in high risk states”.
For sustainability of the gains recorded, the SGF said the PTF shall continue to support states by developing guidelines to shape decision-making for future steps in the response and aggressively scale up efforts to ensure effective community information.
According to him, it is believed that these steps will help consolidate the gains made so far, and position the country to effectively overcome the pandemic.
“In the interest of our nation, the role of the States and Local Governments remain critical to success. The PTF shall engage with the States on the effective implementation of these guidelines,” he added.
The SGF further noted that the level of compliance was also reviewed and a specific directive has been issued to the security agencies to carry out strict enforcement of all measures.
These, he said, include the nationwide curfew from 8pm to 6pm, the ban on interstate travels and the wearing of face masks/coverings in public.
The SGF however cautioned security operatives to be mindful of the human rights of citizens, while citizens are equally urged to recognize the dangers posed to self, their loved ones and the entire community if they fail to take responsibility.
Maintaining categorically that the exemptions allowed under the phase one were still in place, he noted that government was conscious of the fact “that we are in the rainy season and farming activities is critical to food and national security. It should, therefore, not be hindered”.
… Says 57% Of Nigerians Supports Easing Of Lockdown
The federal government also said 57 per cent of Nigerians are in support of the decision of the government to ease the lockdown in some states as a way of containing the spread of coronavirus.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who disclosed this at the PTF daily briefing on yesterday, said a poll by West Africa’s number one polling services, NOI Polls, showed that „57 per cent support the easing of the lockdown announced in April, while 29 percent did not support it as way of combating the pandemic.“
Mohammed lamented that stigmatisation has remained a major concern, noting that while 81per cent in the March poll said they were willing to work with people who recover from COVID-19, the figure dropped to 78 per cent in the current poll.
He said, „Stigmatisation has remained a concern. In the March poll, 81 per cent said they are willing to work with people who recover from Covid-19. That figure dropped to 78 per cent in the current poll.
„Awareness level of awareness across the country about Covid-19 is now above 99 per cent, meaning nearly all Nigerians are aware of the disease. Whereas 28 per cent of respondents said they believe they are immune to Covid-19 in March, the figure has now dropped to 26 per cent.“
The minister said 91 per cent of the respondents said they were aware of the different preventive measures for COVID-19.
“Hand washing is now at 87 per cent, up by 10 per cent. Use of face masks is at 85 per cent, up by 22 per cent – Social distancing is at 55 per cent, up by 43,“ he stated.
On risk communication, the minister hinted that 95 per cent said they had seen or heard advertising, publicity or any other types of information from government about COVID-19, while 71 per cent said they feel they were getting the information they need from government on COVID-19”.
We’re Examining Claims On COVID-19 Cure – Onu
Meanwhile, the minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, said yesterday that his ministry has commenced verification claims for the cure of Covid-19.
He made this known at the quarterly management meeting of the ministry and its agencies in Abuja.
Ministry had offered the sum of N36 million to scientists and innovators that offered to find the cure for COVID-19 and Lassa fever.
Onu said all submissions for the COVID-19 cure have been directed to the Academy of Science for verification, saying they would give their recommendations to the ministry after the exercise, adding that the ministry was working hard to develop home-grown solutions to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
He assured that encouraging results had been submitted and in no distant time, details on the submissions would be made known to the nation.
Onu said for Nigeria to have increased foreign earnings, the country must look inwards for solutions to its problems and export same to other countries.
In his remarks, the minister of state for the ministry, Barrister Mohammed Abdullahi, said the two ministers are working to procure huge grants in order to support research and development efforts in the science and technology sector.
He called on the directors and DG’s of the ministry to show more commitment in their work so as to realise the mandate of the ministry.
Earlier, the permanent secretary of the ministry, Dr Mohammed Bello Umar, admonished the DG’s of the ministry’s agencies to highlight priority areas in the preparation and execution of their budget.
Lagos, Kano, Borno Account For 52% Of Deaths; 60% Of Confirmed Cases Between 21 And 50 Years – Mamora
Minister of state for Health, Dr Adeleke Mamora, announced yesterday that Lagos, kano and Borno States account for 52 per cent of the 182 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the country across 26 states and the FCT.
Speaking at the briefing of the presidential task force on COVID- 19, Mamora also said about 60 per cent of all the confirmed cases in the country were between the ages of 21 and 50 years.
He however noted that the increased daily record was largely due to increased tracing and testing capacity which is mainly as a result of increased community mobilization and awareness creation.
The minister also disclosed that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was collaborating with development partners to engage influential religious leaders in Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Plateau, Sokoto and Zamfara States to complement the community mobilization activities of community health workers.
He said, „They will also facilitate awareness creation on COVID-19 in the rural communities as well as support our efforts to ramp up community testing. In addition, we have Commenced Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) training specifically for the Almajirai in Kano
“A high level technical meeting on the output of the National COVID-19 Response Mid-Action Review has been conducted. Output from this meeting will provide guidance in strengthening our response and develop strategies for reaching more communities.
A Ministerial team of expert has been dispatched to Calabar on a scoping mission to engage with State authorities and determine material and technical needs.
“The mission to Sokoto was successful and the team is presently in Maiduguri to support the state. A curious finding in Sokoto is the cluster of COVID-19 cases in only one local government area. The number of deaths has dropped and we are beginning to see a decline in positive cases in the state,“ he explained.
SGF Applauds NNPC Over Planned Medical Facilities Nationwide
Meanwhile, the secretary to the government of the federation and chairman of the presidential task force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, has applauded the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for what he described as the corporation’s unwavering support and several medical interventions geared towards providing a lasting solution to the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
The gesture, according to him, depicts the corporation as the hallmark of a National Oil Company.
Mustapha gave the commendation while receiving from the NNPC 20 ventilators donated by Ocea S.A, a France based company, to bolster the fight against COVID-19 in Abuja.
Mystrose Defence Systems Limited presented the donation to the NNPC on behalf of Ocea S.A. to bolster the fight against COVID-19 in Abuja.
A statement by NNPC group general manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr Kennie Obateru, quoted the chairman of the PTF as saying that the NNPC and her partners, almost on a weekly basis, have either donated medical consumables or commissioned medical infrastructure all in the fight against COVID-19.
“This is a hallmark of a national institution which, at this very challenging time of COVID-19, is filling the gap in the provision of the kind of things that the nation requires; the facilities that we need to put in place,” Mustapha stated.
Mustapha assured that the 20 ventilators would be put to good use for the benefit of Nigerians, maintaining that COVID-19 was a big challenge which required everyone’s support to the Federal Government to fight and defeat the pandemic.
He stated that post COVID-19, the nation’s health institutions would receive the type of rebirth that the Federal Government desires, stressing that with the medical facilities on ground, the nation would have the capacity to combat any epidemic or pandemic thereafter.
Earlier, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari, said the corporation was pleased to han dover the 20 ventilators donated by Ocea S.A through Mystrose Defence Systems Limited to the Federal Government.
On his part, the medical director of the NNPC’s Medical Services Limited, Dr Mohammed Zango, stated that the donations from the French company, Ocea S.A, was a right step in the right direction, adding that the corporation, as a responsible organization and a strategic partner in the maritime security space, is hereby transmitting the ventilators to the PTF in support of the federal government’s effort to combat COVID-19.
Zango explained that the company identified the NNPC as a reputable National Oil Company through which the ventilators could be safely delivered to the PTF on COVID-19.
Kunle Aluko who made the donations on behalf of Mystrose Defence Systems Limited praised the PTF for its unwavering efforts to combat the pandemic, assuring the readiness of his company to stand by the federal government all through the difficult times.
C’River On Top Of COVID-19 Fight, Says NCDC
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) yesterday described Cross River State as deserving of its COVID-19-free status.
Leader of the NCDC team, Dr Omobolanle Olowu, who stated this during a verification visit to the state, lauded the state governor, Sir Ben Ayade, for his strong leadership in the battle against the pandemic, successfully keeping it away from the state.
She said, “The federal government strongly commends the Action Governor of Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade, and his energetic team who started response in January when others still lived in denial. They (Cross River) deserve to still be without a case of COVID-19.
“The governor was proactive in shutting down borders, screening visitors and suspected cases and initiating the no mask-no-movement campaign in Nigeria”.
She also expressed delight at the level of compliance with the no-mask-no movement policy of the government.
Expressing disbelief, she said, “I cannot believe I did not see one person without a face mask from the airport to this office. I guess this explains the results in Cross River State. I commend the state for the great work done. We never knew all these in Abuja. We will tell Mr President all what we have seen.
“From all I have seen, this is a great response in Nigeria. Cross River has honestly done well. There is a lot to learn from Cross River as best practice for Nigeria. Nigeria should give Cross River State accolades for producing face masks, Face Shield, PPEs in its Garment Factory.”
She said the NCDC was also satisfied with the contact tracing, Surveillance and testing done so far by the state even as she encouraged the state to do more in that regard.
“We are happy that the state has a great working relationship with the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital. This is Commendable. Governor Ben Ayade woke up even before the rest of the country. He shut his borders and has been working from the front line. Your Governor is a man with foresight who believes in his people and wants to save his people,” the NCDC leader further noted.