Ahead of today’s review of the gradual easing of lockdown by President Muhammadu Buhari, preparations are in top gear among Nigerians in anticipation of federal government’s bid to reopen businesses after five weeks of lockdown in the country.
The federal government had on May 20, 2020 directed businesses, schools, Mosques and Churches, as well as other institutions to use the last two weeks to map out strategies on their mode of operation under the COVID-19 era ahead of full reopening of their daily work schedules.
This was after it had extended phase one of the gradual easing of lockdown ordered by the president on April 27 by another two weeks, including the ban on all inter-state movements and the nationwide curfew imposed from 8pm to 6pm daily.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP at the weekend, stakeholders and economic analysts stressed the need for government to reopen the economy, arguing that continuing with the partial lockdown would be unsustainable.
According to the Managing Director off Cowry Assets Management Limited, Johnson Chukwu, to continue shutting down the economy has become unsustainable
He said, “It is imperative that the government cannot continue to lockdown the economy given that the pandemic is not something that is about to go away. There is no defined cure and there is no vaccine and it is not certain that there will be a cure or vaccine in the immediate future.
“The priority of the government as they open up the economy should be to ensure that they create enough awareness on some of the measures people can take to minimize the rate of infection such as social distancing, wearing of masks,washing of hands and regular check of temperature when entering offices. Government should ensure massive awareness on measures individuals can take to reduce the possibility of getting infected”
On his part, Head of Research at United Capital, Wale Olusi said “I think we should reopen the economy. It is almost as if it was pointless when all we needed to have done is to seal up the airports and the borders and tell people to use face mask and put up restrictions or precautionary measures.
“But I won’t blame the authorities; it was a shock to be confronted with a virus that we have not experienced before. At the end of the day I am not sure things would have escalated if we had not shut down.”
Both Chukwu and Olusi however agreed that sectors that require congregational gatherings such as night clubs should remain restricted and a few other businesses, adding that more economic activities should be allowed to resume back.
Meanwhile, energy sector operators say measures are being put in place to ensure protection of business environment and improve on customer relations, as there may be upsurge in business transactions.
Chairman of Momas Electricity Meter Manufacturing Company Ltd. (MEMMCOL), Mr. Kola Balogun, stressed the need for the power sector to ensure that adequate protective measures are implemented. He said proper equipment cleaning should be prioritized as they are prone to infection and transmitted to the public.
On his part, president of Petroleum Products Retail Outlets Owners Association of Nigeria (PETROAN), Dr. Billy Gillis-Harry, said because operations of retailers is open to the larger public, marketers have been advised to provide temperature readers, and ensure proper traffic and crowd control.
He noted that going forward, efforts should be made to reduce physical interface between pump operators at dispensing outlets and customers.
Gillis-Harry noted that petroleum products retailers interact with large number of people on daily basis and to sustain business transactions without spreading coronavirus, it has become imperative to develop business models and seamless payment systems for the benefit of the economy.
He stated that digital payment sector was arguably the most popular and most technologically advanced in the Nigerian fintech industry and this is primarily governed by the same general framework as traditional financial institutions providing offline services, including money or payment transfers, clearing, switching and settlement, in addition to regulations relating specifically to the payment subsectors.
“Electronic payment is convenient, safe and secure methods for payment of bills and other transactions by electronic means such as card, telephone, the internet and it gives consumers an alternative to paying bills and debts by cash, cheque, money order,“ he said.
In his opinion, Yemi Oke Associate Professor of Energy/Electricity Law, University of Lagos, with specialty in Energy and Natural Resources Law, noted that the energy sector which includes power, oil and gas must review their operational guidelines to conform to the national COVID-19 guidelines guiding business operations.
Oke said government has made substantial interventions with suitable business environment guidelines but operators should take extra measures to provide hygienic operations given that their operations requires interface with the public.
On his part, the director-general of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, said that the only way to make the Nigerian economy sustainable was to diversify the economy.
He said, “Three critical factors are crucial to drive economic diversification in the Nigerian economy. These are the quality of infrastructure, the quality of policies and the quality of institutions. It is crucial to get these key parameters right.
“It is equally critical to ensure proper alignment among these key variables to ensure sustainable economic diversification.”
He added that the policy factor has many dimensions, including monetary policy, forex policy, interest rate policy, tax policy, trade policy, procurement policy and investment policy.
He added that each of these policies has a major role to play in the economic diversification process and the policy mix must be right for the desired outcomes to be achieved.
National president of National Council of Managing Directors of Licenced Customs agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said there was need for more interventions from the government in terms of subsidies.
He noted: “I think Nigeria is looking at the economy differently and we should look at how to make the economy work through reduction of taxes, tariff, and other things that will make job owners retain their workforce. The economy will remain battered if we continue with the increase in VAT and others. We need to have government subsidize somethings.
“Government should review taxes on importation of vehicles for transportation and agriculture. They should harp so much on export to allow the economy to grow. The government should not contemplate increasing charges this year but on how to make small business grow and to retain their workforce.”
States to take responsibilty of next phase of easing of lockdown – FG
Meanwhile, as the nation waits the next directive from President Buhari on the next phase of gradual easing of restrictions, the federal government hinted yesterday that the 36 states of the federation will take full responsibility of the next phase.
It also said despite the rising number of COVID-29 cases in the country, Nigeria is winning the battle against the pandemic.
Secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, disclosed this after briefing President Buhari on the next steps and challenges of the first phase of gradual easing of lockdown at the presidential villa.
On Saturday, Nigeria recorded a significant spike in COVID-19 cases with 553 new cases confirmed in 14 states and the federal capital territory (FCT).
A total of 9,855 confirmed COVID-19 cases have now been recorded in 35 States and the FCT, with the number of recoveries increasing from 2,697 to 2,856, and fatalities rising from 261 to 273.
Mustapha told journalists yesterday that it became necessary for states to take charge of the restrictions because 20 local governments out of 774 account for 60% of confirmed cases in Nigeria.
He stated: “But I can assure you about one thing that the ownership of the next stage will be the responsibility of the states and the national supervision and coordination because we have gone into community transmission.
“Like we‘ve kept saying, 20 local governments, out of 774, account for 60% of confirmed cases in Nigeria today. So where are these 20 local governments? They are in communities. It means we have reached the apex of community transmission and we must get the communities involved.
“Where are the communities? The communities are in the states. So, the ownership of the next stage will be the responsibility of the states, the local government, the traditional institutions, the religious leaders at the different levels of our communities because that is where the problem is.
The SGF who is also the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 cautioned that Nigeria was not out of the woods yet, pointing out that the numbers will definitely keep increasing.
He said, “We are winning. As a matter of fact, you juxtapose the rate of cases with our fatality rate, which is basically about 3%, in other countries and other climes, it‘s over 10%.
“But the most important thing that you will realize is that when we started this exercise, we had only five testing stations. Now we‘ve ramped it up to 28, without correspondent increase in the number of deaths. We‘ve gone beyond 60,000 now; that reflects in the number of confirmed cases.
“We have not reached the peak yet and I won‘t want to fool Nigerians by telling them that we are out of the woods. No, we are not out of the woods. As we even open up and accommodate more enterprises, because we are trying to have a balance between livelihoods and life, there‘s a likelihood of increase in transmission in cases.
We’ve Lost Over N1bn To Markets‘ Closure, Spare Parts Dealers Lament
Meanwhile, traders at the Ikoku Automobile Spare Parts Market in Port Harcourt, Rivers State have revealed that they lost over N1billion to the closure of markets in the state as well as the subsequent total lockdown of Port Harcourt City and Obio/Akpor local government areas as part of measures to check the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking with journalists in Port Harcourt yesterday, chairman of Old Spare Parts Section of the market, Nze Simeon Umennadiri, said 2,500 active traders in the market were negatively affected by the shutdown.
Umennadiri also appealed to the Rivers State government to assist the traders in their effort to rid the spare parts market of criminal elements who operate from a slum close to the market.
The chairman said, „It is the bad boys that have taken over part of the major road. Majority of us are not auto mechanics; we sell only parts. We don‘t have the powers to move the bad boys out of the major road.”
Pope Warns Against Reopening Of Economy, Says People’s Lives Matters
As countries decide on how quickly to reopen their economies over the coronavirus lockdowns, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis, yesterday declared that people are more important than the economy.
Francis comments were a departure from a prepared script, at the first noon address from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square in three months as Italy’s lockdown came to an end.
“Healing people, not saving money to help the economy is important, healing people, who are more important than the economy,’’ Francis said.
“We people are temples of the Holy Spirit, the economy is not.’’
Francis did not mention any countries.
Many governments are deciding whether to reopen their economies to save jobs and living standards, or whether to maintain lockdowns until they are sure the virus is fully under control.
The Pope’s words were met with applause by hundreds of people in the square, many of whom wore masks and kept several meters from each other.
The square was reopened to the public last Monday. Normally, tens of thousands attend on a Sunday.
The last time the Pope delivered his message and blessing from the window was March 1, before Italy, where more than 33,000 people have died from the virus, imposed a lockdown.
74% Of COVID-19 Cases From Unknown Source – NCDC
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said that the source of 7,276 (74%) of the 9,855 COVID 19 confirmed cases in the country are unknown, stressing that they neither travelled abroad nor had contact with those who travelled abroad.
This was contained in the NCDC COVID-19 Situation Report 92, published yesterday.
The report revealed that of 62,583 sample tested, 9,855 were confirmed positive across 35 states and the FCT.
It also stated that 2,856 persons were discharged while 273 persons (3%) died.
According to the report, „6,631 (67%) of confirmed cases are male while 3,224 (33%) are female.
“Most affected age group is 31 – 40 (24%). Persons of interest 10023 (Total) 9,959 (99.4% – Exceeded Follow Up).
„Travel history – 222 (2%), contacts – 2357 (24%) unknown exposure – 7276 (74%).“
LEADERSHIP recalls that the first COVID 19 case in Nigeria was confirmed on February 27.
The virus was imported into the country by an Italian, after which returnees from abroad, many of who are Nigerians also tested positive to the virus.
Contacts of those confirmed positive were traced by the NCDC and many came out positive after 14days.
However, the situation has taken a new phase as most of the recent confirmed cases neither have travel history nor contacts of persons with travel history.
Expert Advises On Proper Use Of Face Mask
A board-certified dermatologist at Uptown Dermatology in Houston, Texas, Elizabeth Mullans has urged face mask users to use hot water with laundry detergent and white vinegar which has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties and dried on higher heat settings in the dryer to wash it every day to avert coronavirus.
“Masks should be washed every day in hot water with laundry detergent and white vinegar—which has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties—and dried on higher heat settings in the dryer,“ Mullans said.
The dermatologist said the kind of white vinegar users would find in the grocery store will work, adding that common white vinegar contains about five percent acetic acid, which kills some bacteria and viruses.
“Soap alone will do the job; just consider vinegar a laundry booster,’’ she said.
Mullans added that to ensure optimal protection, it‘s a good idea to stock up on cloth masks and gentle laundry detergent to prevent any skin irritation, particularly if one has sensitive skin.
“I recommend having multiple masks in case the fabric deteriorates from frequent washing and drying.
“Detergents that are free of dyes and perfumes are better to use, especially with frequent washing; my favorite is Arm and Hammer Sensitive Skin Free and Clear detergent,“ said Mullans.
The dermatologist in an interview with msn lifestyle said several recent studies have found that wearing a face mask consistently can help slow the spread of Covid-19.