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Coronavirus Grounds Activities In Government Houses

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The fear COVID-19 pandemic has paralysed government activities in Aso Rock and Government Houses in states across the country, LEADERSHIP checks have revealed.

It was gathered that government functionaries both in Abuja and at the states have resorted to virtual platforms for their meetings and programmes.

As many countries are grappling with the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic the strain on the federal and state governments in Nigeria is taking a toll on governance in the country.

As a result, most state governments just like the federal government have taken proactive measures to protect citizens as they adjust the timelines and expectations around government participation.

Some of these measures include complete shutdown of some Government Houses and the state Houses of Assembly, postponing open government events to later in the year and replacing the activities planned with a series of online and virtual official events, just as they continue to assess whether there is need to take further action as the pandemic evolves.

LEADERSHIP findings in states showed that coronavirus has either slowed down or completely halted government activities.

Several events and activities across sectors have also either been cancelled or postponed.

In some of the states, principal government officials like secretaries to the state governments, commissioners, special advisers and even state legislators have deserted their offices due to COVID-19 scare.

In Imo, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on government establishments as well as the State House of Assembly which have been shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.

The chairman of the state task force on COVID-19, Prof Maurice Iwu, said the closure of the assembly complex was to allow the task force to fumigate the premises and allow the lawmakers, management, and staff to go into self-isolation.

He explained that the measure was taken after a member of the House tested positive for COVID-19.

Iwu said that the scare at the House of Assembly was real, and proactive measures needed to be taken so as to protect individuals and staff using the complex.

He disclosed that the committee had undertaken enhanced screening of the citizens.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also taken its toll on government activities in the state as only senior and management staff are allowed to report for duties.

Consequently, it was learnt that clients and visitors are not attended to properly in the various government agencies.

It was observed that without the presence of junior staff, the wheels of administration in the various government outlets run at a snail speed as there are limits to the tasks the management staff could undertake.

Dr John Okoronta said that life had become unbearable since the outbreak of COVID-19 because transactions at the various ministries are at a slow pace.

In Osun State, prominent government officials, including the secretary to the state government, Prince Wole Oyebamiji, have fallen victim of the virus, and this has greatly affected government activities.

The State House of Assembly had to suspend plenary on account of the pandemic.

Apart from the state government, private establishments and individuals have also suffered the effects of the absence of the SSG in his office during his period of isolation, while plenary in the legislature that could have resolved issues could not hold.

Mrs Adebisi Ogidan, who had an appointment to keep with the SSG last Monday, lamented her disappointment, saying in the absence of the SSG because there was nobody to attend to her.

Although a senior officer in the SSG’s office who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed that the absence of the SSG has not affected the running of government in the state, he however admitted that as the engine room of governance, some things have to wait till he is back in the office.

The situation is the same in Kogi State as the coronavirus pandemic has paralysed both government and business activities.

Government and legislative matters have been temporarily put on hold.

The State House of Assembly has suspended sittings for quite sometimes now, even before the advent of the pandemic.

However, the outbreak of the pandemic worsened the situation as the state government has ordered workers on grade level 7 and below to stay away from their offices.

 A government official who did not want his name in the print told our correspondent that “the pandemic is real and has shown several signs of its presence in our midst; let us not be deceived.”

In Rivers State, civil servants on Grade Level 1 to 12 have since March 12 this year been ordered to stay at home by the state government.

The development has made it difficult for people to submit letters in government offices as well as the state House of Assembly, as those responsible for such duties no longer report for work.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP, a hotelier, Chukwuma Okirie, said the inability of government offices in the state to function fully has affected every other business in the state, including the hospitality business.

But the state commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, said government business has been going on smoothly despite the outbreak of COVID-19.

Nsirim insisted that no government functionary in the state has gone on self-isolation due to the pandemic.

Since March this year when the COVID-19 induced lockdown was first announced, all government offices in Kwara State have remained shut.

Except for workers on essential duties like health personnel, the order on closure of government offices is ”total.”

The July 7 death of Alhaji Aminu Adisa Logun, the late chief of staff to the state governor, has further compounded the situation as government officials who have had contact with the deceased in the past two weeks have all proceeded on self-isolation, while their samples were taken for the COVID-19 test.

“Cabinet members, personal staff of the late chief of staff and some medical personnel who have recently had varying degrees of contacts with the late technocrat have now proceeded on self-isolation.

“Flowing from this, government officials are again urged to avoid physical meetings at all cost as well as keep to safety measures”, commissioner for Communication, Henrietta Afolabi-Oshatimehin, had said in a statement.

The commissioner said the state government had also suspended physical meetings of any kind on official matters until further notice, directing increased use of virtual platforms for such engagements in order to limit physical contacts.

The situation is not different at the state House of Assembly as all the offices there remain shut.

The legislators only reconvened early June for the main purpose of marking their first year anniversary, and since then, they proceeded on recess, just as plans for them to reconvene have not been successful.

Clerk of the House of Assembly, Hajia Halimat Kperogi, in a statement said the resumption of the lawmakers had been postponed indefinitely.

“This is to inform the general public that due to unforeseen developments, the Kwara State House of Assembly has further postponed its resumption of plenary to a date to be announced later,” the Clerk stated.

The development has made it difficult for members of the public to have access to both the public officials and the legislators.

Those desirous of meeting the state officials have resorted to sending text messages to them on their WhatsApp.

Some are also reaching out to the state officials through their aides or people considered to be very close to such officials.

In Plateau, Governor Simon Lalong has directed members of the State Executive Council (SEC) to undergo tests for COVID-19 and proceed on isolation for 14 days, beginning from 1 July, 2020.

The directive came after the commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mr Abe Aku, tested positive for COVID-19.

A statement by the commissioner for Information, Mr Dan Manjang, noted that “based on the governor’s directive, specimens of the commissioners are to be taken and forwarded to the COVID-19 laboratory at the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), Vom, for testing.

“During the period and pending the outcome of the results members of the public are advised to avoid unnecessary visits to members of the SEC while they are in isolation.”

The commissioner also disclosed that Mr Noel Donjur, the chief of staff to the governor has tested positive for COVID-19.

The new Government House, Little Rayfield and the state secretariat where the chief of staff and commissioners operate from have been deserted.

Some of the commissioners, when called for inquiries, directed our correspondent to the permanent secretaries in ministries, saying, “I am presently at the isolation centre; I cannot talk now; you can go to the ministries where the permanent secretaries will attend to you.”

Although the state House of Assembly complex is not under lock and key, there is a big banner at the entrance which reads: “Do not come in without putting on a nose mask.”

Members of the House were seen within the premises, either sitting or attending committee assignments.

Also, the Delta State government has announced that the secretary to the state government (SSG), Mr Chiedu Ebie, has been discharged from the isolation centre in Asaba, the state capital, where he was treated for COVID-19.

In a statement, Mr Olisa Ifeajika, the chief press secretary to the governor, who was at the isolation centre for 21 days, was discharged on Sunday after testing negative for the virus.

The CPS reaffirmed the state government’s commitment to combating the pandemic and urged citizens to eschew prejudices and indiscipline.

According to him, the vices are militating against compliance with the COVID-19 protocols in the state.

He pointed out that adherence to the directive on the protocols would greatly minimise the spread of the virus in the state.

Alaso, Nasarawa State government on April 28, 2020 broke the news of an index case of COVID- 19 in the state.

Consequently, the government imposed a lockdown order, closing down government offices in order to forestall the spread of the virus.

The lockdown directive also led to the shutdown of many businesses, especially those that cannot be performed from homes.

Only businesses proffering essential services have been exempted from the lockdown directive; hence, the state’s economy has been adversely affected.

In Borno, no state official has contracted coronavirus, and none of them is in isolation.

However, COVID-19 protocols are observed in most of the government offices with a limited number of people allowed to enter an office at once.

For instance, in the governor’s council chamber, before the advent of COVID- 19, all visitors, including journalists were usually allowed in during courtesy calls and other issues, but now due to the protocols of COVID-19, only a few visitors are allowed into the chamber, while not more than three reporters are allowed to cover an event.

When the visitors are not many, more reporters would be allowed in, while sometimes only cameramen were allowed in.

Following the confirmed cases of key government officials in Benue State, the pandemic has affected the smooth operation of government activities.

Our correspondent observed that some government officials are afraid to go to work for fear of contracting the virus.

For example, the absence of secretary to the state government (SSG), Prof Anthony Ijorho and the chief of staff to the governor, Terwase Orbunde, who are still in isolation have affected the smooth running of governmental functions and activities.

The chief press secretary to the governor, Terver Akase, told LEADERSHIP that Governor Samuel Ortom had earlier announced that he and other government officials that are infected by the virus will be going into isolation as stipulated by the NCDC.

He said, “But this doesn’t mean that the government has been grounded. The governor is still functioning as you know these days the government has embarked on virtual meetings when there are things that need the Governor’s attention it can be done via virtual meetings just as it is happening at the Federal level”.

He said the governor was still functioning and attending to the business of governance.

The government offices worst hit are the office of the head of service, the secretary to the government, chief of staff to the governor and office of the first lady.

Apart from government offices, the other public institution that is hard hit is the Benue State University where the pro-chancellor and chairman of Council, Prof Zachary’ Gundu have tested positive with the virus alongside the vice-chancellor Prof. Msugh Kembe.

The virus has claimed the lives of the deputy vice-chancellor Administration, Prof Godwin Achinge and a principal security officer, thus forcing the university to close down.

The state has also commenced the fumigation of public spaces, offices and establishments across the state.

Meanwhile, the Benue State House of Assembly a few days ago suspended plenary to allow members and staff to subject themselves to COVID-19 screening.

The decision was arrived at after the noticeable spike in COVID-19 cases around the state.

There are over 12,954,631 confirmed cases worldwide with at least 569,561 deaths across 215 countries.

No Hope Of Return To Normalcy Anytime Soon – WHO

And the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday dimmed hope that thing s will get better soon when it warned that there could be no return to normality any time soon as too many countries were bungling their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

After a daily record of 230,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported to the WHO on Sunday, the UN health agency said the pandemic was only going to get worse unless people stuck to the basics of physical distancing, hand washing and wearing of masks.

WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that countries that were easing their way out of lockdowns were now witnessing a resurgence of the virus because they were not following proven methods to reduce risk.

“If governments do not roll out a comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission of the virus, and if populations do not follow basic public health principles, “there is only one way this pandemic is going to go,” he said, adding that “it’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”

The novel coronavirus has killed nearly 570,000 people and infected more than 12.9 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

“Although the number of daily deaths remains relatively stable, there is a lot to be concerned about,” said Tedros.

He said there were four scenarios playing out around the world.

Rising Cases Due To Denial, Delay In Seeking Help – FG

For the federal government, the rising cases of Covid-19 in the country is as a result of denial and delay in seeking help.

The secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, stated this yesterday during the daily briefing of the presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19 in Abuja.

“An enhanced Risk Communication strategy becomes inevitable when we realise that within the last twenty-four hours, the world witnessed the largest single day cases of 230,370 while in Nigeria the last week recorded the highest weekly fatality of 70 deaths. The rising fatalities in Nigeria are not unconnected with denial and delay in seeking help”, the SGF stated.

Mustapha however stated that the PTF recognizes the efforts of innovators, researchers and research institutions in working to get a solution to the COVID-19, especially its cure.

He said, “However, we refrain from misleading the public into believing that a cure has been found or certified when indeed the validation processes was still on-going.

“This call is necessitated by the recent publication that a cure for COVID-19 had been listed by NAFDAC. The Agency has debunked the claim and we advise Nigerians to be vigilant”.

He further reiterated that all government offices shall continue to hold virtual meetings in their offices, especially where participants exceed four persons and suspend all unnecessary travels for meetings.

“For corporate organisations, board members, among others, the reopening of the domestic flights should not be misconstrued. The PTF strongly encourages virtual meetings as well”, Mustapha added.

He urged places of worship to cautiously follow the guide lines on public gatherings.

“We urge members of the political class to exercise utmost circumspection in their gathering for whatever reasons,” he added.

…Releases New Guidelines For Reopening Of Schools

The federal government also released new guidelines for the reopening of schools, saying the timing should be guided by the best interest of learners and over all public health considerations based on an assessment of the associated benefits and risk as well as informed by cross sectorial and context specific evidence, including education, public health and socio economic factor.

This was contained in a publication of guidelines for reopening schools after COVID-19 pandemic by the federal ministry of education and other stakeholders in the health sector.

The guidelines said both federal and state governments should be guided by recommendations, advice or directives from the World a Health Organisation, federal ministry of health, and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for effective risk avoidance and mitigation of the effect of virus.

It said decision making should also involve all major stakeholders including government at all levels, communities, and the civil society.

The guidelines said things to consider before reopening include level of community transmission nationwide, how much capacity has Nigeria developed for national testing, the capacity of the health care system nationwide to promptly detect and contain an upward surge,  capacity of schools and learning facilities nationwide to maintain safe school operation and community related risk factor to reopening for both teachers and learners.

It further said phased reopening can then be considered while priortising learners who are vulnerable, have reduced access to distance learning modalities and in examination classes.

Nigeria Recorded 3,600 Rape Cases During COVID-19

Meanwhile, the minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Pauline Tallen, has revealed that official figures showed that Nigeria recorded 3,600 rape cases during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Tallen made the revelation yesterday when she visited the deputy Senate president, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, in his office at the National Assembly complex.

The minister commended Omo-Agege for sponsoring the all-important Sexual Harassment Bill, which was passed into law by the Senate last week.

She noted that by this development, lawmakers have written their names in gold.

She condemned the upsurge in rape cases nationwide, adding that reports she received from Commissioners of Women Affairs across the 36 states of the Federation revealed that during the COVID-19 lockdown, show that each state recorded not less than 100 cases of rape during the period.

She also applauded the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) for declaring a state of emergency on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.

Senator Tallen also called for more legislation to protect the girl-child and women in Nigeria.

 Tallen’s commendation is coming on the heels of commendation by the United Nations Women (UN Women) on the passage of the Bill by the Senate.

 In a letter dated July 7, 2020, signed by the UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Comfort Lamptey, and addressed to the Deputy President of the Senate, she noted that “UN Women stands ready to support federal and state level efforts to implement this important legislation in the period ahead, working closely with women’s constituencies, students, educational institutions and other relevant stakeholders.”

Responding, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Omo-Agege, has said the approval of the Sexual Harassment Bill by the Senate was in furtherance of its Legislative Agenda, which seeks the protection of women’s rights.

We Cannot Rule Out Airborne Transmission Of Of Virus – NCDC

Meanwhile, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, has the possibility of airborne as a mode of transmission of COVID-19 cannot be ruled out.

He said there are possibilities that coronavirus (COVID-19) can be transmitted through the air.

Ihekweazu who disclosed this yesterday at the briefing of the presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19 attributed it to new evidence.

According to him, the disease is believed to only be transmittable through droplets that emanate from the nose and the mouth and fall to the ground.

The NCDC boss said, “Over the past few weeks, increasing evidence has emerged that in addition to droplet infections; we cannot rule out that airborne transmission is also possible as a mode of transmission of COVID-19.

“Understanding the modes of transmission of any new virus is very critical for defining response strategies. For COVID-19, from the very beginning, our understanding based on other coronaviruses that spread was primarily through droplets.”

Ihekweazu added: “Droplets are excretions from the respiratory tracts that can’t stay on in the air; they ultimately fall to the ground after a few minutes.

“However, as we have studied transmission, studied clusters of these infections, we saw increasing evidence from clusters of infections where droplet transmission did not seem to be enough to explain the clusters that we are seeing.

“Diseases that are commonly understood to be spread by what we call airborne infection are things like measles and influenza; that can be suspended in the air and transmit over longer distances.”

The NCDC boss noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also updated its guidelines with the same position on the mode of COVID-19 transmission.

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