BY BODE GBADEBO, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO, IGHO OYOYO,
DAVID ADUGE-ANI, Ejike Ejike, Abuja and John Mkom, Jalingo
Apparently disturbed by the spike in the second wave of COVID-19 in the country, the federal government yesterday ordered five-week restrictions on activities involving large gathering.
The activities include recreational, sporting and religious activities as well as compulsory closure of schools, while all government staff on GL 12 and below are to stay at home.
Amid fears of a new strain of coronavirus in the United Kingdom, a tweet by presidential aide, Mr Bashir Ahmad, containing a locked yellow padlock, a downward arrow in a blue box, and the figure ‘2.0’ had sparked mixed reactions on Twitter over another total lockdown in the country in the wake of the second wave of the pandemic.
The federal government also said it may further impose a fresh travel ban to and fro certain parts of the world due to the mutated strain of COVID-19 manifesting itself in the United Kingdom and some other nations across the globe.
Speaking at the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 yesterday, the chairman of PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha said, “His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has authorised the PTF to engage with the States and the FCT to assume full ownership of this stage of the response by deploying legal structures and resources, including enforcement to manage the pandemic within their jurisdictions.
“In line with the authorisation, the PTF wishes to issue the following advisories to sub-national entities for implementation over the next five weeks because these activities are considered super spreader events.
“Close all bars, night clubs, pubs and event centres, and recreational venues; close all restaurants except those providing services to hotel residents; takeaways, home deliveries and drive-ins shall remain closed.
“Restrict all informal and formal festivity events including weddings, conferences, congresses, office parties, concerts, seminars, sporting activities, end of year events shall be restricted to not more than 50 persons.
“Limit all gatherings linked to religious events to less than 50% capacity of the facility of use during which physical distancing; mandatory use of face masks shall be strictly enforced.
“Where more than 50 persons are attending, any such events, the gathering should be held outdoors only; public transportation systems are to carry passengers not more than 50% of their capacity in compliance with social distancing rules.
“Enforce compliance with NPI protocols especially the advisory on wearing of face masks in public spaces; reduce overcrowding in public spaces, markets, shopping centres, offices and schools.
“States are advised to implement the following: Encourage virtual meetings in government offices. The leadership of such offices are to ensure that all offices are well-ventilated offices, and encourage staff to work from home where possible.
“All government staff on GL.12 and below are to stay at home for the next five weeks; Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executives are to be held accountable for enforcing NPI rules in their domains with frequent spot checks.”
On schools, Mustapha said the PTF, on the advice of the
Federal Ministry of Education expects that schools would have vacated from December 18, 2020 and remain closed till at least January 18, 2021 to enable the measures introduced to take effect.
He noted that all persons above the age of 60 years are encouraged to stay at home and avoid crowds; while all non-essential travels – both domestic and international during the holiday season are seriously discouraged.
While offering advice to strengthen risk communication and community engagement activities over the next five weeks, the PTF said, “States are encouraged to engage community and religious leaders, arrange town hall meetings (ideally set outdoors) to address concerns; Intensify public messaging activities, leveraging on existing government and partner assets; Reach out to youths and younger adults with health promotion activities; Invest in local face mask purchase and distribution to the general public to encourage use.
“Where applicable, the PTF shall also implement these authorisations. For example, it shall work with the Nigeria Immigration Service to impose sanctions on all in-bound travellers who violated the travel protocols and endangered the lives of their loved ones and other citizens by refusing to take the post-arrival test.”
On banning of international travels, the SGF noted: “A lot of discussion is still going on around the calls for the restriction of international travels due to the discovery of new strains of the virus in certain countries.
“The PTF, Aviation and health authorities, including the WHO, are assessing the situation closely and would take a position as soon as cogent scientific basis are established. The protection of Nigerians remains our primary concern and we reassure Nigerians of our resolve not to relent.”
Amid fears of a new strain of coronavirus in the United Kingdom, a tweet by Mr Bashir Ahmad had sparked mixed reactions on Twitter.
Ahmad, the personal assistant on New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari, posted the tweet on Monday via his verified Twitter handle.
Although he did not post any text that suggests a second lockdown, his tweet contains a locked yellow padlock, a downward arrow in a blue box, and the figure ‘2.0’.
As some of the Twitter users warn the government against the negative effects of another lockdown, others see it as a welcome development while some give hilarious reactions.
The tweet by Ahmad, which has triggered fears of a second phase of lockdown, comes ahead of the scheduled submission of the final report of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to President Buhari.
In the last couple of days, Nigeria saw its highest single-day COVID-19 cases, figures that are higher than those reported in the early months of the outbreak in the country.
The increasing numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the country have forced authorities in various states to reactivate the measures put in place to curb the spread of the disease.
These include the closure of schools, compulsory wearing of facemasks in public spaces, and the restriction of crowds in social and religious gatherings.
Meanwhile, the minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had earlier hinted that the federal government was mulling a possible imposition of a fresh travel ban to and fro certain parts of the world.
The minister disclosed this yesterday in Abuja at a Special Forum of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Mohammed, a member of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, said while the government appreciates the negative economic impact of another lockdown, it would not rule out restriction on movement to certain parts of the world.
He said, “We are more concerned about the new strain of COVID-19 which is manifesting itself in the UK; that is the mutated strain.
“It is difficult to detect, it spreads faster and people have been known to die of it within a very short period of its detection. This is a major concern to us as a country.
“While I do not want to pre-empt the PTF because we are meeting this afternoon (Monday), it is going to be top on the agenda of our discussions.
“I will not be surprised if that will be the recommendation of the committee which is meeting later today”.
The minister added: “This season, many students are coming from the UK in particular, to come and join their families in Nigeria.
“Besides, many of our people, because of the traditional link we have with UK, may want to go there for business or family re-union.
“It is a very testy time and it might be another dangerous period to transmit this new variant of COVID-19.”
The minister noted that many European countries had banned flights to and fro the UK.
According to Mohammed, the federal government will not hesitate in giving the directive if it is the only way Nigerians can be protected from the agony of the new variant of COVID-19.
Besides measures to prevent the importation of the new strain of
COVID-19, the minister said government was worried about the spike in infections in the last couple of days.
He enjoined Nigerians to comply with the advisory being regularly issued by the PTF, including the use of face mask, compliance with social distancing protocols and regular washing of hands with soap and water.
The minister also urged Nigerians to refrain from local or international travels except if absolutely necessary.
FCT Attains PTF Testing Target
Meanwhile, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) said it remains the only state in the country to attain and surpass the COVID-19 testing target of one per cent population set by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
Also, with the establishment of seven isolation/treatment centres, with 920 total bed capacity, including ICU facilities, the territory also exceeds the 300 bed capacity recommended for states by the PTF on COVID-19.
Acting secretary for Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS), Dr
Mohammed Kawu, who disclosed this at a news conference in Abuja yesterday, added that the secretariat had carried out investigation and testing of 86,505 suspected cases of COVID-19 and confirmed 8338 positive cases.
Kawu also revealed that the FCTA has activated surveillance system at point of entry with screening of over 52,161 Passengers of Interest (POIs), out of which 320 (0.6 per cent) were positive.
He added that the administration has begun 10 scientific researches on
COVID-19, including randomised clinical trials on drugs effectiveness and management of the virus infection, while the secretariat would ensure the accreditation of FCTA hospitals for Postgraduate Residency Training, as well as the establishment of a standard Residency Training Programme to ensure sustained specialist consultant manpower development.
The acting secretary disclosed the FCTA in partnership with the World
Health Organisation (WHO) would establish Measles, Rubella and Yellow Fever reference laboratory in Maitama District Hospital to serve the entire north central zone of the country.
Senate, FG Intensify Efforts To Procure COVID-19 Vaccine
Meanwhile, the Senate leadership yesterday evening met with representatives of the federal government in a move that would see to the purchase of the COVID-19 vaccines next year by the government.
The meeting which lasted about two hours thirty minutes was presided over by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.
In attendance were minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire; minister of State for Health, Sen. Olorunimbe Mamora; director-general, Budget and National Planning, Ben Akabueze; director-general, National Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu; and director-general, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in his welcome address, said that the meeting which was summoned at the instance of the Senate leadership, was scheduled to ascertain the level of preparedness by the Federal Government towards the purchase of the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to him, an engagement between the legislature and executive would evaluate and appraise government’s readiness to acquire the vaccine for administration to Nigerians across the country.
“Essentially, we want you to tell us how we are going to be able to provide the vaccines in such a manner that the vaccines are not only acquired, but remain efficacious and effective, that they are not invalidated because of any challenge in the area of storage or during transportation. And we know ours is a very difficult and sometimes impossible environment.
“Other countries have already started receiving the vaccines, even though I’m not sure if there’s any African country that has received. But if any African country should receive first, it should be Nigeria.
“Alongside these, you should also give us an idea on how we are going to start the vaccination.
“We need to have the strategy of how we intend to do it, so that we don’t run into any chaos.
“That means we need to continue to campaign for our people to continue to use face-masks and hand sanitizers as well as keep to social distancing.
“Because if we have the vaccine, it would take quite some time before everybody gets it. And before then, we should insist on the protocols because this is a matter of life and death,” Lawan said.
Briefing the Senate leadership, the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said four holding points had been identified by the agency for storage of the vaccine.
According to him, the locations are: Abuja, Lagos, Enugu and Kano.
He disclosed that an ultra-cool system will be provided by GAVI – a public–private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunisation in poor countries – at the various locations as part of an initial 20 percent agreement.
He added that, “the vaccine distribution plan has been developed and will be further updated with the micro-planning process as the need arises.”
On the cost implication for purchase of the vaccine, Shuaib said that additional vaccines over the 20 percent supply agreement to poor countries will be purchased by the Federal Government.
“In terms of the cost of the vaccines, we plan to reach 70 percent as earlier mentioned by the end of 2022.
“For 2021, GAVI-eligible countries like Nigeria will be supported through the COVAX AMC facility in the procurement of 20 percent for the total population.
“Any additional vaccine required that is above 20 percent of the COVAX facility will be funded by Nigeria at an average price of $4 per dose, given that the vaccines that we have now require 2 doses; that will be $8USD per person.
“This additional 20 percent requirement in 2021 will have to be funded by the government of Nigeria.
“In 2022, we are trying to access a further 30 percent of the vaccines. The Federal Government will have to, in addition to buying these vaccines, pay for the operational cost which is estimated to be about $1.6USD per person.
“We have to budget for this in 2021 and 2022. In 2021, the cost of vaccines on operations will be N156.7 billion; In 2022, it will be N220.9 billion,” Shuaib said.
11 NYSC Members Test Positive In Taraba
Meanwhile, as the fear of escalation mounts, not fewer than Eleven National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members have tested positive of COVID-19 at NYSC Orientation Camp in Jalingo, Taraba state capital.
The corps members were reported to be currently isolated and are being treated of the disease in the state.
This was disclose yesterday in Jalingo by the Taraba state commissioner for Health, Dr. Innocent Vakai during an end of the year media briefing.
Vakai said based on the instructions by the National Center For Disease
Control, NCDC that all members of the scheme should be tested on arrival at various orientation camps across the country, the Eleven NYSC members were discovered to be with the disease in Taraba state on arrival at the camp.
The commissioner also said that all the affected corps members were isolated in a Hotel following the vandalisation of the state Isolation center by hoodlums during the EndSARS saga.