Danger ahead over COVID-19, FG raises alarm

•Says Nigerians under-rating deadly nature of COVID-19
•Extends closure of airports by 4 weeks, adds no cure yet for infection
•Journalists, other essential workers exempted from curfew
•Lagos records 43 new cases, as confirmed cases rise to 2,950

By Omeiza Ajayi

The Federal Government yesterday painted a gloomy picture of what lies ahead for Nigerians, following general non-adherence to safety protocols put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Noting that Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the deadly nature of the virus, the government said there was danger ahead.

It also lamented the continued infection of doctors managing the pandemic, urging them to adhere to all the standard Infection, Prevention and Control, IPC, measures.

The government also announced an extension of the closure of airports by four weeks, saying its decision was based on facts available, as well as the advice of experts, lamenting, however, that airlines in the country are losing N17 billion monthly due to shut-down of the airspace.

It added that by the time airlines would be allowed to operate, every plane would first be subjected to safety checks.

The Federal Government also expressed shock at the revelation that security operatives are harassing journalists and other essential workers during curfews, explaining that those categories of workers were clearly exempted from the curfew.

Following the request of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has released 20 of its Hilux Vans to assist with the situation in Sokoto State.

This brings to 160, the number of vans so far released by the electoral umpire to assist the PTF to implement its national response to the pandemic.

The government added that Nigeria currently has 500 ventilators and 350 Intensive Care Unit, ICU, beds, stating that while it was expecting more ventilators from the United States and China, there had been very little need for the machines in its treatment centres.

These disclosures were made at yesterday’s daily briefings of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19.

Danger ahead, SGF warns

Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Boss Mustapha, who noted that the overall assessment of the compliance measures put in place by the government pointed in the direction of danger, said: “Early assessment of the ease of lock-down phase indicates that Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the deadliness and the virulent nature of COVID-19 and this gives us concerns on the high possibility of increased seeding of the virus to hitherto un-affected persons and populations.

“Some of these areas of worries include the following: Non-compliance with social/physical distancing guidelines evidenced by higher than an 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.  Once again, we appeal to governors to please align their plan for the movement of Almajirai with the ban imposed by the President. We shall intensify our dialogue on this matter.

“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 organizations to complement the efforts of the government. The PTF appreciates your current efforts but it has become very obvious that more needs to be done, together.

“While we continue to advocate strict compliance with the prescribed measures, the PTF urges Nigerians to also use this period of a pandemic to build social solidarity by eschewing stigmatisation, support the mental well-being of our compatriots that are infected, continue to provide for the poor, sick, aged and vulnerable and to provide support in whatever manner.

“As we continue to push the frontiers of risk communication, I wish to appeal to all Nigerians to be vigilant and desist from taking undue risks. The PTF recognises the challenges encountered at banks by Nigerians.

“We, however, assure you that the Central Bank of Nigeria, as well as the Bankers’ Committee, have put in place strategies that would reduce such recurrence. I, therefore, plead with Nigerians to be patient and schedule their physical appearances at banks.

“On the other hand, I wish to repeat my call to banks to also quickly address issues related to difficulty with using their on-line platforms, especially re-validating expired ATM cards, among others.

No flights for 4 more weeks

“Tomorrow (today) 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.

Infection of health personnel

“The PTF and, indeed, Mr President, is deeply worried about reports on the increasing rate of infection of medical doctors and personnel. While we renew our efforts at training these front-line workers about the infectious nature of this virus, we urge that utmost care be taken in managing COVID-19 related cases.”

Mustapha disclosed that the NCDC will be visiting Kogi and Cross River states to provide support to the State Emergency Operation Centres, EOCs.

According to him, the PTF has received reports about the emerging situation in isolation centres in Gombe circulating in a viral video clip.

“We have investigated and I wish to assure you that the NCDC team is on the ground in Gombe to support the state EOC. Similarly, I can confirm that the testing laboratory in Gombe will be activated soon,” he stated.

Journalists exempted from curfew

The Federal Government also told security agencies to stop harassing journalists and other essential duty workers, saying they belong to the class of those exempted from the curfew imposed on the country.

“On whether journalists and vendors are not considered as essential services, I believe that they are because whatever we do here, if you do not report it, then the news item will not get out there; adverts we carried on newspapers, radio and televisions that are supposed to enhance and equip our people with knowledge and information so that they can take informed decisions would not go out there.

“So, I believe that anything related to the press is considered essential services for the purpose of allowing you free passage. We will look at the issue that happened in Lagos because if we expect the networks to remain in operation throughout the night, then when it comes to movement, our security agencies should be adaptive enough to know that these people are coming from their places of work and grant them access to get home,” the SGF declared.

‘Repatriation of almajirai worsening things’

On his part, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, faulted the ongoing repatriation of Almajiris by some states, saying it didn’t indicate a good understanding of the seriousness of COVID-19 pandemic.

He said:  “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.”

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, specifically lamented the reported harassment of journalists in Lagos, saying he would take up the matter with the Police command.

He said: “On the issue of journalists being prevented from doing their work in Lagos, I will take up the issue with the Commissioner of Police in Lagos because my understanding and which has worked so far, is that anybody with a valid identification as a journalist is allowed to move about unmolested.”

Also speaking on the issue, the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, expressed shock at the development.

“In terms of clarification of the curfew, yes, journalists are exempted but I am surprised that you (journalists) are having issues. But we will release a specific clarification and we will be meeting with our security agencies by Friday and will make it very clear to them that people on essential duties are exempted from the curfew,” Aliyu stated.

No medication licensed for COVID-19

Speaking earlier in the day on a Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, Dr Aliyu, has said no medication had been licenced for treating COVID-19 patients in the country.

Aliyu, who has debunked reports that some drugs and local herbs were available as cure for COVID-19, insisted that no medication had been confirmed for the disease.

“I must make it very clear at the moment, there is no medication that has been confirmed to be effective and licenced for COVID-19 infection. None,” he said.

He, however, noted that the United States of America had given temporary approval for the use of an anti-viral drug, called Remdesivir, for a clinical trial in the quest to find a cure for the pandemic.

Remdesivir is an antiviral drug initially developed to treat Ebola which was given after a major trial found that it boosted recovery in serious COVID-19 patients.

The approval is the latest step in a global push to find viable treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lock-down, hammered the world economy, and infected more than 3.3 million people.

Minister of Health,  Dr Osagie Ehanire,  shared a similar view last week, stressing that there was no cure yet for the disease but research was ongoing.

“Yes, chloroquine has been touted as the drug that might be quite useful in dealing with COVID-19, but nothing has been confirmed yet. In Nigeria, doctors are also still trying to figure out how to treat patients.

“Clinical trials and other processes are ongoing to validate various therapeutics for COVID-19 treatment,’’ Ehanire had said.

INEC deploys vehicles

Meanwhile, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has approved an additional deployment of 20 vehicles to Sokoto State to assist with logistic efforts of the Presidential Task Force.

Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, disclosed this in a statement yesterday.

He said: “Further to its avowed commitment to support the national effort at combating the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC has approved the deployment of 20 additional vehicles from its fleet to assist with the logistics needs of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

“The 20 additional pick up vans, which are being released at the request of the Task Force, will be deployed to Sokoto State to facilitate the movement of medical personnel for contact tracing.

“The commission will continue to collaborate with all agencies and stakeholders to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. We appeal to all citizens to join in this by complying with the advice of the medical authorities and observing all protocols and directives issued by them.”

Airlines losing N17bn monthly

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, on his part, noted that airlines operating in the country are currently losing N17 billion monthly as a result of the pandemic.

He said: “We are worst hit than any other sector. Some N17 billion is being lost monthly by the airlines, thanks to COVID-19.

“The sector is highly regulated and very coordinated and has standards that must be followed at all times. So, we will not be able to just open up after closing for several weeks and perhaps for some months.

“There are safety issues and concerns. A typical example, you keep your car stagnant and put it on jack or stone for six months and you come back and you want to kick-start the same car, you develop problems.

‘’So, those airplanes have been kept and when we are going to bring them into service, we have to ensure that they are airworthy and that they can make those flights safely. So also it is for the flight crew.”

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