Notwithstanding the spike in the nation’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Federal Government, yesterday, took far-reaching measures in the gradual easing of the lockdown across the country as it gave banks the nod to resume full operations based on prescribed directives while regular church and mosques are permitted to hold based on state governments’ protocols.
It also announced review of curfew from 8pm to 6am to 10pm to 4am and the resumption of flights from June 21, but ordered that schools should remain shut until further notice while interstate travels and gathering of over 20 persons outside of workplace and religious services is prohibited.
While it announced easing of the total lockdown of Kano State, it said hotels may reopen but bars, gyms, niteclubs, cinemas and parks remain closed until further evaluation.
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who made the disclosure during the COVID-19 daily briefing in Abuja, yesterday, said the measures were approved by President Muhammadu Buhari and would run over the next four weeks (June 2 to June 29) subject to review.
The task force boss warned that Nigeria was yet to hit the peak and the the war against COVID-19 was a long-term battle.
“This is still a fight for life and our advancement to phase two does not mean that COVID-19 has ended. It is still potent and highly wasteful of human lives. I implore all Nigerians and corporate citizens to take responsibility and play the expected role,” he said.
Mustapha urged Nigerian to pursue a strategy that would aid the sustainable control of the spread of the disease, stressing that risk communications and community engagement should remain top priority.
He also gave cautious advance into the second phase of the national response to COVID-19, application of science and data to guide the targeting of areas of on-going high transmission of COVID-19 in the country.
Said Mustapha: “This means mobilisation of all resources at state and local government levels to create public awareness on COVID-19 and improve compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions within communities. Sustenance of key non-pharmaceutical interventions that would apply nationwide and include: ban of gatherings of more than 20 people outside of a workplace. Relaxation of restriction on places of worship, based on guidelines issued by the PTF and protocols agreed by state governments.
“Managed access to markets and locations of economic activity to limit the risk of transmission, ban on interstate travels except for movement of agricultural produce, petroleum products, manufactured goods and essential services, mandatory use of non-medical face masks in public places; mandatory provision of hand-washing facilities/sanitisers in all public places. Extensive temperature checks in public places,maintaining two metres between people in public places, strengthening infection prevention and control at healthcare facilities.
“Isolation of vulnerable populations elderly and those with underlying health conditions, massive information and education campaigns.
“Deepening of collaborative efforts with community leaders, civil society, faith-based organisations, traditional institutions, continuous mobilisation of state governments to take up greater role in the implementation of the guidelines and advisories provided by the PTF,” he said.
Evacuation of Nigerians abroad remains suspended
The Federal Government said the evacuation of Nigerians abroad remains suspended until a new policy on mandatory supervised isolation of persons arriving the country is completed.
According to the National Coordinator of PTF, Dr. Sani Aliyu: “Mandatory supervised isolation of persons arriving outside the country will continue to be for 14 days until a new policy comes into place. There will be no further evacuation of Nigerians until the new policy that is currently being developed with the private sector comes into place. Any prior arrangements of evacuation of Nigerians from outside of the country is suspended until the new policy comes into place.
“Mandatory supervised isolation of persons arriving outside the country will continue to be for 14 days until a new policy comes into place. There will be no further evacuation of Nigerians until the new policy that is currently being developed with the private sector comes into place.
“Any prior arrangements of evacuation of Nigerians from outside of the country is suspended until the new policy comes into place. All these measures will need to include compliance on non-pharmaceutical interventions,” Aliyu said.
He said that the goal of phase two of the ease of lockdown over the next four weeks is to balance public safety with protecting lives as well as allowing full restoration of economic activities across the country.
Domestic flights likely to resume June 21
The Federal Government has said domestic flights may likely resume operations by June 21.
The country’s airports and airspace were shut in March as part of efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commercial flight operations, both local and international, had stopped, but President Muhammadu Buhari directives allowed the operation of essential flights, including those for medical and evacuation purposes, amongst others.
“The aviation industry is requested to start developing protocols to allow for domestic flights to resume anytime from June 21 onwards.
“Airlines must ensure physical distancing by reducing passenger capacity and ensure the provision of sanitisers and personal protective equipment as well as carrying out temperature checks at the point of entry and departure and ensuring that airports are not congested by either travellers or airports staff,” Aliyu he said.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, on his part said industry stakeholders should start developing protocols towards flight resumption.
He said the aircraft that have been packed for the past three months should be serviced to ensure they are airworthy.
“The maintenance of the aircraft is either usage or calendar time, whichever comes first and then protocols to storages of this aircraft either for short or long time. That is being done currently. The aviation needs to bring these aircraft to safe operations.
“There is also the issues of medicals that every pilot should have a license of medical permit that states that he is medically fit, well enough to carry out safe operations. Within this period, some of them may fall short and they need to do their medicals,” he said.
He said his ministry has been gradually engaging stakeholders ahead of the opening of the industry via social media platforms, zoom meetings among others to get them ready to be able to face the challenges of reopening of the airports.
He said the aviation industry has been the worst hit from COVID-19 and is eager to reopen for business.
“But we must start in a very orderly, organised,safe and in an efficient manner so that we will achieve the intent and purpose of air travels, which is safety, efficiency and very secured manner. So please bear with us.
“I have said here that because it is a service industry, if you don’t sell tickets today and you don’t fly, I have lost it. For three months people have not flown, which means salaries have not been paid, no income has been made because it is a service sector,” he said.
On when international flights will open, he said: “Today, we will begin to receive directives or suggestions or practices and standards from International Civil Aviation Organisation. We have factored that in. Today, we had a meeting on how we will start operations again. Some countries will definitely run faster than others, but I can tell you that countries with a huge population and aviation activities such as Nigeria, will definitely need to be cautious, will need to reflect on safety and efficiency of the industry. Two hundred million people with 923,766 square kilometers is really enormous and calls for every single action that will hitherto ensure safe operations.”
Continuing the minister said: “The private jets that want us to short circuit the system by which they were given approval for the flights, certainly, it is not for anybody that has money to fly on a private jet from Kano to Lagos or Port Harcourt. No. We still maintain and insist that it must be either for humanitarian, banking and finance, power, oil and gas, these are the ones that are allowed to fly on private jets. We have seen what happened to FlairJet the other time. And approval is only electronically done.”
He also debunked claims that money was paid for approval of flights.
“This is far from the truth, it is free and people should stop living in the past. For us in this government, we are very conscious of the weight of security in our hands. I have been minister for the past five years and I challenge anybody before these cameras that claims he has given me any money. There is FOI Act in place and we will give you all of the information.”
On May 6, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, had announced that the closure of the country’s airports and airspace were further extended by four weeks after due consultations with experts.