From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
In view of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and in a bid to secure vaccines, President Muhammadu Buhari has extended the mandate of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 until March 2021.
According to the President, the country cannot afford to lose the gains of the past nine months in the fight against the pandemic.
Mr Buhari, who said he has received a total of eight Interim Reports along with one Mid-Term Report, in the past nine months of the PTF work, apprising him progressively of developments on the COVID-19 pandemic, announced the extension Tuesday in Abuja while receiving the End-of-Year Report of the task force.
The President said he has extended the mandate of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 ‘for a further period till the end of March 2021 bearing in mind the new surge in the number of cases and the bid for vaccines.’
According to him, ‘recent reports reaching me indicate that Nigeria is now facing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide which is similar to the second wave of infections occurring in other countries across the world.
‘New epicentres have been identified and the nation cannot afford to lose the gains of the last nine months. I have critically evaluated the situation and remain convinced that urgent measures have to be taken to halt the spread and the attendant fatalities.
‘Closely associated with the foregoing is the need to speedily and strategically access and administer the COVID vaccine in a safe, effective and timely manner. This is an important obligation that we owe Nigerians as we go into the year 2021 and it must be carried out through efficient machinery.’
The President added that ‘the nation is clearly in a perilous situation given the virulent nature of this second wave and we must act decisively to protect our people. I, therefore, urge all sub-national entities, traditional rulers, religious and leaders of thought to collaborate with the PTF by taking up the responsibility for risk communication and community engagement at all levels. Now is the time for collective efforts to be intensified.
‘As the festive season approaches, I urge all Nigerians to remain vigilant and stay safe. Non-essential trips and large social gatherings should be avoided or shelved completely.’
President Buhari reiterated that he has authorised that the PTF should coordinate the process for planning and the strategy for accessing, delivery and administration of the vaccines using the existing health structures that have worked in the past in vaccine administration; Authorised the PTF to engage with the states for them to assume full ownership of the current stage of the response by deploying legal structures and resources, including enforcement to manage the pandemic within their jurisdictions.
He has also authorised the PTF and the Nigeria Immigration Service to ensure that all in-bound passengers who failed to show up for post-arrival COVID-19 test are sanctioned within the ambit of the law, for breaching the public health protocols.
President Buhari noted that the impact of the COVID-19 on global and national economies cannot be fully assessed, adding that no nation of the world has been spared the experience of different degrees of the economic downturn as several countries including Nigeria went into negative growth territories.
He said during the period of the lockdown, the National Social Register was expanded to accommodate 3.6 million beneficiaries across thirty-six states, support provided to 8,827,129 households through the 70,000MT food grains released from the Strategic Reserve; and support to 1,289,405 vulnerable households that benefitted from the Conditional Cash Transfers across 34 states.
President Buhari further noted that the pandemic also revealed ‘the vulnerabilities in our health system which compelled our determination to ensure that its support is given top priority in terms of infrastructure, human and institutional capacities, legislative support, etc.
‘It must be emphasised that this administration recognises that an effective and efficient health sector represents a significant component of our security and economic growth strategy.
‘It is in this regard that I am pleased to note the legacy improvements made in the health sector in the areas of laboratory infrastructure, treatment centres, training of health care personnel, improvement in surveillance and Port Health capacities, etc.’
The President, thanking the private entrepreneurs who sourced and installed impressive healthcare facilities in some strategic places as their contribution to this National Emergency, added that there more work to be done.
He said: ‘There is still more work to be done in the health sector to help us cater for our citizens and minimise the drain on our foreign exchange and trained manpower through medical tourism. For Nigeria to enjoy a lasting legacy from the huge investment in the health sector, a comprehensive Health Sector Reform that will achieve the following amongst others must be instituted. The objectives include to: Build the human and institutional capacity to provide a world-class 21st-century health care system, capable of responding effectively to future pandemics; Develop a viable strategy for our primary and tertiary healthcare system; Re-align institutional mandates and functions within the health sector for effectiveness and efficiency; Distinguish policy and coordination from implementation responsibilities; and Strengthen the statutory and regulatory capacities within the health sector.’