Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has expressed displeasure with the initial feedback it has gotten regarding violations of COVID-19 restriction orders by the citizens.
The chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, stated this on day two of the press briefing on the pandemic.
“Let me emphasise that the decision to lockdown is to prevent community spread which may be dangerous to manage. It can only be done by Nigerians and for Nigerians,” Mustapha said.
Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire said as of March 31st, there have been 135 confirmed cases and two deaths. He gave the breakdown of cases by states to include Lagos – 81; FCT- 25; Ogun- 4; Enugu – 2; Ekiti – 1; Oyo – 8; Edo – 2; Bauchi – 2; Osun – 5; Rivers – 1; Benue – 1; and Kaduna – 3.
He said that additional strategies are being developed to identify suspected carriers through contact tracing to support case dictation, isolation and treatment in other to reduce infection.
The health minister said the closure of land borders and airports will reduce the number of importations of new cases. He added that the country will be dealing largely with those that are being infected and are being transmitted from person to person.
Ehanire announced that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has engaged hundreds of ad hoc staff to support call centres, contact tracing and laboratory work.
He added that many retired staff of the NCDC and of the ministry of health have reported for duty and that training is ongoing for medical personnel.
He said that about 1,000 beds are being prepared in Abuja to be used immediately if the need arises.
The minister said resources to procure items have been provided and that more testing sites have been opened in Ibadan and Abakiliki while exiting laboratories are being optimised in their performance.
Ehanire said the federal government will be deploying specialists from the viral disease research and treatment centre in Irrua to Abuja to assist in training and case management.
He reiterated the need for citizens to embrace and practice safety measures because they are for the common good and in the interest of all.
Director-General of NCDC Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu said from the pronouncements made by the president and the task force, the challenge is being taken seriously from the very top, as he urged citizens to cooperate.
He said the strategy being employed is still that of containment.
“It means we are still at a point where we have a window of opportunity to identify all the cases, confirm if they have the disease, confirm all their contacts, follow up each of them, make sure they don’t have the disease and for those who have the disease bring them into care,” he said.
“This is a very tedious process. We are following up about 5,000 contacts across the country.
“This is one of the reasons Mr President asked us what we needed and gave us two weeks to free up the roads and enable us to have the space to do this effectively.
“This comes at some pain to many Nigerians in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT but it is a necessary precaution and recommendation to enable the health workers, particularly in Lagos and Abuja, have the opportunity to reach all of these contacts, make sure they are okay and those with symptoms bring them into care as quickly as possible.
“In carrying out the directives of Mr President, we need to think about what we need to do for ourselves, we need to ask ourselves: do we really need to break these regulations? We will be destroying the efforts we are making collectively.
“So, please Nigerians, this is the time to really hold ourselves accountable by carrying out these measures. It is only by doing this and bearing this pain for the next few weeks that we will have a small chance of containing this outbreak.”
The DG NCNC said this is the time to enforce the social distancing protocol, saying “If we are not in contact with each other, that virus cannot circulate amongst us.”
Ihekweazu said Nigeria would continue to develop capacity to test for COVID-19, noting that while it now has the capacity to test up to 1,000 this week, it hopes to be able to test as many as 1,500 next week.
Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika on his part reiterated that all airports including local airports have been closed to contain the spread of the virus.
He, however, added that certain flights that are considered too essential will continue to operate.
He listed this to include flights in distress in other to save lives, those on technical stops, those needing to refuel, those on medical evacuation, essential cargo flights, certain diplomatic flights, humanitarian flights – those bringing in food items and humanitarian supplies, those carrying medical equipment and medicine as well as security flights.
He added that new protocols have been set up, one of which is that if a flight is on ground all its crew must remain on board.
He explained that aircrafts will not be serviced except to refuel.
Sirika said all diplomatic and security flight requests must go through the ministry of foreign affairs and the office of the national security adviser, respectively, with the aviation ministry copied.
He said flights that have been allowed to land include one carrying communications equipment but the pilots and engineers remained on board. Another flight allowed to land was that of NNPC because one of the national assets producing 10 per cent of national revenue was at the risk of being closed.
Meanwhile, the federal government said it will be reaching more than 11 million Nigerians with palliatives to cushion the harsh effects of the measures set to fight the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouk, disclosed while reacting to questions in Tuesday’s media briefing.
She further disclosed that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East have already received two months rations of relief materials.
Farouk added that the government already has a social-register with details of those considered as the most vulnerable in society in all states of the federation, adding that these people belong to around 2.6 million households across the country.
The Minister is Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in his contribution said this was an opportunity for the country to learn from best practices from what other countries have done or should have done.
“We are in touch with foreign countries and learning from them,” he said.
He added that the diplomatic corps in Nigeria are an important constituency also because they want to help us in this very difficult times. So we are engaging also with them because there is a lot of assistance that they are also very keen to provide. That is one of the reasons we have provided them with this waiver so that we can keep in touch with various countries and facilitate technical assistance and other assistance for us during this period.
“We are also engaging countries on some equipment that we don’t have. As you know, we are very short on ventilators. So we have engaged a lot of countries and we are hoping to source some. But, of course, a lot of countries we are looking to for assistance are also facing huge challenges themselves but nevertheless are cooperating with us.
“Some countries are offering medical doctors especially from those countries that have already gone through this experience. And that kind of support will absolutely be invaluable for us.
“We also saw some situations where some countries also helped us in facilitating airlift to bring back some Nigerian resources to come and help in this fight,” the foreign minister said.
The Minister of the Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, speaking on correctional facilities, said their hygiene level has been increased to minimize infection.
He said President Buhari has approved some recommendations of measures that will bring relief to overburdened correctional facilities.
On the riot that broke out at a Kaduna correctional centre, the minister said the inmates reacted to misinformation and fake news on social media that an amnesty was granted to a set of prisoners.
He assured that the situation has been brought under control. He added that the government was working on appropriate measures to decongest the correctional facilities.