Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has extended the ban on all flights into the country for an additional four weeks.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, announced this at the daily briefing yesterday.
“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,” he said.
The Federal Government had, on March 18, announced the restriction of entry into the country for travellers from 13 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
The restriction was extended to travellers from countries with more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases. They included China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
On March 23, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that only essential flights would be allowed, including aircraft in state of emergency, over-flights, operations related to humanitarian aid, medical and relief flights, alternate aerodrome identified in the flight plan, technical stop where passengers do not disembark, cargo flights and other safety-related operations.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the sector has lost about N21 billion since the pandemic that necessitated the closure of the airports to international flights.
“Based on the trend of events prior to COVID-19, the total loss is about N21 billion approximately plus about N3 billion (trajectionally). It is divided in this form: N7 billion for aviation (what they lose in a month), N10 billion for airlines, N4 billion for ground handling, catering, etc., and then the taxation is N3 billion.”
Meanwhile, the PTF chairman has expressed concerns that Nigerians were not complying with the guidelines for the gradual easing of lockdown.
He said from their observations, Nigerians have abandoned protective measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, noting that all indications pointed at trouble ahead. He called on all stakeholders, especially community and religious leaders, to help government in turning the tide.
The SGF reiterated his call for all Nigerians to take responsibility for their individual safety, as well as for their loved ones, warning that COVID-19 was a deadly outbreak, which should be taken seriously.
“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 organisations to complement the efforts of government. The PTF appreciates your current efforts but it has become very obvious that more needs to be done, together.
“Early assessment of the ease of lockdown phase indicates that Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the deadliness and the virulent nature of the COVID-19 and this gives us concerns on the high possibility of increased seeding of the virus to hitherto un-affected persons and populations.”
He appealed to governors to align their plan for the movement of Almajiris with the ban imposed by the President. Mustapha also admitted that people had faced challenges in the last few weeks, but warned “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 earlier encountered at the bank. 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 the banks to also quickly address issues related to difficulty with using their on-line platforms, especially re-validating expired ATM cards, among others,” he said.
The SGF also expressed the concerns of President Muhammadu Buhari, as well as the PTF, on increasing cases of infection of medical doctors and other health sector frontline workers, adding that government would continue to renew efforts at training frontline personnel.
He specifically spoke about the situation at the isolation centres in Gombe State, where concerns of lack of care had been raised in viral online videos.
He said, “We have investigated and I wish to assure you that the NCDC team is on ground in Gombe to support the state EOC. Similarly, I can confirm that the testing laboratory in Gombe will be activated soon.”
He called on transportation managers, as well as leaders of various transport unions across the country to enlighten drivers of commercial vehicles on managing crowds, especially as public transportation had become a major clustering point.
He further said the PTF had continued to interface with state governments and other sub-national entities on various effective strategies to manage the health crisis.
Plane conveying Nigerians from Dubai makes midair return
A chartered plane conveying Nigerian returnees from the United Arab Emirates yesterday made a U-turn after a pregnant woman on board reportedly went into labour.
Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, confirmed the report.
The plane, which was initially scheduled to land at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport at 3pm, eventually arrived at 7pm.
The Emirates flight was the first of at least two other flights scheduled to evacuate Nigerians within the next few days.
The Foreign Affairs ministry said discussions were ongoing with British Airways to airlift 300 Nigerians from London on Friday; arrangements are also being made with Ethiopian Airlines for a flight from New York to Abuja next Monday.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said on Monday that over 4,000 “willing” Nigerians were waiting to be evacuated across the world back home.
The returning Nigerians are expected to be quarantined for 14 days in select hotels on their arrival, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. The quarantine is to ensure the coronavirus status of every returnee is ascertained.
Amnesty programme evacuates 27 beneficiaries in Ghana
Twenty-seven beneficiaries of the Presidential Amnesty Programme who completed a six-month training in automobile engineering at the Hyundai Automobile Centre in Koforidua, Eastern Region, Ghana, on April 2, have been evacuated to Nigeria amid daunting challenges occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
They arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, yesterday aboard an Air Peace chartered flight and were received by officials of the NCDC and the Amnesty Office.
In line with protocols put in place by the PTF, the 27 returnees were taken to a hotel in Maitama to be quarantined for 14 days.
The beneficiaries, who returned to the country after undergoing a comprehensive training in automobile assemblage, repair and maintenance at the Hyundai Automobile Centre in Ghana, popularly known as the Hyundai Dream Centre, commended the National Security Adviser, Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd), for authorising their airlifting back to Nigeria.
Leader of the beneficiaries, Mr. Omieh Orlando, also thanked the chairman and members of the caretaker committee superintending over the Amnesty Programme for facilitating the smooth evacuation process, as well as President Buhari for the gesture and sustaining the Amnesty Programme in his determination to reposition the Niger Delta region.
Mr. Emmanuel Ifie, managing director, Esco & Jester Services Limited, the consultant for the training of the beneficiaries, expressed joy over the evacuation exercise, which he said was a huge success.