Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus (COVID-19) has kicked against plans by Cross River State government to reopen schools on June 16 and viewing centres in Kano State, warning that it was not yet safe to do so.
Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, gave the warning at yesterday’s briefing of the task force.
Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River had announced plans to open three public schools in each of the three senatorial districts across the state on June 16.
But the Nigerian Medical Association in Cross River had cautioned against the move saying the medical community saw no evidence to ascertain the actual COVID-19 status and disease burden in the state due to the unacceptable low level of tests.
The association maintained that the quick resumption of schools, in spite of genuine reasons, has the potential of significant disease outbreak among students.
Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State had, on his part, directed the reopening of all viewing centres as one of the first steps to reopen the state’s economy.
Speaking on the issue, Mustapha said: “We have received reports that some states are contemplating the reopening of schools, television viewing centres, sports stadium and other places where large gatherings could take place. The PTF re-emphasises that it is not yet safe to do so and that utmost caution should be exercised. The PTF guideline should still be complied with while considering decision of this nature.”
The PTF chairman again appealed to state governments to embark on wider community testing, enforce rules on social distancing, step up community engagement and risk communication and pay attention to places of large gatherings.
He reiterated the call to the security agencies to enforce the ban on inter-state travels very strictly.
Mustapha said the PTF was concerned about the escalation of non-compliance with simple measures to keep social distancing, wearing of masks in public places, sanitation and hygiene.
“This is more prevalent in markets, motor parks and some places of worship. I wish to remind you that the PTF has already issued guidelines for mode of operations at places of worship and urge state governments to ensure strict compliance with PTF guidelines.
“We wish to re-emphasise that all relaxed measures are still subject to review and advisories issued are for personal and public safety purposes. The breach of the ban on interstate travel is also a point of concern.”
Increased testing’ll yield more cases
As the total number of confirmed cases hit 16,085, the Federal Government has said the increasing pace of testing will yield more cases, adding, however, that despite the rising figures, the case fatality rate remained at about three per cent, which is lower than many countries.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, explained that response in tracing, testing and case management was driven by data and evidence and the government adjusted the protocols for quarantine and treatment accordingly,
“We have treated and discharged 5,220 persons and sadly lost 420 persons to the disease. Despite the rising figures, the case fatality rate remains at about 3 per cent, which is lower than many countries, but not a cause for relief.
“The increasing pace of testing will yield more cases, but we need to also be proactive in keeping fatalities low. It is still strongly advised that those who test positive present themselves at a treatment centre, this is most especially so for those with underlying ailments like diabetes, hypertension or are above 60 years of age.
“The reason is that COVID-19 symptoms can start mildly with slight fever, cough, loss of sense of smell or taste, but suddenly escalate to shortness of breath in no time. Lagos State reports that people who delay going to hospital and treating themselves first at home are the majority of victims, some barely making it to the doorstep of the hospital,” Ehanire said.
On contact tracing, the minister said: “We are collaborating with states to strengthen their response according to needs. An arrangement has been reached to send collaborative team to Cross River State in the coming days to complement the work of the state government.
“It will be led by the executive director of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal, to engage in a technical handshake with the state EOC. Representatives from all relevant departments will be included,” he said.
Ehanire stated that efforts were on to increase the number of laboratories with priority given to states that did not have a laboratory with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) capability, including Cross River and Kogi states.
He also warned that “COVID-19 will be with us for a long time. We shall keep learning as we go along. Accordingly, the Ministry of Health has developed a Health Sector Response Plan to cover the next three years, divided into near, medium and long term.
“This plan, therefore, should be able to project into the future for at least three years. No doubt, it will require modification and updating as we learn more about the disease.”
Airline, pilot suspended over false information
The Federal Government has announced the suspension of the flight company (ExecuJet) indefinitely that conveyed controversial Nigerian singer, Naira Marley, on Saturday, to perform at a concert in Abuja despite the interstate travel ban and social distancing rules aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 for supply false information to get approval.
The company will also be fined and the flight captain sanctioned for providing false information.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who announced the suspension, said the airline used approval granted for a legal flight operation to convey Naira Marley to Abuja for an illegal concert.
Sirika said the flight on which Naira Marley travelled to Abuja for his concert was approved for the use of transporting a judge.
He said the flight was supposed to convey a judge, Hon. Justice Adefope Okoji, to Abuja and back to Lagos.
The minister declared that, going forward, the ministry would escalate mechanisms in place, and will be stricter in approvals and enforcement.
“The operation is a clear violation of our approval, which we take very seriously. It seems this is becoming a norm. This is the second time. So, Executive Jet Services is hereby suspended indefinitely and they will face the law.
“The captain will also be sanctioned for giving wrong information to the control tower. It seems also that people are not tired of trying our resolve and we are not tired of living up to our responsibilities. Governance is a serious matter.
“The person on that flight conducted a concert. We approved a flight, certainly not for a musician. The flight was approved to convey Honourable Justice Adefope Okogie from Lagos to Abuja and then back to Lagos for an official assignment.
“In this challenging time, in our wisdom, we decided that the judiciary was part of the essential services. Moving a judge from Lagos to Abuja was in order.
“We considered judiciary as an essential service to be delivered. The approval was for June 14, 2020, however, we gave a leeway of 24 hours because due to operational reasons they may choose to fly earlier or later.
“The operator chose to fly on the 13th. The operator is ExecuJet Services.”
Sirika also read the letter, which contained approval for the flight and emphasised the parts which read ‘ensure that this operation is strictly and diligently based on the protocol guiding the operation under COVID-19.’
“The operation is a clear violation of our approval, which we take very seriously. Execujet Services is hereby suspended indefinitely. We will also fine them maximumly, according to the law,” the minister said. “The captain of the flight would also be sanctioned for giving wrong information to the control tower and also appropriately in accordance with our law. We don’t take things lightly in civil aviation because it means the lives of people. We are highly regulated”
The minister stressed that aviation authorities would escalate mechanisms for flight approvals to deter people from contravening laid down rules.
He said: “Going forward, we will escalate the mechanisms we have in place, and we will be stricter in our approvals and enforcement.”