Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Four of the members of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, who were at the burial rites of the late Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, attended the Monday daily briefing.
Criticism has trailed the attendance of the burial rites since Saturday even as all those who attended the ceremonies were advised to immediately commence 14 days self-isolation.
Those at the burial rites were the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and chairman of the committee, Boss Mustapha; National Coordinator; Dr. Sani Aliyu; Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika; Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama and Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Services, Sadiya Farouq, who was at the Defence House resident of the late chief of staff.
Among those who attended the burial ceremonies, but who still took part in the Monday daily briefing were the SGF, Sirika; Onyeama, and the National Coordinator of the PTF.
Nigeria currently has 627 COVID-19 patients, 86 were detected on Sunday, the highest number of cases discovered in Nigeria in a single day.
The SGF in his opening statement admitted that mistakes were made and regretted.
Mustapha said: “The PTF recognizes, regrettably, the unintentional violation of the principles and protocols that form the core of our messaging to Nigerians, at the funeral of the late Chief of Staff. These principles for emphasis, include: the guidance provided on mass gatherings, social distancing, personal hygiene,and restriction of movements.
“Lessons have been learnt and appropriate measures have been taken to close all gaps. We assure all Nigerians of their safety and the determination of the PTF to combat the pandemic.”
Mustapha, also warned that COVID-19 outbreak is far from over in Nigeria.
According to him, the increase in number of COVID-19 patients is worrisome.
The SGF appealed to Nigerians to comply with the lockdown directive, saying the federal government is determined to “flatten the curve”.
“Given the increase in the number of confirmed cases in the last week, the PTF remains conscious of the fact that we are far from the end of this outbreak in Nigeria. We, therefore, must focus even more vigorously on our strategy of increasing testing, isolating confirmed cases, following up with contacts of cases and managing confirmed cases to recovery,” he said.
“The significant increase in the number of cases and distribution across states underscore the importance of remaining focused as citizens and as a nation because of the enormity of the challenges ahead.
“This is the time for all hands to be on deck so that the PTF can improve on its delivery. We must all come together because we face a common enemy and potential risk. We must flatten the curve at all cost and restore our country to full activity.”
The PTF Coordinator also apologized for the mistakes made at Kyari’s burial.
He said: “The PTF will like to acknowledge and apologise for the mistakes that were made regarding the burial of the late Chief of Staff. We realised that crowd control failed, we have learned from this and we will ensure that future events are adequately regulated and follow the task force’s protocols.
“The Gudu Cemetery had since been decontaminated, the personal protective equipment discarded at the site; decontaminated being burned and discarded according to the NCDC guidelines.
“I’ll like to further clarify the issue of COVID-19 and the burial processes. Contrary to what is on social media, the body of the late Chief of Staff was properly prepared for burial, according to NCDC guidelines and the Islamic faith.
“The bodies of persons with COVID-19, as stated clearly by the WHO guidelines “except in cases of viral haemorrhagic fever and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. To date, there’s no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who had died of COVID-19”.
“Therefore, we will like to further assure the public that we will continue to follow the guidelines and protocols we had produced. The NCDC guidelines are very much reflecting the WHO guidelines.
“We’ll also like to assure the public that the task force takes its Presidential mandate seriously and is committed to executing it to the best of its ability. We ask for the public to continue holding us accountable for our actions. We read your comments on social media, we listen to you and also acknowledge the issues that might arise, please continue to do so, it is the only way we can continue to improve and fight this big challenges we have.
“The task force will like to acknowledge the prime role that the Chief of Staff played in establishing the Presidential Task Force, he fired the first shot against COVID-19. We will continue to honour his memory and we will continue to do everything possible to overcome this pandemic.”
On whether the task force will extend such privileges for the chief of staff burial to other families that might request same, Aliyu said: “Like the Chairman said, the incident over the weekend was not intentional, it was a crowd control issue, no privileges were given. In a pandemic situation, you cannot differentiate between the rich and the poor, you cannot differentiate between nationalities and neither can you differentiate between races because the virus itself does not differentiate.
“The Presidential Task Force is committed to making sure as we move forward, that necessary steps are taken so that this sort of episode does not happen again.”
On why those of them who attended the burial were not on self-isolation as directed by the presidency.
“In terms of self-isolation, we have clearcut guidelines for isolation: if you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, we’ll have to isolate you when we test. If you have had contact with a case of COVID-19, we’ll isolate you; if you are coming from an area that is of high prevalence, we will isolate you. So this guidelines in terms of self-isolation and quarantine are very clear.”