As cases of coronavirus in the country continue to escalate, President Muhammadu Buhari has extended the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to curb the spread of the global pandemic for another 14 days.
In a nationwide broadcast to Nigerians, the president said the extension had become necessary following the confirmation by National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) of the upsurge in the spread of COVID-19 in the country through person-to-person contacts.
Buhari had two weeks ago, precisely on March 29, ordered a total shutdown in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT in a bid to halt the spread of the disease.
When the lockdown was announced on March 29, the country had 97 confirmed cases but as of yesterday, there were 323 confirmed cases in Nigeria and 91 patients have been discharged, while ten people have died from the virus.
Announcing the extension of the lockdown yesterday, the president urged Nigerians to continue to take responsibility for the recommended measures to prevent transmission, including maintaining physical distancing, good personal hygiene and staying at home.
According to him, government must pay attention to the danger of close contact between persons in a bid to flatten the curve of transmission in the country.
The president disclosed that he has directed that the current social register containing names of vulnerable Nigerians benefiting from federal government’s conditional cash transfer be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks.
He noted that as of yesterday, Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, and the nation’s capital accounted for over 71 per cent of the confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country.
The president said, “Today, the cessation of movement, physical distancing measures and the prohibition of mass gatherings remain the most efficient and effective way of reducing the transmission of the virus. By sustaining these measures, combined with extensive testing and contact tracing, we can take control and limit the spread of the disease.
“Our approach to the virus remains in 2 steps – First, to protect the lives of our fellow Nigerians and residents living here and second, to preserve the livelihoods of workers and business owners.
“With this in mind and having carefully considered the briefings and Report from the Presidential Task Force and the various options offered, it has become necessary to extend the current restriction of movement in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT for another 14 days effective from 11:59 pm on Monday, 13th of April, 2020. I am therefore once again asking you all to work with Government in this fight”.
Buhari reiterated his earlier stance that the situation confronting the country is a matter of life and death.
“This is not a joke. It is a matter of life and death. Mosques in Makkah and Madina have been closed. The Pope celebrated Mass on an empty St. Peter’s Square. The famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris held Easter Mass with less than 10 people. India, Italy and France are in complete lockdown. Other countries are in the process of following suit. We cannot be lax”, he stated.
The president observed that sacrifices such as the one made by Nigerians during the lockdown period had become necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the country, adding that they were needed to save lives.
He noted that as a result of the overwhelming support and cooperation received, the government was able to achieve a lot during the initial 14 days of lockdown.
He also acknowledged what he described as the incredible work being done by healthcare workers and volunteers across the country, especially in frontline areas of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
The president added that the previously issued guidelines on exempted services shall remain.
Noting that it was a difficult decision to take, he said, “But I am convinced that this is the right decision. The evidence is clear”.
According to him, the repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.
He added: “We must not lose the gains achieved thus far. We must not allow a rapid increase in community transmission. We must endure a little longer.
“I will therefore take this opportunity to urge you all to notify the relevant authorities if you or your loved ones develop any symptoms. I will also ask our health care professionals to redouble their efforts to identify all suspected cases, bring them into care and prevent transmission to others.
“No country can afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement on its economy. I am fully aware of the great difficulties experienced especially by those who earn a daily wage such as traders, day-workers, artisans and manual workers.
“For this group, their sustenance depends on their ability to go out. Their livelihoods depend on them mingling with others and about seeking work. But despite these realities we must not change the restrictions.
“In the past two weeks, we announced palliative measures such as food distribution, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers to ease the pains of our restrictive policies during this difficult time. These palliatives will be sustained”.
Buhari further urged security agencies to continue to “maintain utmost vigilance, firmness as well as restraint in enforcing the restriction orders while not neglecting statutory security responsibilities”.
He also appealed to Nigerians to follow the instructions on social distancing, saying the irresponsibility of the few could lead to the death of the many. “Your freedom ends where other people’s rights begin”, he declared.
President Mandates Ministers To Develop Economic Revival Blueprint
To ensure the economy adapts to this new reality, President Buhari directed some of his ministers to jointly develop a comprehensive policy for a “Nigerian economy functioning with COVID-19”.
They are ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Communication and Digital Economy, Science and Technology, Transportation, Aviation, Interior, Health, Works and Housing, Labour and Employment as well as Education.
He said the ministers will be supported by the presidential economic advisory council and economic sustainability committee in executing the mandate.
Buhari stated: “I am also directing the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice Chairman, National Food Security Council and the Chairman, Presidential Fertiliser Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure the impact of this pandemic on our 2020 farming season is minimized.
“Finally, I want to thank the members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for all their hard work so far. Indeed, the patriotism shown in your work is exemplary and highly commendable.
Fellow Nigerians, I have no doubt that by working together and carefully following the rules, we shall get over this pandemic and emerge stronger in the end”.
FG Approves Use Of Locally-made Masks, Receives UN Equipment
Meanwhile, the federal government has approved the use of home-made mask for Nigerians as part of preventive measures against COVID-19.
Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who gave the hint at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID19 in Abuja, said the use of the locally-made masks became necessary in the face of the shortage of surgical or hospital masks.
Ehanire however advised that the mask should be washed and ironed daily before its next use to kill virus that may have contacted the mask.
On testing, the minister noted that the number of functional testing Labs for COVID-19 in the country has increased to 11.
He therefore advised persons with symptoms of the disease not to indulge in self-medication but seek adequate treatment from government approved centers.
The minister also confirmed the arrival of commodities promised by the United Nations for the fight against COVID19.
He said the equipment include 50 ventilators which will be shared to locations with high cases of coronavirus.
Social Distancing To Continue During Ramadan – FG
Meanwhile, the national coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, has said restriction measures like social distancing and wearing of face masks would continue during the Ramadan period.
Speaking during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-9, Aliyu noted that full guidelines on how members of the public can protect themselves, especially during the Ramadan season, would be made public soon.
He also appealed to religious leaders to help spread the message of maintaining proper hygiene and social restrictions during the holy season.
He said, “This is a challenging period for all of us, we are not in normal situation. Even in Saudi-Arabia, the lesser Hajj has been cancelled. Islam talks about persons making adjustments in times of epidemics.
“Those restriction measures particularly the issue of social distancing, mask wearing and personal respiratory hygiene, they need to continue during the time of Ramadan.
“We are pleading with our religious leaders to please pass across this message. We will like to be around for the next Ramadan, therefore we have to protect ourselves now”.
Lockdown Difficult But Inevitable – SGF
The secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said yesterday that restriction of movement was a step in the right direction even though the federal government was aware of the difficulties associated with the lockdown.
Speaking during the daily briefing of the taskforce, the SGF said the lockdown would help in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
The SGF, who is the chairman of the taskforce, said notwithstanding the sacrifices Nigerians have made so far, more should be done to safeguard Nigerians against COVID-19.
He stated: “We have also been assessing the impact of the lockdown and the level of compliance by Nigerians. While we recognize the difficulties associated with such unprecedented action, we remain certain, however, that it is a step in the right direction for us to secure a healthier tomorrow.
“Ladies and gentlemen, since the broadcast of the president on Sunday 29th March, 2020 the Presidential Task Force has, with your support, accomplished the following objectives that underpinned the measure: slow down the spread in order so as not to overwhelm our fragile health system, intensified case identification, testing and isolation; intensified contact listing and isolation-( 92% of all contacts have been identified).
“Increased laboratories by 100%- (Lagos -3; Abuja-2; Irua-1; Ibadan UCH-1; Iree-1; Jos-1; Kano-1; Abakaliki-1) there are now 11 laboratories in the network; increased testing by 50%, to the current capacity of 1,500 tests per day, with over 6,000 tests done; procurement concluded for new high throughput testing by end of the month.
“Distributed personal protective equipment to over 40,000 healthcare workers – there have been no stock outs; trained over 7,000 healthcare workers on infection prevention and control; deployed NCDC teams to 19 states; visited Lagos to evaluate the readiness.
“Despite all of these, the PTF is convinced that we must deliver more. Based on the evaluation of experts, assessment of available data and experiences of other nations currently in the same situation, the PTF has submitted its recommendations to Mr. President and I urge Nigerians to please await further pronouncements in this regard.”
He appealed to Nigerians to remain calm, maintain personal hygiene, observe physical distancing and stay at home.
Go On Self-isolation, NCDC Tells Sule Lamido
Meanwhile, former Jigawa state Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido has been advised by the officials of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to go on self-isolation as he patiently awaits his COVID-19 result.
The Kano State director of Public Health in the state ministry of Health and also secretary of COVID-19 taskforce, Dr Imam Wada Bello sent an SMS to the former governor of Jigawa and sought his permission for RRT to evaluate his risk and possibly take sample.
Lamdio announced the receipt of the SMS and published same in his Facebook timeline.
The SMS reads: “Assalamu Alaykum. Your Excellency Sir, as part of our COVID-19 contact tracing your name was mentioned among other dignitaries that attended the funeral at Koki on Thursday.
„We would like to have your kind permission for our RRT to evaluate your risk and possibly take sample.”
Lamido in his response to the SMS said, “Sure, I am available any time you need me; let me know when.”
The former Jigawa state Governor was one of the dignitaries that attended the funeral ceremony at Koki on Thursday where Kano index case was said to have mixed freely with the crowd of sympathisers.
It would be recalled that Kano had recorded one case of COVID-19, a 75-year old retired civil servant and former Ambassador who got infected with the dreaded COVID-19.
LCCI seeks loan moratorium for aviation, other sectors
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has recommended palliatives for banking and aviation sectors to minimise the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s economy.
It also said that such palliative would engender quick economic recovery after the pandemic.
LCCI director-general, Dr Muda Yusuf, listed the palliatives in a statement themed: “2020 Post COVID-19 Agenda; Business and Economic Sustainability Propositions”, issued to journalists yesterday in Lagos.
Yusuf stressed the need for commercial banks to take a cue from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by offering some level of reprieve to their customers.
He called for an urgent engagement between the Bankers Committee, the CBN and the business community to discuss the monetary component of the rescue plan for businesses at this critical time.
He said, “A good credit regime is critical to the sustainability and progress of an economy and the palliatives, announced by the CBN in response to this pandemic, are commendable. But there is the bigger issue of private sector indebtedness to the commercial banks.
“As at December 2019, banks credit claims on the private sector, stood at N15.2 trillion. The way this exposure is managed will be crucial to the realisation of the economic and business continuity outcomes in the Nigerian economy”.
The DG listed opportunities for loan moratorium, restructuring of facilities, refinancing and interest rate concessions in the light of the unprecedented downturn in the economy as necessary palliatives.
Effective from March 2020, Yusuf urged that banks to grant a one-year moratorium and six months interest rates concessions to customers on existing facilities.
To make this possible for commercial banks, he advised a review of the Cash Reserve Ratio from the current level of 27 per cent to 20 per cent.
Group Backs Planned Recall Of Ex-military Medical Personnel
Concerned Professionals’ Congress (CPC) has expressed support to ongoing advanced plans by the Defence Headquarters to recall retired military medical personnel to complement those in active service to aid civil authority in flattening the COVID-19 curve across the country.
There were hints last night that the processes of preliminary training and immediate deployment of the medical personnel in batches were being finalised at the appropriate levels.
The group, in a statement jointly issued in Abuja at the weekend by its chief media strategist, Mr Emeka Nwankpa and the Northern regional rapporteur, Kasim Baba Kasim, described the move as a great dimension to ongoing efforts at various levels to mitigate the effects of the virus as well as curb the spread of the global pandemic in the country.
The group, while noting with delight that the armed forces have activated its Disaster Response Units for the security management of emergencies in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), said that the latest moves by the military under the leadership of under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin were in tandem with spirited efforts being made by other armed forces around the world to rise to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The group expressed satisfaction with efforts taken so far by the Armed Forces to provide necessary support to civil authorities currently dispensing medical care to confirmed COVID-19 patients at the various isolation and treatment centres across the country.
CPC contended that the efforts of the Armed Forces at providing aid to civil authorities in the on-going federal government’s aggressive fight to curb the spread of the disease as well as flatten the curve were in in line with Section 217 (2) c of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which empowers the military to act in aid of civil authority.
“Currently, Nigerian Air Force is operating at full capacity, its Liquefied Oxygen (LOX) Plant at the 103 Strike Group (103 STG) at the Nigerian Air Force Base, Yola. The plant is on 24-hours operation to ensure uninterrupted production of pure Liquefied Oxygen which is being gasified and stored in cylinders for immediate supply to isolation centres and designated hospitals as will be directed’’, Nwankpa said.
The group restated its confidence in the ability and tenacity of the Nigerian military under the CDS, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin and the service chiefs and heads of other security and intelligence agencies to evolve pragmatic strategies aimed at cushioning the effects of the pandemic on the Nigerian people as well as tackle and mitigate threats to national security, stability, peace and unity.
The group urged Nigerians to see the patriotic and innovative efforts of the nation’s high military command as another call to duty and reciprocate by lending their support by volunteering useful, credible and timely information to the military, security and intelligence agencies to enable them to adequately curb threats to the general wellbeing of the Nigerian people.
The group particularly commended President Muhammadu Buhari for demonstrating confidence in the ability of the service chiefs to deliver on their mandate, describing the initiative as a paradigm shift and watershed in the strategic communication agenda of the Armed Forces of Nigeria under the visionary leadership of the CDS.
Nwankpa said, “We are currently fighting terrorism and insurgency in the Northeast banditry; kidnapping and cattle rustling in the Northwest; banditry, herders/farmers’ clashes and communal clashes by some militias in the North Central-Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba; and banditry, communal clashes and herders/farmers’ conflicts on the Plateau”.