•Suspends National Sports Festival
Deji Elumoye, Omololu Ogunmade, Chuks Okocha, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan, Udora Orizu in Abuja, Duro Ikhazuagbe, Uche Nnaike and Martins Ifijeh in Lagos
With the confirmation of the third case of COVID-19 in Nigeria after a 30-year-old female tested positive to the virus, the federal government yesterday took additional measures to check the spread of the pandemic, banning foreign travels by public officials and suspended the National Sports Festival slated for March 22 in Benin, Edo State.
The federal government’s ban on foreign travels would affect all public and civil servants in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and other government parastatals.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, at the inaugural meeting of the Presidential Task Force on the Control of the COVID-19 Outbreak in Nigeria, said the decision was taken to scale the country’s health emergency to the highest level and prevent further spread of the contagion.
He asked civil servants to shelve all seminars, meetings, bilateral, multilateral, conferences and workshops slated for foreign countries.
According to him, the ban remains in place until the situation on the containment of the virus abates.
He added that in view of this development, all requests by public workers to travel abroad, including all approvals given earlier, have been revoked.
After the task force meeting, which lasted for several hours behind closed door, the committee also advised the general public to cancel or postpone non-essential overseas trips, including, business, vacations to some of the countries that have recorded clusters of coronavirus infections and deaths.
Mustapha listed the worst affected countries, which Nigerians should stop travelling to as China, USA, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Germany, UK, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain and Japan.
He advised Nigerians returning from all the aforementioned countries to self-quarantine for 14 days at home and ensure they follow the guidelines by the NCDC on the procedures for self- isolation.
He added that all travellers coming from countries with COVID-19 transmission that have recorded 1,000 cases and above will be actively followed up for 14 days by the health authorities.
While tagging the virus as the most important health emergency in this generation, which must be treated as such, the SGF said the federal government supported measures by the high burdened countries on the containment of the contagion, including the directive to remain indoors.
Third COVID-19 Case Recorded
The federal government said yesterday that it has commenced contact tracing of those who had contact with the patient, who arrived in the country from the UK on March 13.
It said it was tracing all the people that flew with her on the airline and others she had met in Lagos.
In a statement given to THISDAY yesterday, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said: “Upon arriving in Nigeria, she underwent a self-quarantine, which has minimised the risk of the spread of the virus to other persons. She went through this because of the stringent measures put in place by the federal government.
“She subsequently developed symptoms of fever and cough on March 16, at which point she voluntarily called the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) toll-free call line to report her condition. Officials from the Lagos State Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) were immediately dispatched to her home to collect samples, which upon testing, came out positive for the coronavirus.”
He said the lady was currently at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos, where she has remained clinically stable and responding to treatment.
Ehanire added that the federal government, along with the Lagos State government, has commenced intensive contact tracing to help identify all persons she had contact with since her return.
“We expect the number to be small because of her sensible decision to go into self-isolation from the time of her arrival. We commend her for following the recommended guidelines to the letter. We will continue to assess the situation and adjust the response accordingly,” he stated.
Ehanire explained that many people infected with COVID-19 will experience only mild symptoms and recover without incident.
He, however, added that of great concern were those with existing underlying medical conditions and senior citizens, who are known to be more vulnerable to the virus.
Ehanire cautioned: “We strongly advise these citizens to stay more at home. All Nigerians are required to continue taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families. These measures include regular handwashing with soap and water and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
“Nigerians should maintain at least two metres distance from persons with persistent cough or sneezing. Those coughing should engage in good respiratory hygiene, which means covering their mouth and nose with tissues or handkerchiefs when coughing or sneezing. If none is available, they can cough into their elbows or the sleeve of their dress. They should dispose of the used tissue papers properly.”
As part of efforts to trace the people the new case might have had contact with, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, has called on members of the public, who travelled along with the lady on British Airways to stay at home and isolate themselves.
Abayomi, who spoke at a press briefing in Lagos yesterday to corroborate the minister’s statement, said: “If you are a passenger on flight BA 75 that arrived Lagos on March 13, 2020, stay at home and isolate yourself for 14 days. Also, call our lines now: 08000corona, 08023169485, 08033565529.”
He also mentioned that the Italian index case was yet to be discharged as he was still secreting the virus.
“His health is stable, except that he has not tested negative. Once that happens and we reconfirm, we will be happy to discharge him,” he said.
National Sports Festival Suspended
The suspension of the sports meeting was announced yesterday by the Minister of Youths and Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare, who said the measure, was part of the federal government’s efforts to check the potential spread of the pandemic.
“Following the briefing of Mr. President from me and the Minister of State for Health on COVID 19, Mr. President approved the immediate postponement of Edo Sports festival to a future date,” he stated, adding: “President Mohammadu Buhari approves the postponement of the National Sports Festival Edo 2020 as a precautionary move against COVID-19 spread.”
The event billed to be hosted by Edo State Government was meant to draw no fewer than 11,500 participants, a number which the government felt was too risky to congregate in view of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state.
Briefing journalists in the State House after a meeting with the president, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora, the Minister of Youths and Sports, Dare, said the decision to postpone the meeting was taken at a meeting involving themselves, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, and the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control yesterday morning.
According to Dare, yesterday’s meeting was a culmination of his constant contact with the Ministry of Health, Edo State Government and the local organising committee (LOC) since the outbreak of the disease.
He said after the meeting, they opted to brief the president on the decision and consequently, the president gave them the directive to postpone the event as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
He said: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development because of the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival has been in close touch and consultation with the Ministry of Health – particularly with both the minister of health and the minister of state, health.
“We’ve also been in consultation with the governor and deputy governor of Edo State, the LOC, and the MOC but we have had the Ministry of Health take the lead. Based on the daily review on developments, we got assurances that we could go ahead. But because we are dealing with a dynamic situation, this morning, we had a meeting at the Ministry of Health in the office of the Minister of Health with the Minister of State, Health present, I, the permanent secretary and the Director-General of NCDC.
“Shortly after the meeting, which lasted for about 45 minutes, we proceeded to the presidency to brief Mr. President. After briefing Mr. President, Mr. President took the initiative and gave the directive that the National Sports Festival, christened Edo 2020 should be postponed as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. A new date will be communicated later based on development around COVID-19.”
Echoing Dare, Mamora said the decision was an affirmation of his submission at the press conference, he addressed on Monday where he told health correspondents that whatever decision that still needed to be taken as the developments on the disease unfold would definitely be taken.
The minister also said taking that decision had become imperative because there could be some people in the crowd that might have contacted the disease without knowing and hence, it would only result in its rapid spread.
Against that background, he said the only way to forestall the monumental spread of the disease is to ensure that the principle of social distancing is respected adding that religious gathering or any other large gathering is not advisable at this time.
Mamora said: “We felt that in the overall interest of Nigerians and national health security, it is better to err on the side of caution and therefore, we conveyed to Mr. President our thought and Mr. President thereafter kindly agreed that it was best for us to have this postponement.
“One of the things that we need to give attention to over the postponement is the possibility of people carrying the virus even without knowing – what we called A-symptomatic. That is, they carry it but they don’t even know because they are not manifesting symptoms. And what we need so far is that up to 80 to 81 per cent of people would either be A-symptomatic – that is not showing any symptoms or where they show symptoms, the symptoms may just be mild and moderate and this is a major source of what we call community transmission.
“So, the principle of social distancing has to be respected. That is preventive or advising against the congregation of a large number of people starting from the national sports festival which stands postponed. That also extends to religious gathering or any other gathering that would have a large number of people. It is not advisable at this point in time.”
Economic Advisory Council Lists Imminent Gloomy Effects of COVID-19 on Nigeria
Also yesterday, the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) in Abuja highlighted the gloomy impacts that COVID-19 would have on the Nigerian economy if the pandemic lasts long on the global scene.
Leading the eight-man team to a meeting with the president in the State House, the council chairman, Prof. Doyin Salami, listed such “sobering” imminent effects of the disease (if it lasts long) to include: slower growth, uncertainty, a further drop in oil prices, lockdowns gaining grounds around the world, oil glut, trade imbalance, drop in foreign reserves, and rise in unemployment.
A statement by the president’s media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Salami explained that there would be slower growth because the supply and demand sides of global economy would be affected.
In the same vein, he said the council submitted that uncertainty would pervade the economy because the situation would erode confidence as governments across the globe would jettison cooperation and choose to act unilaterally.
Furthermore, Adesina said whereas the council told Buhari that many countries of the world would go into economic recession, Nigeria in its own case could survive the looming economic woes if only it opts to work hard.
“The PEAC stressed that the projections may seem dire, but the worst may be avoided with hard work and scrupulous implementation of policies,” the statement said.
He said the council. Therefore, recommended, among others, a possible revision of the 2020 budget, with priority spending on healthcare, reprioritisation of expenditure on infrastructure to focus on projects nearing completion with pro-poor effects.
Other recommendations by the council, according to the statement, include: curtailing recurrent expenditure, mobilising the private sector to strengthen health sector infrastructure, and boosting government revenue.
It also recommended a possible revision of the 2020 Budget, with priority spending on healthcare, reprioritization of expenditure on infrastructure to focus on projects nearing completion with pro-poor effects, curtailing recurrent expenditure, mobilizing the private sector to strengthen health sector infrastructure, and boosting of government revenue, the PEAC stressed that the projections may seem dire, but the worst may be avoided with hard work and scrupulous implementation of policies.
Adesina said the president assured the council that Nigeria had foreseen the economic problems that might arise in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and would explore all alternative avenues to protect its people.
According to Adesina, with oil prices hovering between $29 and $30 in recent times, as against the $57 benchmark for 2020 budget, Buhari observed that many variables, including production cost and political impact, determine oil prices, “and we will see how to survive fallen prices, as we already envisaged the problem.”
The statement said the president also explained that protecting the people from vagaries of international economic fortunes, and associated fallen prices of oil is a priority of the government, “and we will do our best to do so.”
It also said the president emphasised the importance of education and healthcare, submitting that if people are adequately educated, “they won’t accept any form of mismanagement by the leadership, nor would they allow themselves to be manipulated by those promoting ethnic and religious sentiments.”
It added that the president promised that inputs in agriculture, education and healthcare would continue as much as practicable.
NCDC Rallies W’Africa’s Support against Pandemic
Meanwhile, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Director General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, has called on West African countries to synchronise efforts so as to have a collective strategy to combat the spread of the epidemic across the continent.
He warned that if countries respond to the pandemic individually, it will not help anyone.
Ihekweazu, who was a guest on the Morning Show on Arise TV, a sister broadcast arm of THISDAY was reacting to the argument that Nigeria needs to shut its borders like other countries.
He said: “Today there will be a lot of discussion at the highest level of government to review our current strategies; look at our situation in Nigeria; look at the situation across West Africa viz-a-viz the number of cases that have come in and decide on a policy. Nobody wants this to spread in Nigeria so our primary responsibility is to stop this virus from coming in, but there are many other considerations.
“On any flight out of Nigeria, people are going for surgeries – flights are coming in to bring reagents, personal protective equipment, and the things we need to respond to this outbreak. So, there is no simple answer, we have to weigh these different things and trust our leaders to make the right decision for us as a country.”
Ihekweazu stated that one of the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 outbreak is that the country needs to invest in health security architecture.
“We need our state governments to step up. We need to build laboratories; we have five molecular laboratories in Nigeria, each of them cost us a lot of sweat and hard work. I am really looking forward to investment from the private sector.
I am looking for state governments to come to the table, let’s think collectively how to build the resilience that will protect us from things like this moving forward because it is not if there will be another outbreak; it is when it will come and I hope that the legacy of this coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria, the few cases we have and hopefully, we don’t have that many, is to build the infrastructure; to build the human capital expertise; to build the equipment that we need to protect us moving into the future,” he stated.
He assured Nigerians that the government is not slow in its response to the outbreak.
House urges FG to halt flights from UK, others
In a related development, the House of Representatives has urged the federal government to immediately halt all flights from COVID-19 high-risk countries, especially the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States, China and South Korea, except for Nigerians who will be tested on arrival and quarantined if necessary.
The House also urged the Federal Ministry of Health to continue to work with federal and state medical establishments to update and upgrade facilities and prepare for eventualities.
It called on the federal government and the Ministry of Youth and Sports to postpone the National Sports Festival scheduled for Edo State and other activities with a large gathering in the interest of the nation’s health and wellbeing till further notice.
These resolutions were sequel to the unanimous adoption of a motion on a matter of urgent public importance entitled: ‘Urgent need for the federal government to postpone the National Sports Festival in Edo State and other large gatherings,’ sponsored by Hon. Luke Onofiok at the plenary yesterday.
Presenting the motion, Onofiok expressed gratitude on the fact that Nigeria has been fortunate to have only one index case that is said to be recovering.
The lawmaker while commending the efforts of the Edo State government in organising the sports festival, however, said the festival would bring together thousands of young Nigerians from all the states, which will mingle and inter-mingle and go back to their states to further mingle with friends, family colleagues and community with the attendant implications.
He also expressed concerns on the increasing cases of the virus in countries all over the world, saying that flights from high-risk countries should be halted till further notice.
PDP Seeks More Stringent Measures against Scourge
The PDP has charged the federal government to step up its actions, move beyond rudimentary interventions and adopt more stringent measures to further safeguard the nation from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement by the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, the main opposition party said the federal government should adopt stringent pre-emptive measures by radically stepping up the international ports and border screening as well as quickly improving the internal surveillance and hygiene monitoring system.
“Our party holds that the federal government should also go beyond its proposed secondary screening of travellers from certain countries and extend the measure to all international flights coming into the country, given the prevalence of connecting flights and land border crossing by international air travellers.
“Also, the federal government should ensure that domestic airlines undertake proper screening of passengers as well as fumigation of their aircraft to guarantee the safety of air travellers within Nigeria,” PDP stated.
Lawan Wants More Test Centres Established
Also reacting to the pandemic, the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, lamented the inadequate presence of test centres across the country for the detection of COVID-19.
Lawan, while raising concerns on the unavailability of test centres in some geo-political zones of the country, said the fight against the disease should not be left to government alone.
He said: “I believe that the federal government has done well, so far, but I think there is need for them to do a little more, and that is in the area of testing centres.
“There is at the moment no testing centre in the entire South-east, at the moment, the entire North has no testing centre, and Abuja is Federal Capital Territory.
“So, the entire North has no testing centre and when you have this situation, you need to take immediate action to test and confirm whatever it is.
“So, I believe the federal government is supposed to do that, and we as an assembly are prepared to support them if the request is for resources.
“We are going to support them for those testing centres to be provided in the South-east and in the northern part.”
Nigeria High Commission Suspends Passport Issuance in Canada
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has also forced the Nigerian High Commission in Ottawa, Canada to suspend passport processing for Nigerians in different Canadian communities.
The commission said in a statement made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in New York that the suspension was indefinite.
It said it would, however, continue to issue Emergency Travel Certificates (ETC) and visas to applicants that need to travel urgently.
It said: “This measure is in line with the Canadian government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s guideline of ‘social distancing’ as a ‘community mitigation strategy’ to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“It is a conscious effort by the government to reduce contact between people and hopefully stem community transmission of the virus.
“Applicants for ETC and visas should, as usual, forward their applications by mail, attaching the relevant documents.
“The ETC or visa would be processed and mailed back to the applicants accordingly.”
Dangote Fertilizer Contractor Staff Quarantined, Test Negative
Dangote Industries Limited yesterday reported a suspected case of personnel currently being kept in isolation at the Mainland hospital, Yaba, Lagos.
The company said in a statement that an Indian national, who is a staff of Onshore Construction Company-a mechanical, electrical and instrumentation contracting firm that specialises in fertilizer construction reported at the site clinic, complaining of high temperature and fever.
It stated: “His complaint triggered our Protocols, which necessitated further screening and isolation immediately. Mr. Akhil Kunyil, of the Health and Safety Environment of the Onshore Company reported the development to the management following which local authorities were contacted.
“The patient was immediately conveyed to the Lagos Mainland Hospital Centre, where he is currently being isolated and undergoing tests.”
Spokesman of Dangote Group, Mr. Tony Chiejina, however, told THISDAY last night that the contractor’s staff had tested negative for COVID-19 but was still under quarantine.