•FG proposes N500bn special intervention fund to NASS
•Five more test positive, total now 214 cases
•Plateau nurses, midwives threaten to down tools
•Doctors without borders warn of devastating effect in IDP camps
•Edo begins televised classes for SSCE, NECO students
•Over one million infection cases recorded, 64,675 deaths globally, as US death toll rises to 8,452
As scientists and researchers all over the world scramble to develop treatment for the deadly coronavirus (COVID 19) that has infected over one million people globally and claimed 63,894 lives, many doctors have said the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine seems to be the most effective treatment for patients. But few doctors are prescribing it in the US, as in other hard-hit countries like Spain, according to a survey.
The survey of 6,200 doctors around the globe published by Daily Mail of UK revealed that while few corners of the world were untouched by the virus, the pandemic was being handled very differently from country-to-country.
An adviser to Sermo, the leading global social platform for physicians and largest health care professional survey company, which conducted the survey, Dr Murali Doraiswamy, urged that countries should take note of what was working for doctors and governments elsewhere and move quickly to adopt practices that were saving lives.
This survey further buttresses the report by French research study, which allegedly confirmed a combination of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and Azithromycin as effective in treating COVID-19 patients. The French study report was published by TECHSTARTUPS.
Last week the Federal Government of Nigeria through National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Ministry of Health granted Lagos State license to commence clinical trials of chloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Meanwhile, Nigeria confirmed five new cases with three in Bauchi and two in FCT raising the total number of coronavirus infections in the country to 214.
Also yesterday, the federal government approached the National Assembly for an approval for its proposed intervention fund of N500 billion to combat COVID-19. The proposal was tabled at a meeting between the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, and the leadership of the National Assembly.
That was as Medecins Sans Frontieres, otherwise called Doctors Without Borders, called for immediate improvement in water and sanitation facilities in all the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Borno State, saying should the virus sneak into the camps, the result would be devastating due to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions.
Meanwhile, Edo State Government said it would begin a state-wide televised classes for students in Senior Secondary Schools preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and National Examinations Council (NECO), following the disruption in academic activities occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Plateau State, nurses and midwives threatened to stop work due to lack of protective kits for those assisting with the management of the virus outbreak.
Doctors and governments across the globe are struggling to develop treatments for coronavirus. While most nations have issued guidance for doctors to standardise care for coronavirus patients, there are no clinically proven treatments for the devastating infection.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a multinational trial of several treatments, including the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, and remdesivir, a drug developed to treat Ebola. The trials are taking place in countries including Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand.
To push the federal government’s intervention fund proposal, Ahmed, accompanied by senior officials from her ministry, met with the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, and intimated them with the proposal to establish a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund.
A statement by the Special Adviser to the Senate President, Ola Awoniyi, stated that the meeting was a follow-up to one held last Wednesday between the National Assembly leadership and members of the Presidential Task Force set up to manage COVID-19, headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha. Yesterday’s meeting held at the National Assembly Complex and was also attended by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege; Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase; and other principal officers from both chambers.
Speaking at the meeting the minister said, “What we are proposing is an establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund. This fund that we are proposing, that should be created, will involve mopping up resources from various special accounts that the government as well as the Federation have, to be able to pull this N500 billion.”
In addition to the identified special accounts from where the money would be drawn as loans, Ahmed said the proposed intervention fund would be sourced from grants being expected and loans from multilateral Institutions.
“Our general view is that this crisis intervention fund is to be utilised to upgrade healthcare facilities as earlier identified. The federal government also needs to be in a position to improve health care facilities, not only in the states, but to provide intervention to the states,” Ahmed stated.
She explained to the lawmakers that the fund, if approved, would also take care of special Public Work Programmes currently being implemented by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE).
“We know that there will be a need for the parliament to agree and approve the taking of loans from these special accounts and we will be coming back with a proposed bill in that regard that will define what the fund will be used for,” the minister said.
Earlier in his remarks, the Senate President said the meeting was in fulfilment of an earlier promise to provide support as the need arose in the fight against the coronavirus.
Lawan stated, “Just like we told Nigerians, when there is need for us to meet or to take legislative action in ensuring that the government responds appropriately to developments, issues, and challenges in the country, we will do so. This meeting, the second in the series after we shut down the National Assembly for two weeks, is a clear testimony of what we have said.
“Governance requires that we work together, so we want to listen to those things that you have on your side and how we can also play our constitutional role in ensuring that Nigerians continue to benefit from governance and how we are able to weather the storm created by COVID-19.
“Going forward, we need to interact more, because very fundamental decisions will need to be taken, and these decisions can only be said to be constitutionally legal if the legislature gives its stamp of authority for the executive to implement and execute. I think coming to us for those loans is critical, because we are in an emergency and time is of the essence. So, we must work as expeditiously as possible to ensure that we place the request before the National Assembly.
“I think time has come for us to redefine the implementation of the Social Intervention Programme, probably going out to communities to give them N20, 000 per person might not be the best way to go. It is still an effort, but I think we need a better approach that will be more efficient.”
The leadership of the National Assembly resolved to meet again tomorrow with the executive over the latter’s request.
THISDAY gathered that the leaderships of both the Senate and House of Representatives were unsatisfied with the presentation by the finance minister, hence, the adjournment to Monday. Apart from requesting more information on the proposed fund, the National Assembly leadership was also said to have expressed concern about the disbursement of the COVID-19 fund so far, while stressing the need for accountability and transparency.
Leader of the Senate, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, who attended the Saturday meeting with the executive, told THISDAY after the meeting, “The National Assembly leadership at the meeting made some observations and suggested areas that need to be looked up again.” Abdullahi said another meeting had been scheduled for next week, “While the National Assembly will reconvene at the appropriate time afterwards.”
Similarly, Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who was also part of the Saturday meeting, told THISDAY that the talks would continue on Monday. Abaribe said the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Umar Farouk, had been invited to the Monday meeting to address issues about the disbursements of COVID-19 funds, among others. He added that other top government officials were to be part of the meeting to throw more light on the post-isolation strategy of government, saying the National Assembly believes N500 billion being asked for is too small and there will be need for further discussion on the issue.
“The Intervention fund matter would also be further discussed because the National Assembly feels that it’s rather too small and the suggested ways of deploying it would need further elaboration,” he stated.
On how soon the National Assembly will reconvene to consider the executive proposal on COVID-19 funding, Abaribe declared, “The National Assembly resumption issue is to be discussed between the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House to agree on what to do.”
US Death Toll Rises as Global Cases Climb Past One Million
Confirmed cases of coronavirus infection globally shot past 1,200,372 with 64,675 deaths even as the United States was now prominently at the centre of the pandemic. Currently, the US has more than 310,286 cases, while the New York State is hardest hit with more than 113,704, as of yesterday morning.
About 8,452 people in the US have so far died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins data. New York has the highest death toll, with 3,565 deaths, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. Cuomo also said Saturday that China was facilitating the shipment of 1,000 ventilators to his state, as he continued to shop for more of the lifesaving device ahead of a growing number of coronavirus patients, who are expected to need them.
“This is a big deal and it’s going to make a significant difference for us,” Cuomo said, adding that the State of Oregon volunteered to send 140 ventilators to New York.
Cuomo also said he was looking for ventilators closer to home, and had issued an order that forces even private hospitals in the state to redistribute ventilators to the hospitals most in need.
“I want this all to be over,” Cuomo said, noting, “It’s only gone on for 30 days since our first case. It feels like an entire lifetime.”
Plateau Nurses, Midwives Threaten Strike over Lack of Protective Gear
Nurses and Midwives in Plateau on Saturday threatened to abandon their duty posts if the state government failed to provide them with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) as they tried to curb the spread of COVID-19. Addressing the press under the auspices of National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Plateau State Council, the association, led by Mrs. Briskila Dabit, said, “Everyone knows about the danger of COVID-19 and how that it is posing serious challenge in Nigeria and the world as a whole. It will be unfair on the side of government to expose our members to the virus without personal protection equipment.
“We have decided to down tools in all health centres, including hospitals and Isolation centres if the state government will not provide our members with necessary protection equipment. It is no longer news the havoc the ravaging virus is causing to health workers across the globe; we need protection if we must do our duties as patriotic citizens.
“As I speak with you, we lack PPE in our hospitals and isolation centres. Consequently, we have directed our members not to attend to any patient with a suspected case of coronavirus without PPE.”
However, reacting to the allegations, Dr. Simon Macham, Director of Press Affairs to Governor Simon Lalong, said the nurses’ concerns were driven by lack of information.
Macham said, “Regarding personal protective equipment, the government has already purchased about 400 pieces and is also in the process of producing more locally here in Plateau State. The distribution to various hospitals and isolation centres will soon commence.
“As for the COVID-19 committee, they are also captured in one of the sub-committees. What, perhaps, is happening is that they may not have been carried along properly at that level and the government will address it immediately.”
Doctors Without Borders: COVID-19 Portends Grave Danger in IDP Camps
Medecins Sans Frontieres, also called Doctors Without Borders, warned that should COVID-19 break out in the camps, the result will be devastating as a result of overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. A statement by the organisation on Saturday said, “After more than a decade of armed conflict, outbreaks of severe malnutrition, malaria, measles and cholera, approximately 1.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Borno State now face the spectre of COVID-19.
“Many live in vastly overcrowded camps with poor water and sanitation facilities, limited supplies of hygiene essentials, such as soap and water, and often no individual space at all.
“Functioning health infrastructure in Borno is scarce, and the capacity to refer patients is extremely limited. With so many people already vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, essential humanitarian assistance must be maintained; water and sanitation facilities must be improved in IDP camps; and frontline health workers on whom the population will depend, must have access to personal protective equipment.”
The statement further said, “MSF has been working in Borno State since 2014, and during that time we have borne witness to deplorable conditions for IDPs, many of whom already suffer from illnesses endemic to overcrowded settlements, such as water-borne diseases and respiratory tract infections, like pneumonia, which has been identified as a significant threat when coupled with COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on healthcare systems, economies and populations worldwide and it poses a substantial threat in Borno. However, even if COVID-19 were not present in Nigeria, the need for humanitarian assistance in Borno would still be massive. In just over a month, rainy season will commence, bringing with it a surge in cases of malaria and malnutrition.
Edo Govt Begins Televised Classes for SSCE, NECO
Following the disruption in academic activities by the coronavirus pandemic, the Edo State Government will tomorrow begin a state-wide televised classes for students in Senior Secondary School students preparing for the West African Senior School Examination (WASSCE) and National Examinations Council (NECO). A statement by the Commissioner for Education, Jimoh Ijegbai, said the classes would be televised everyday from 12noon to 1pm on the state-owned television station, Edo Broadcasting Service (EBS). The statement noted that the move was part of government’s effort to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
“Edo State Ministry of Education, in collaboration with Edo State Broadcasting Service (EBS) and the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), is organising a television programme for students in Senior Secondary Schools, particularly those writing the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and National Examinations Council (NECO) for the year 2020 May/June/July,” the statement noted.
It said students would be taught Mathematics on Monday and English on Tuesday, while Physics, Biology, Geography, Civic/Economics and Chemistry would be televised on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The government urged parents and guardians to draw the attention of their children and wards to the opportunity during the stay-at-home period.
Rivers Urges Traditional Rulers to Imbibe New Values
Rivers State Government called on traditional institutions in the state to imbibe new values and extend same to their domains to aid the fight against COVID-19. The Commissioner for Information and Communications, Paulinus Nsirim, made the call yesterday in Port Harcourt while speaking to representatives of traditional institutions drawn from all 23 local government areas of the state.
The commissioner, who was speaking at a sensitisation and awareness creation meeting with the royal fathers, said one key area the traditional rulers were expected to play a key role was in social distancing in the closely knit culture of their people and ensuring that large numbers of people do not gather.
“We have a culture that handshake, embrace, and the like are part of us. Now that the virus is here, we’re advocating social distancing, just as we’re explaining here today. We also advocate that people should not gather in large numbers,” Nsirim said.
He explained that the meeting was prompted by the need for the traditional rulers to borrow a leaf from the proactive stance of Governor Nyesom Wike, whom he said commenced preparation for the prevention of the coronavirus weeks before the only index case was noticed in the state.
“His Excellency did not wait for us to get an index case before resorting to proactive measures. Our committee was set up so many weeks before we had an index case in Rivers State. The Emergency Operations Centre was also set; the Treatment Centre was set, and fully equipped. This shows that the government is very responsive,” he stated.
In his remarks, Chairman of the State Council of Traditional Rulers, King Dandison Douglas Jaja, the Amanyanabo of Opobo Kingdom, expressed delight over the meeting, noting that it would clear the air on misinterpretations surrounding the coronavirus.
PDP Directs Members to Scale Up Personal Interventions
The leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Saturday directed its members across the country to intensify their personal efforts to assist vulnerable Nigerians in their neighbourhoods to mitigate the socio-economic effect of the COVID-19 lockdown directives. PDP also called on more Nigerians to join public-spirited individuals and groups in extending assistance to vulnerable citizens in the effort to contain and check the spread of the pandemic in the country.
A statement by the national publicity secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, stated that the call was against the backdrop of the manifest failure of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government to shelve its greed and corruption to make adequate provisions for social palliatives and other panaceas to Nigerians, despite the immense resources at its disposal. Ologbondiyan said the PDP position was also in line with its manifesto and guiding principles to ensure the security of the people. He said the wellbeing and happiness of all citizens, irrespective of creed, ethnicity and political persuasion, was not negotiable and called on all Nigerians to look beyond primordial considerations and join forces to defeat the virus.
The party lamented as worrisome the fact that the APC government remained lethargic and allowed sheer incompetence and greed to constrict it into unnecessary parochialism in the handling of the COVID-19 issue.
“Our party also bemoaned the lack of accountability and the manifest sleaze in the disbursement of financial palliatives with allegations of diversion of billion of naira to private purses to the detriment of poor Nigerians. Indeed, such is not the way to go,” PDP said.
PDP urged the federal government to be transparent and involve more capable Nigerian medical experts, researchers as well as equipment manufacturers to assist in checking the spread of the pandemic in the country.
PDP, in another statement, charged the National Assembly to comprehensively scrutinise the overall profile of the N500 billion proposed by the federal government as intervention fund against the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the fund reached the desired target. The party also urged the legislature to examine the expenditure layout and put adequate clauses to eliminate diversion, ensure prudence as well as guarantee broad-based transparency in target-specific disbursements across all need areas in the fight against the pandemic.
A statement by Ologbondiyan stated that the call was predicated on apprehensions in the public space over allegations of fraudulent diversion of fund in the recent disbursement of N20,000 social palliatives, with many Nigerians rejecting the figures put out by the government. The party urged the National Assembly to request the federal government to furnish it with details of how the N500 billion would be spent; what amount would be spent as interventions to individuals and families as well as a template that guarantees that the fund gets to the targeted vulnerable Nigerians.
Oyo Records One New Case, To Fumigate Markets This Week
Oyo State recorded another case of COVID-19, bringing to nine the total of cases in the state. Acting Chairman of the state’s taskforce on COVID-19, Professor Temitope Alonge, confirmed that the latest case was a close contact of the second confirmed case that subsequently developed symptoms. Alonge said the patient had been moved to one of the isolation centres in the state, while activities at the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) were being ramped up and reviewed to meet the evolving nature of the pandemic.
“With the index case in the state already discharged, the other seven cases remain stable,” Alonge said. He noted that the diagnostic centre located inside the University College Hospital had commenced full and timely testing of samples, saying it is committed to a turnaround time of less than 24 hours to provide results for samples taken.
“His Excellency is pleased at the progress that has been made at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Olodo, Ibadan, with the training of key personnel and the readiness of the centre to receive patients starting from Monday, April 6,” a statement by Alonge said.
NCDC Evacuates, Isolates Scores at NNPC, Abuja Estate
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) evacuated and put in isolation several persons at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Estate in Garki, Abuja. NCDC took the action after an infected individual at an apartment in the estate located in the heart of the Federal Capitalist Territory (FCT) tested positive to COVID-19 at the weekend.
It was also learnt that the NCDC had begun a complete disinfection of the entire flat and its environs, following the incident that caused panic in the area where some of the corporation’s bigwigs reside.
One of the occupants of the estate, who was said to have tested positive just returned from the United Kingdom (UK), but had stayed in self-isolation after his return.
The corporation, while confirming the incident, however, noted that contrary to insinuations of massive infection in the estate, the case was an isolated one that was being dealt with by the NCDC. It explained that the said case involved a non-member of staff of the NNPC, who developed symptoms of the disease at the estate.
A statement by NNPC’s Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr Kennie Obateru, in Abuja, said the national oil company was aware of all the actions taken to tackle the singular case, which for now remained an isolated incident.
Obateru stated about the infected person, “His case was said to have been confirmed positive by the NCDC after undergoing a laboratory test. And in line with NCDC approved protocol, all residents of the affected apartment were moved out and placed in isolation, while officials of NCDC undertook a disinfection of the flat and adjoining areas to eliminate the chances of community infection.”
NNPC said it had long embarked on a public awareness campaign within the organisation and beyond, including sharing with the residents of the estate guidelines on successful self-supervised isolation. It noted that this was to ensure strict adherence to all NCDC prescribed safety measures designed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the corporation announced an additional N10 billion contribution by the petroleum industry to the fight against COVID-19, to bring the total donation so far by the sector to N21 billion.
Obateru said the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, handed over five ambulances to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce for the Control of Coronavirus (Covid-19), Boss Mustapha in Abuja.
The corporation noted that the ambulances marked the first instalment of the industry’s collective donation of N11billion, which it said had been shored up to N21 billion. It added that Aiteo Exploration and Production Company Limited, an NNPC Joint Venture Company partner, donated the ambulances.
While calling for a collective effort in the fight against the pandemic, NNPC disclosed that the support for the cause was an on-going one, saying whatever is received afterwards would be delivered to the committee.
It said that the oil and gas industry, under the leadership of the corporation, had come together to contribute their quota to the effort to stem the pandemic.
The SGF, in his response, applauded NNPC and the entire oil and gas industry for the support extended to the federal government in the campaign against the pandemic.
Conducting the two top government officials round the 190-bed facility donated by the petroleum industry, Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mele Kyari, stated that the THISDAY Dome, Abuja, that would house the bed spaces was donated by yet another of NNPC partner, the Sahara Group. He said other NNPC partners, local and international, had continued to implement projects in their host communities.
Kyari said, “Aside from consignments of medical consumables and logistics facilities, we are embarking on construction of at least two permanent hospitals and a world-class diagnostics centre in each of the geopolitical zones in the country.
“All these are over and above our regular social investments through various CSR initiatives.”
He explained that the donation was collaborative, drawing support from the energy group, the private sector, and a Chinese company, CCECC, to fight COVID-19 pandemic.
The NNPC helmsman disclosed that the 190-bed facility would be ready for use in two weeks, stating that donations are in kind. He reiterated that respective going concerns would provide the medical materials pledged following their companies’ procurement procedures.
Kyari announced that the corporation had set aside a 60-bed capacity to support the fight against the pandemic in Utako. He said the facility, located in the heart of Abuja, would equally be ready in the next two weeks.
He explained that the Utako facility would be equipped with oxygen generating plants, ventilators and other medical logistics that would support the fight against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to him, it would also have 10 Intensive Care Units that would serve as a back up to the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Isolation unit in Gwagwalada.