•Highest daily rise of 245 cases recorded, bringing tally to 2,802 with 417 discharged, 93 dead
•Govt appeals to banks, corporate bodies to create favourable conditions for observance of regulations
•To deploy 3,300 to trace suspected cases in Kano
•Begins evacuation of Nigerians from US, UK, others tomorrow
•Says Chinese doctors working in isolation centres
•Vaccines to be ready in 12-18 months, says WHO
•Lagos discharges 14 more patients
Kingsley Nwezeh, Olawale Ajimotokan, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Udora Orizu in Abuja, Segun James, Martins Ifijeh and Nume Ekeghe in Lagos
Appalled by the wholesale disregard for its guidelines on the relaxation of the five-week lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States, the federal government raised the alarm about a potential spike in the spread of COVID-19 yesterday, warning that if that happens it would have no choice than to shut down the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had caved in to pressure last Monday, relaxing the lockdown effective from yesterday but had mandated the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to issue guidelines on the general conduct of citizens during phased reopening of the economy and social life.
The basic rules of mask-wearing and physical distancing were routinely disobeyed yesterday by many Nigerians who hit the roads of Abuja and Lagos in frenzied efforts to catch up with lost income-earning activities that had been locked down for weeks.
The crowds massed at the bus stops and bank branches, raising concerns about the acceleration of community transmission of the virus.
Incidentally, the tally of confirmed cases of the virus rose by 245 yesterday, the highest daily rise since the February 27 index case, bringing the tally to 2,802 with 93 deaths and 417 persons discharged across 34 states.
The new cases were reported from 16 states, including Lagos 76, Katsina 37, Kano 23, FCT 19, Jigawa 32, Borno 18, Edo 10, Bauchi nine, Adamawa six, Oyo five, Ogun five, Ekiti one, Osun one, Benue one, Niger one and Zamfara, one.
Addressing the press yesterday in Abuja during its daily briefing on efforts to control the pandemic, officials of the task force, particularly, its Chairman, Mr. Boss Mustapha, and the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, expressed concerns about the general negligence of Nigerians, fearing that it could lead to the escalation of the deadly infection.
“Yes, we might have a few infections from today and tomorrow but what we do worry about is an explosion,” he said, warning: “If we do have an explosion, there will almost be no choice left for the leadership of the country than to ask all of us to go back into our homes.”
He urged Nigerians to conduct themselves based on the issued guidelines in order to check the spread of the virus.
Ihekweazu said the banks engaged in conducts that fuelled the violation of the safety guidelines, pointing out that there was over-crowding in the few branches of banks that were opened for operations yesterday.
He said: “One of the biggest groups that were allowed to restart business today (yesterday) were the banks. But many banks have now limited the number of branches that were open. Yes, there are advantages; but when you limit the number of branches that are opened, everybody goes to the one branch that is opened and that becomes counter-productive.
“So, there is always so much we can do. We can produce all the guidelines in the world and put them on television, do press conferences, if organisations are not going to come up and support the implementation of these measures and help us manage the risk and focus on a risk-based approach because it is not the guidelines per se, it is the thinking behind it, how do we manage the risk of exposure, the risk of transmission? “Today (Monday), we will have infection because of what happened at the banks, no doubt about that. But how can we learn from the mistakes of today into tomorrow and next tomorrow, so by Friday, we have hopefully normalised some of these things?
“Yes, we knew today would be a problem because, for the first time, people were let out of their homes but now they are out and we have seen the sunlight again, the challenge for us as a society is how do we now organise ourselves to mitigate these risks and limit transmission?
FG Directs Suspension of Deportation of Almajiris
Mustapha, in his briefing, expressed concerns about the infractions of the guidelines and appealed to Nigerians to comply with them in the interest of all.
He faulted the repatriation of Almajiris by the Northern States Governors’ Forum.
He said it was at variance with the guidelines issued by the federal government on the nationwide ban on interstate movements.
“There has been very noticeable relocation of Almajiris from one state to another, up until yesterday. With the ban on interstate movements, the continuation of this exercise will not be in alignment with the guidelines issued. The PTF shall engage with the respective state governments on how to achieve their objectives,” Mustapha said.
He noted that the objective of the nationwide ban on interstate movements was to mitigate the spread of the virus across state boundaries, adding that the enforcement of the policy must align with the president’s directive.
The SGF said violators of the measures would be prosecuted, adding: “It is still desirable to stay at home if there is no compelling reason to go out and to comply with the measures always, whether at home or not.”
Mustapha also condemned reports about medical facilities and doctors turning back sick patients for fear of their illnesses being COVID-19-related.
He appealed to medical facilities, especially public hospitals, not to neglect the treatment of other ailments because such actions could result in avoidable deaths.
Vaccines to Be Ready in 12 – 18 Months, Says WHO
Responding to questions on the stages so far attained by researchers on developing curative vaccine against the pandemic, the WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Fiona Braka, said there had been an accelerated effort to get a vaccine ready between the next 12 to 18 months.
“Thanks to rapid sharing of sequencing data from countries; we are able to advance production of vaccines and we do acknowledge the contributions of countries in sharing their genetics sequencing data, including Nigeria. And so, the first vaccine trials started as early as 60 days just after the genetic sequencing information was shared by China,” she said.
According to her, there are about 89 vaccine products and the numbers are still being updated because there is an accelerated effort going on globally to find vaccine for the virus.
“It takes years to develop a vaccine but with the acceleration of this effort we are hopeful that with an expedited process, we are probably looking at 12 to 18 months before the first product will be available,” she stated.
Chinese Doctors Working at Isolation Centres
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said at the briefing that Chinese doctors, who came to Nigeria over a month ago, were working at isolation centres.
He added that the Chinese medical team was also helping the country to build capacity.
“The Chinese are doing well; they all tested negative for coronavirus. As to what they are doing right now, they are busy working at our isolation centres, putting together and setting up the equipment they brought.
“They are helping our doctors in capacity building in the centres. Like we said at the beginning, none of the Chinese doctors will be treating any patient in Nigeria,” he stated.
Mohammed also used the occasion to thank journalists for their laudable coverage of the pandemic.
The minister said the tribute to all journalists was on the occasion of the observance of the World Press Freedom Day, set aside by the UN, on the recommendations of UNESCO in 1993, to celebrate the fundamental principles of Press Freedom.
Evacuation of Nigerians abroad Begins Tomorrow
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, stated that the evacuation of Nigerian citizens from COVID-19-burdened countries would commence tomorrow. Though about 4,000 Nigerians have indicated interest to be evacuated from across the world, Onyeama said about 200 persons would be lifted in the first phase of the exercise aboard an Emirate flight from Dubai.
He explained that the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had helped in securing almost 300-bed accommodation to ease off the challenge of finding a space where the returnees would be quarantined.
Onyeama said another set of 300 Nigerians would be flown in on Friday from the United Kingdom aboard a British Airways flight bound for Lagos, while the government was working out a deal with Air Peace for another flight on Saturday.
“Since the flight is coming empty from London, we have negotiated with the British government to bring 300 or a bit fewer Nigerians. Ideally, we would like the flight to come to Abuja as we have secured 1,000 hotel rooms in Abuja, but it is not possible as the flight is bound for Lagos,” Onyeama said.
FG to Disinfect Schools Nationwide
The Minister of Environment, Mr. Muhammad Mahmood, unfolded plans by the federal government, to disinfect and decontaminate schools nationwide before resumption.
He said the Federal Ministry of Environment would get the data of schools nationwide from the Federal Ministry of Education to carry out the job.
“We are initiating a programme of decontaminating and disinfecting our schools before they open.
“Because subsequently, in the phases (of reopening the lockdown), I believe we will get to that point when we start opening the schools.
“So, we will be liaising with the Federal Ministry of Education to make sure we have the needed data to carry out the exercise,” he added.
Our Focus Right Now is Kano, Says FG
On the situation in Kano State, Ihekweazu said the government was focusing on the state because of the emerging issues of increased infections.
He explained: “Earlier when we started this work, we gave a lot of briefings on what we were doing in Lagos because that was really where the burden of infection was at that time. Now we are focusing a lot of our energy on Kano.
“This is not because Lagos State is no longer important; we still have the largest number of cases reported from Lagos every day, and it has about 50 per cent of all the cases in Nigeria. So, they need constant support and we will continue to give Lagos State that constant support.
“However, we have an emerging issue in Kano, and, therefore, some of our thinking and resources have to focus on Kano.
“The other thing we did was support the delivery of a new lab altogether; a new lab that was funded by the Aliko Dangote Foundation and delivered by a Nigerian company called 54gene. The entire conceptualization and delivery happened in seven days. We will over the weeks build up its capacity to 400 tests per day and plan to expand more.
“We have Rapid Response teams right now deployed in 34 of the 36+1 states in Nigeria, supporting every state to build up their own response, department of public health, and the state epidemiologist,” he stated.
National Coordinator of the task force, Dr. Sani Aliyu, also said the federal government would recruit about 3,300 people to conduct a house-to-house search for suspected COVID-19 cases as part of measures to check the rate of the spread of the virus in Kano State.
Also, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said: “The setbacks in routine hospital service delivery in Kano are being addressed by line experts from the ministry; whether it is an omission from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) or the Department of Family Health, we have sent line officers to go and start rebuilding those service lines. A pathologist is participating in the investigation of the unexplained deaths in Kano.
“I also, call on all health care facilities, both private and public not to reject persons seeking medical help, especially in emergencies. It is unethical not to attend to persons in distress. I also urge citizens to go to the hospital when not feeling well and to cooperate by giving accurate information especially with regard to travel history.”
FCTA Issues Guidelines on Construction Sites
The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has also issued guidelines on easing of lockdown on construction sites.
The Director, Development Control, Mr. Mukhtar Galadima, directed that construction sites of a single structure shall not have more than eight workers, while commercial building site shall not have more than 15 workers. The guidelines said that construction sites of multiple structures shall not have more than 35 workers or as may be determined by the council.
Lagos Discharges 14 More Patients
Meanwhile, the Lagos State government has discharged 14 more patients from its isolation centres, bringing to 261 the total number of successfully treated persons in the state.
Sanwo-Olu said yesterday that the discharged patients comprised six females and eight males.
He said: “Two of the persons are from the Mainland Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, seven from the Onikan Isolation Centre, four from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and one from the Landmark Isolation Centre in Eti-Osa Local Government Area.
“With this, the number of patients successfully managed and discharged from our facilities is now 261.
Chaos as residents breach guidelines in Lagos, Ogun, FCT
There were chaotic scenes on the first day of easing of the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja yesterday as many residents acted in breach of the guidelines on protocols as directed by Buhari in a nationwide broadcast on April 27, on the partial reopening of business in Lagos, Ogun States and the FCT.
Additional guidelines were also issued by Sanwo-Olu and the FCTA that all persons must adhere to the social distancing rule, mandatory use of face masks and the use of hand sanitisers when in public places, among others.
As federal workers resumed duties and commercial activities picked up in FCT, there were mounting concerns over massive breach of social distancing measures in the city.
Policemen were seen in many places in Abuja cautioning people who were not wearing face masks.
THISDAY checks showed that while returning workers in the ministries wore face masks and were subjected to the use of hand sanitisers before entering their offices, the situation in some banks was chaotic where the social distancing measures were breached.
Some banks in Area 3 in Garki District battled angry crowds that discarded the social distancing.
The situation in markets was not different as residents struggled to gain access in choked spaces, especially in neighbourhood shopping centres.
FCTA authorities enforced the use of face masks, making it a precondition for entry to the markets while providing hand sanitisers.
THISDAY checks also showed that there was significant compliance with the face mask policy of government as commuters, petrol station attendants, pedestrians and shoppers all wore face masks, which sales had become a thriving business in Abuja.
In Lagos, the residents also trooped out in large numbers without complying with the directives of Sanwo-Olu.
However, the policemen’s focus was on the arrest of commercial motorcyclists, whose operations were banned by the state government.
Bank customers also besieged financial institutions for transactions, without adhering to the guidelines.
Findings showed that most of the banks’ customers who shunned the rule on social distancing were those who came to resolve complaints.
While the bank security personnel and officials tried to enforce the social distancing rules, findings showed that they were overwhelmed by the number of customers that thronged the banks.
In Lagos, some of the banks visited with a large number of customers were at Dopemu, Alimosho; Idimu; and around Gbagada/Oworonshoki.
In some email messages sent to bank customers ahead of the reopening of businesses, some of the banks had said they would be alternating branches to be open on a weekly basis.
Although all was quiet at the state’s government secretariat at Alausa, where workers on grade level 14 and below were ordered to stay away, it was back to full business at Ikeja where the ever-busy Computer Village was bustling with activities.
However, the majority of the traders did not wear masks and did not observe social distancing order.
The situation was the same at Oshodi, Mushin, Ojota and Yaba where full trading activities had returned in earnest without any regard to the rules.
Most Lagos residents also invaded the banks as they struggled to get into the premises, a situation which caused a stampede at some branches.
It was worse at the Ogba branch of a new generation bank, the only branch opened for business at the Ogba Business District.
Hundreds of customers struggled with some resorting to fisticuffs in the bid to gain access to the premises.
Majority of the customers were without face masks as they struggled among themselves.
At Ojodu/ Berger area, the struggle for the few buses available was fierce.
Hundreds of stranded passengers seeking means to get to Lagos Island and environs could not get transport, even as motorists capitalised on the situation to increase their fare.
As at the 4 pm, most of the people seemed to have disregarded the 3 pm deadline given by the state government to close shop as business premises, including the banks were still opened.