By Olawale Ajimotokan
President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the extension of the phase two of the COVID-19 National Response by another four weeks with some modifications that will address economic, socio-political and health concerns.
The presidential approval was disclosed yesterday by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force of COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, at a press briefing in Abuja.
The task force has also disclosed that it is too early to celebrate the declining cases because there has been reduced testing as a result of the Sallah break.
It has also called on the airlines to get ready to resume international flights while urging passengers to be at the airports three hours ahead of their flights.
Also under this latest extension of the phase two of the ease of lockdown, civil servants from Grade Level 12 have been directed to resume work at the normal working hours from Monday to Friday.
The federal government has also said it is planning to work with the state governors to enforce the mandatory use of face masks and applying alternative legal ways of making people to change their behaviour to the use of face cover.
Mustapha said government extended the phase two of the COVID-19 national response after glaring apathy to non-pharmaceutical prevention measures in addition to lack of enforcement of necessary guidelines issued to preserve lives and insufficient engagement by some states with the national response.
He said to win the fight against the pandemic, the PTF resolved that it is important to ensure that restrictions are not completely relaxed.
With the extension until the first week of September, non- pharmaceutical measures like social distancing, nationwide curfew from 10 p,m to 4 a.m, use of face masks, limiting the number passengers on public transport, the restriction of banking staff to 75 per cent capacity or less and only 50 per cent occupancy of halls by customers among others will continue to be in place.
Mustapha said the major changes proposed by government were aimed at achieving the gradual re-opening of international air flights and rail transportation within established parameters as well as granting of permission to exit classes to resume ahead of examinations.
‘’After due consideration of the recommendations, Mr. President approved the following: Maintaining the current phase of the National Response to COVID-19 for another four weeks in line with the modifications reflected in the report, partnering with states and local governments to improve community sensitisation and engagement to the COVID-19 response; mandating state authorities and the FCT, to enforce non-pharmaceutical guidelines, primarily the use of face masks in public appearance and places;
encouraging state governments to collaborate with local government authorities to intensify necessary measures such as contact tracing, grassroots mobilisation and risk communication; and strengthening of collaboration with other mandate groups at federal/State levels to harmonise the country’s COVID-19 response, on the short, medium and long-term basis,’’ Mustapha said.
He similarly disclosed that the management efforts of COVID-19 have led to the reduction in fatality rate of the pandemic in Nigeria from 1.9 per cent in June to 1.7 per cent in July.
Responding to the claim that the recent significant increase in recoveries was a sign of the curve flattening, Mustapha said it is too early to celebrate, adding that as soon as activities pick up fully, testing will increase.
“If you noticed, as we celebrated those discharges, there’s also been a decrease in the testings. In the last couple of days, we tested just barely 2,000 across the nation, but we have a testing capacity of much more thousands than 2,000,” he said.
“Another reason; everybody is still in the Sallah mood, even the essential workers. Remember when I talked of fatigue? This is part of it. We’ve been doing this thing for the last three to four months. It gets to a point when you want to lay back and say we are already overcoming this, but I know that in the next couple of days, the testing will be rampant because people would have come out of the Sallah celebrations and come back to work.
He said that community transmission is increasing in the country, as reflected in the fact that 536 Local Government Areas – 69 per cent of the total 774 LGAs – have reported a COVID-19 case.
Also speaking, the National Coordinator of COVID-19 Dr. Sani Aliyu disclosed that all essential staff on Grade Level 12 are to resume work while normal working hours have now been extended from Monday to Friday.
Aliyu added that hotels are to maintain all mandatory non- pharmaceutical interventions while restaurants are to maintain takeaway delivery system until further notice.
However, bars, cinemas, gyms, night clubs are also to remain closed until further notice.
Aliyu stressed further that secondary schools, except exiting students and tertiary institutions, are to remain closed till further evaluation.
Community activities including Daycare and Primary schools are also affected.
‘’We have advised the NYSC to start planning ahead of resumption in future phases but not within this current phase of the response. We will work closely with them to have a policy that will allow this to happen in future
‘’Recreational parks and communal sports’ restriction is removed from outdoor communal and non-contact sports and the use of recreational parks for supervised physical exercise, not for social interaction, but supervised exercise. For recreational parks that can’t enforce this, we expect them to remain closed,’’ he said.
The PTF also announced the easing of ban on outdoor non- contact sports, which include lawn tennis, table tennis, squash, badminton, cycling, athletics, golf, polo, cricket and other non-contact communal activities.
Aliyu urged airlines in the country to begin the process for the resumption of international flights, which were banned in March as parts of measures to check the spread of COVID-19.
“For international travel, we have made recommendations to the aviation industry to commence the process for opening international airports provided all existing international and local prevention guidelines and COVID-19 are in place,” he said.
Aliyu said passengers for international flights would arrive three hours before departure time.
“We have modified the advice with the regards to arrival for flights: Passengers arriving at the airports for domestic flights advice to arrive at least one and a half hours before their flight, and three hours before international flights where these restart,” he said.
Domestic flights resumed operation on July 8 after a three-month ban as a result of the pandemic.