Despite Rising COVID-19 Cases, OPS Cautions against Fresh Lockdown


•PTF mulls review of further opening up of economy
•NEC worried about health facilities being overwhelmed

By Omololu Ogunmade, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja, Nume Ekeghe and Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos

Members of the organised private sector (OPS) and some economic analysts yesterday warned against a fresh lockdown of the economy as part of curbs to tackle the uptick in COVID-19 cases, which heralded the onset of a second wave of the pandemic.

The incidence reached a new high yesterday with data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NDDC) showing a new high of 1,145 new cases of COVID-19 that beat Wednesday’s record of 930 positive cases.

Lagos remains the epicentre of the pandemic with 459 cases while the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) followed with 145 incidents.

The warning came just as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, who chairs the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, warned at a press conference yesterday in Abuja that the federal government might review the decision on further opening up of the economy.

However, the National Economic Council (NEC), rising from a meeting, expressed concerns about the resurgence of COVID-19 cases overwhelming health facilities.

The OPS members, in separate interviews with THISDAY on what the second wave of COVID-19 portends for the country, however, urged Nigerians to adhere strictly to all COVID-19 protocols to avoid another lockdown of the economy and its attendant negative impacts on socio economic activities.

They noted that another lockdown will severely hurt the economy that is presently in recession, the second in five years.

The representatives of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), said the government must take the second wave seriously and tackle it frontally without jeopardising the economy.

They added that experience from the initial lockdown showed that shutting down the economy again would be detrimental to the country.

They said what is needed is for the government at all levels to intensify public awareness on the COVID-19 protocols and muster the political will to effectively enforce protocols enunciated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

They also demanded the provision of hand washing facilities in public places for people to use.

The Acting Director-General of MAN, Mr. Ambrose Oruche, said the initial lockdown impacted negatively and is still hurting the economy judging by the economic statistics that are coming from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Oruche said: “So, another lockdown will not be advisable despite the fact that we know that COVID-19 is real and its challenges are real and its impact on health is real. But we knew that we would also look at the economy. It will be worse for everyone if the economy is down because the structure of the country depends on its economic wellbeing.

“I don’t think the Nigerian economy will be able to survive a second lockdown. I will suggest that the government and its machinery should enforce the NCDC protocol that has been established and confirmed ways to checkmate the spread of the disease by emphasising that people should wash their hands.”

He added that another lockdown would be counterproductive because people would not obey it.

“You cannot ask somebody that is dying of hunger to stay in-house. He will disobey the lockdown rather than dying in his home.

“The first lockdown created a lot of hiccups on the economy that includes loss of jobs. Yesterday, statistics said that 7,000 people lost their jobs in the banking industry alone within nine months. So locking down again will impact negatively and people who are hungry will use every opportunity they have to steal, loot and destroy. The #EndSARS protest created an opportunity for them to vandalise and loot,” Oruche stated.

The Director-General of the LCCI, Dr. Muda Yusuf, explained that a second lockdown would not be advisable.

He said: “The social and economic environment is too tense and fragile to withstand the shocks of another lockdown. The economy is already in recession; there is a lull in economic activities, unemployment is on the increase, poverty situation is not getting better and the economy is struggling to recover from recession.

“What needs to happen is to intensify the sensitisation and awareness on COVID-19 protocols. There should be a strategic enforcement of the protocols to improve on compliance. There is also a need to accelerate the process of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The Director-General of NACCIMA, Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, noted that the government and Nigerians should strive to curtail the spread of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to him, this could be done by promoting and enforcing non-pharmaceutical measures such as social distancing, the use of face masks, regular hand washing and all other guidelines prescribed by the NCDC.

“Our last experience with lockdown did not work. It had devastating effects on the economy with attendant social crisis as reflected in the #EndSARS crisis and attack on locations where palliatives were stored.

“Our economy, which is already in recession and gasping for breath, cannot afford a lockdown. Let’s seriously implement regulations on reduction of crowding. In this situation, religious establishments should be advised to suspend their usual huge end of year gatherings. If necessary, suspend their activities and go back to religious activities on line. Schools may also be closed earlier and the resumption date in January extended for now.

We must take this second wave seriously and tackle it frontally without jeopardising the economy,” Olukanni said.

The Head of Consulting, Agusto Consulting limited, Mr. Jimi Ogbobine, also warned against a second lockdown, stressing that the emphasis on healthcare protocols should be enforced.

He added that a second lockdown would have socio-economic impact that could lead to unrest.

He said: “If the country goes into another lockdown that would possibly prolong the recession into 2021. And because our outlook is that we may have a slight growth in the first quarter of the year, another lockdown would indicate that we may be going back into another recession.”

The Head, Research United Capital, Mr. Wale Olusi, stated that the current realities do not favour another lockdown.

He said: “To be honest, we cannot have another lockdown. What we can do is to simply enforce social distancing measures, reduce congressional gatherings, non-essential movement, etc. There must be emphasis on wearing a mask, washing hands and personal hygiene.”

FG Mulls Review of Opening up Economy

However, the federal government yesterday indicated that it might review the decision to further open up the economy in view of the resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

It also tasked Nigerians on the dire outcome of failure to comply strictly with non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19.

The SGF, represented by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said the country is in a potentially difficult phase of the COVID-19 resurgence.

Mustapha was represented by Sirika as he was in self- isolation as a precaution after some members of his household last week tested positive for the virus.

He appealed to the public that the gains of the hard work of the last nine months should not be allowed to be lost during the second wave of the pandemic.

According to him, if the public adheres to the protocols and the government steps up testing and early detection, the loss of lives would be minimised and the rising curve would begin to flatten out.

“The events and statistics of the last two weeks within and outside Nigeria have been very mixed. On the one hand, the cheering news of the COVID-vaccine while on the other hand, we have witnessed spikes in the number of infections at home and abroad.

“The real threat is upon humanity and the progress made in the global health sector in the last five decades or more. In Nigeria, the indication is that we have entered a second wave of infections and we stand the risk of not just losing the gains from the hard work of the last nine months but also not losing the precious lives of our citizens,” Mustapha said.

The PTF chairman said that vaccines alone cannot cure the virus, but rather a combination of initiatives, including the NPIs.

He urged Nigerians to cancel all non-essential trips ahead of the festive season and to also avoid large gathering events.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said it is taking proactive measures to arrest the health challenge.

Director-General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the centre would work round the clock to ensure that tests are carried out and that the laboratories and isolation centres are put on high alert to handle the rising number of cases.

He added that as part of efforts to provide all round testing services, staff of NCDC have been barred from observing the Christmas public holidays.

NEC: New COVID-19 Outbreak Overwhelming Health Facilities

The National Economic Council (NEC) yesterday expressed concern over the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Nigeria, lamenting that the country’s facilities are now being overwhelmed.

The virtual council’s meeting, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, called for the strict enforcement of advisories to contain the spread of the disease.

The council, in a statement by Osinbajo’s spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, said: “It is alarmed that the current trends are now approaching or surpassing the levels reached during the lockdown imposed at the height of the epidemic earlier in the year.”

It enlarged the membership of its ad-hoc committee on COVID-19 and mandated it to urgently come up with additional measures to contain the spike in the infections.

“The country is now experiencing a huge resurgence of COVID-19 patients needing intensive care and the existing health facilities are fast becoming overwhelmed,” it stated.

According to the statement, the NEC’s ad-hoc COVID-19 committee, chaired by Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, which hitherto had the governors of Lagos, Bauchi, Plateau, Kano, Anambra and the FCT minister as members, has now been enlarged to include the governors of Ogun and Kaduna States, the Minister of Health, Minister of Information and Culture as well as the Minister of Youth and Sports.

The statement added that health and information commissioners in the states would also be co-opted into the assignment.

The council, which blamed the upsurge in the recent cases of infections on non-compliance with COVID-19 protocols, passed the following resolutions:
“Restrict all physical gatherings and instead opt for virtual meetings, whenever possible. If physical meetings must be held, ensure there is adequate ventilation of the room, limit the number of attendees, wear face masks, maintain a physical distance of at least two metres and adhere to other public health measures.

“No mask, no entry, no service – all staff members, visitors and customers entering workplaces, shops, entertainment or business premises must wear a face mask that should cover the mouth and nose at all times, and should not remove them, especially if speaking to another person in close proximity.

“Temperature checks must be carried out on all employees and customers entering office and business premises (any person with a temperature 38 degrees Celsius or above, should be denied entry and advised to go for a health check).

“All office and business premises must have a handwashing station with running water and soap or hand sanitiser at the entrance. Employers and business owners have a responsibility to ensure hand sanitisers are always refilled and soap and water always available.”

Members of the council also commiserated with families of abducted students of Government Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State and empathised with the people and government of the state.

According to the resolution, NEC expressed outrage over the abduction, condemning what it described as the brazen act of the abductors as not only criminal and lawless but also a deliberate attempt to sow seeds of fear in people.

The statement added that the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, reported the balances in the federation accounts as at 17th December 2020 to the council.

She listed such balances as $72,410,574.08 in the excess crude account (ECA), N26,433,355,427.91 in the stabilisation account and N156,690,002,234.58 in the natural resources account.