To Curtail COVID-19 Resurgence, FG Directs States to Close Bars, Others

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•Limits guests at conferences, weddings, others to 50
•Warns against non-essential travels
•Public workers on GL.12 and below to stay at home
•Lagos, Kaduna, FCT account for 70% of cases

By Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

The federal government yesterday rolled out measures to combat the resurgence of COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the curbs, the federal government issued an advisory to all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to close all bars, night clubs, restaurants, event centres and recreational centres for the next five weeks.
It also restricted public gatherings such as conferences, social events such as weddings and religious activities to not more than 50 people.

It ordered federal civil servants from Grade Level 12 downwards to stay home for the next five weeks.

The Chairman, Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, reeled out the curbs at a press briefing in Abuja.

Mustapha said President Muhammadu Buhari has authorised the PTF to engage with the states and the FCT to assume full ownership of this stage of the response by deploying legal structures and resources, including enforcement to manage the pandemic within their jurisdictions.

He added that bars, night clubs and other recreational centres as well as event centres are listed to be closed for the period because they are considered super spreader events for COVID-19.

All the states and the FCT are to restrict all informal and formal festivity events, including weddings, conferences, congresses, office parties, concerts, seminars, sporting activities, end of year events to not more than 50 persons.

Also, mosques and churches should not be filled beyond 50 per cent of their installed capacity.

The state governments are also to strictly enforce compliance with physical distancing and mandatory use of face masks.

The PTF will also today submit its end-of-year report to President Buhari.

Mustapha, represented by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said: “All persons above the age of 60yrs and/or with comorbidities are to be encouraged to stay at home and avoid crowds;

“All non-essential travels – both domestic and international during the holiday season are seriously discouraged.

“Close all restaurants except those providing services to hotel residents; takeaways, home deliveries and drive-ins shall remain closed.

“Limit all gatherings linked to religious events to less than 50% capacity of the facility of use during which physical distancing; mandatory use of face masks shall be strictly enforced.

“Where more than 50 persons are attending any such events, the gathering should be held outdoors only;

“Public transportation systems are to carry passengers not more than 50% of their capacity in compliance with social distancing rules.”

He explained that with the new measures, permanent secretaries and chief executives officers of parastatals are to be held accountable for enforcing non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) rules in their domains with frequent spot checks.

Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), explained that the federal government is also having discussions with the aviation and health authorities, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), on the calls for the restriction of international travels due to the discovery of new strains of the virus in some countries.

He identified Lagos and Kaduna States as well the FCT as the new epicentres of COVID-19 infections as they accounted for over 70 per cent of national incidents.

He noted that the FCT, which recorded an increase of 85 per cent in tests conducted over the last week, also witnessed 285 per cent increase in number of confirmed cases during the same period.

He added that the trends pointed to a higher Test Positivity Rate (TPR- the number of positive cases detected as a proportion of all tests).

He said the TPR was below five per cent throughout September and October while the nation recorded a low point of three per cent nationally in late October.

According to him, recent trends in cases have seen this number increased to 10 per cent in the second week of December.

Mustapha said the high numbers were further reflected in the increase of admissions to COVID-19 treatment centres and fatalities, particularly in the three epicentre states.

He attributed the latest surge in infections to the lack of compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions, large gatherings as a result of events linked to the Yuletide season, recent EndSARS demonstrations and disregard for other public health preventive measures, such as hand hygiene and physical distance requirements.

He also identified a sudden increase in social gatherings in different parts of the country for weddings, religious activities, political rallies, conferences, and end of year celebrations as activities that significantly increased risks for the spread of the virus.

“Furthermore, as we reopened the economy, we experienced increased economic, social and religious gatherings and activities all of which have combined to play a part in viral transmissions. “These include: a) the opening of the international airspace in September 2020 – while the average number of daily imported infections into the country in the last 90 days is estimated to be about 7 cases, compared to 100-150 reported, new infections in the community since the beginning of community transmission, the test positivity rate in travellers arriving Lagos has recently doubled to 6.3 per cent;

b) The resumption of schools – outbreaks have been reported in schools following the resumption of physical classes;

c) The resumption of NYSC orientation camps – this risk has been mitigated by ensuring that all NYSC members were screened for COVID-19 prior to admission to camp, but confirmed cases have still been identified through tests carried out;

d) The full opening of offices with the return to work of government workers from GL. 12 and below – outbreaks have also been reported in public offices, most likely linked to overcrowding, poor ventilation and the lack of compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions; and

e) The opening of the economy with progressive relaxation of restrictions in congregational areas such as places of worship, restaurants, bars, lounges, shopping and event centres,” he said.

He stated that the PTF has concluded arrangements with the Nigeria Immigration Service to impose sanctions within the ambit of the law on international travellers that defaulted and breached the public health protocols by failing to turn up for post-arrival test.

He added that 64,405 of the 163,818 inbound travellers that had been captured on the portal number and that were due for the post-arrival test failed to turn up.

All schools that are expected to have vacated from December 18, 2020 are to remain closed till at least January 18, 2021, to enable the measures introduced to take effect, Mustapha said.

On December 17, a total of 1,145 cases were recorded in a single day — the highest daily toll since February 28 when Nigeria recorded its first case.

New COVID-19 Strain Likely in Nigeria, Says FCT Health Secretary

The Acting Health Secretary of the Federal Capital Territory Health and Human Services Secretariat, Dr. Mohammed Kawu, has raised the alarm that the new strain of COVID-19 spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom is likely to have spread to Nigeria.

The new strain of COVID-19 has prompted some countries to cut transport links to the UK, which has again locked down the country.

The new variant of the deadly virus, regarded by some experts as the B.1.1.7 lineage, is not the first new variant of the pandemic virus to emerge, but is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the UK.

Kawu, at a media briefing yesterday, said he suspected that the latest strain currently ravaging the FCT could be the same reported in the UK, given that a lot of the patients in the FCT now require oxygen in the last one and two weeks.

He added that it is left for virologists to analyse and determine whether that is the case or not.

According to him, although virologists have not identified the latest COVID-19 strain in Nigeria, he believed that the strain is more virulent than the first one as many people are dying from the virus.

“We strongly believe the strain that is ravaging us now is more deadly than the first one because here in the FCT, many persons are coming down with the virus with many patients requiring oxygen and in very bad situation. It is most likely the new strain but I am sure in the next one or two weeks, the virologists will analyse it and be able to tie it to the latest cases,” Kawu stated.

He explained that the FCTA has investigated and tested 86,505 suspected COVID-19 cases while 8,338 positive cases were confirmed as at December 11, 2020.

He said with a per capita testing rate of over 18,021 per million (1.8 per cent of the population), FCT is the only state to attain and surpass the COVID-19 testing target of one per cent population set by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.

FG Mulls Travel Ban

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said the federal government is considering banning international travels to curb the spread of COVID-19, especially the new variant manifesting itself in the United Kingdom.

Mohammed, at a Special Forum of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, noted that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 was billed to meet yesterday over the new strain of COVID-19 in the UK.

“We are more concerned about the new strain of COVID-19 which is manifesting itself in the UK; that is the mutated strain.

“It is difficult to detect. It spreads faster and people have been known to die of it within a very short period of its detection.

“This is a major concern to us as a country.

“While I do not want to pre-empt the PTF because we are meeting this afternoon, it is going to be top on the agenda of our discussions.

“I will not be surprised if that will be the recommendation of the committee which is meeting later today,’’ he stated.

The minister added: “This season, many students are coming from the UK in particular, to come and join their families in Nigeria.

“Besides, many of our people, because of the traditional link we have with the UK, may want to go there for business or family reunion.

“It is a very testy time and it might be another dangerous period to transmit this new variant of COVID-19.”

The minister noted that many European countries had banned flights to and from the UK.

Besides measures to prevent the importation of the new strain of COVID-19, the minister said the government was worried about the spike in infections in the last days.

He urged Nigerians to comply with the advisory being issued by the PTF, including the use of face masks, compliance with social distancing protocols and regular washing of hands with soap and water.