COVID-19: Brace up, Nigeria in Perilous Times, Says Buhari

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Muhammadu Buhari

•Extends PTF mandate till March, calls for vigilance at Yuletide
•FG: No fresh lockdown
•NCDC cites increased travels, disregard for safety measures for resurgence

By Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos, Omololu Ogunmade and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday charged Nigerians to brace up for the inconveniences of measures being introduced by the government to protect them in the aftermath of the resurgence of COVID-19 in the country.

The president, who received a report from the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, to keep him updated on efforts by various stakeholders to combat the pandemic, said Nigeria is in a perilous situation and urgent measures are needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the attendant fatalities.

He spoke just as the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, foreclosed chances of the federal government imposing a fresh lockdown on the country.

However, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has attributed the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic to many factors, including increased local and international travels, business and religious activities with minimal compliance with COVID-19 safety measures by the public.

The president, in a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, also extended till March the mandate of the PTF, billed to expire on December 30.

The extension of the PTF’s mandate was said to have been necessitated by the second wave of the pandemic threatening the country.

Buhari said the country could not afford to lose the gains of the past nine months in the fight against the pandemic and hence must retain the team.

At the meeting, Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, accompanied by his colleagues in the team, submitted the report of the task force to the president.

Yesterday’s extension was the third time the tenure of the PTF would be elongated, having been initially given the mandate to function for only three months upon its inauguration in March.

The statement said the president extended the mandate of PTF on COVID-19 “for a further period till the end of March, 2021 bearing in mind the new surge in the number of cases and the bid for vaccines.”

Buhari also said he had examined the current state of the pandemic and was convinced that urgent measures needed to be taken to contain further spread.

“Recent reports reaching me indicate that Nigeria is now facing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide, which is similar to the second wave of infections occurring in other countries across the world.

“New epicentres have been identified and the nation cannot afford to lose the gains of the last nine months. I have critically evaluated the situation and remain convinced that urgent measures have to be taken to halt the spread and the attendant fatalities.

“Closely associated with the foregoing is the need to speedily and strategically access and administer the COVID-19 vaccine in a safe, effective and timely manner. This is an important obligation that we owe Nigerians as we go into year 2021 and it must be carried out through an efficient machinery,” Buhari said.

According to him, Nigeria is obviously in a perilous situation following the second wave of the pandemic, noting that the situation calls for decisive actions to protect Nigerians.

He implored traditional rulers, religious leaders and all stakeholders to cooperate with the PTF by engaging in what he described as risk communication and community engagement.

He also urged Nigerians to be vigilant this season and take all precautionary measures to stay safe.

“The nation is clearly in a perilous situation given the virulent nature of this second wave and we must act decisively to protect our people. I therefore urge all sub-national entities, traditional rulers, and religious leaders of thought to collaborate with the PTF by taking up the responsibility for risk communication and community engagement at all levels. Now is the time for collective efforts to be intensified.

“As the festive season approaches, I urge all Nigerians to remain vigilant and stay safe. Non-essential trips and large social gatherings should be avoided or shelved completely,” he added.

No Fresh Lockdown, Says FG

The federal government yesterday allayed fears of a fresh lockdown of the country in view of the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who featured on a Radio Nigeria programme, “Politics Nationwide,’’ said the directives and position of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 at its briefing on Monday did not translate to partial or total lockdown as reported in some sections of the media.

He explained that a lockdown might have negative effects on the already stressed economy.

Mohammed said what the federal government had done was to reduce the chances of mass gathering by directing its workers from Level 12 and below to work from home.

He said the government also reiterated already existing ban on night clubs and other COVID-19 protocols.

“The federal government has not declared a fresh lockdown.

“What we have done is that we have simply reiterated the old protocols and asked federal workers on Level 12 and below to stay at home and they will still receive their salaries.

“Lagos State has equally asked their Level 14 workers and below to work from home and Kaduna State has done the same.

“Therefore, there is no fresh lockdown and the issue of hardship and economy meltdown does not arise,’’ he said.

According to him, the government’s reminder that the ban on social gathering is still in force and churches and mosques should obey the social gathering rules is to curtail people from gathering because COVID-19 has reached the level of community transmission.

Mohammed said the protocols on foreign travels subsist to the effect that those travelling to Nigeria would not be able to come on board unless they have the certificate that they tested negative for the virus.

He said when they arrive into the country, they must self-isolate for seven days after which they would go back for a confirmation test.

NCDC Lists Reasons for COVID-19 Second Wave

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has attributed the recent increase in COVID-19 infections to some factors such as increased local and international travels as well as business and religious activities with minimal compliance with COVID-19 safety measures by the public.

In it’s message for the Yuletide season, NCDC advised Nigerians to avoid mass gatherings during the Christmas festivities or in the alternative imbibe the culture of always wearing facemasks whenever they go outside.

In response to the increase in cases of COVID-19 and poor adherence to public health and social measures nationwide, the NCDC said it is escalating its ongoing public communications efforts through a new campaign themed #CelebrateResponsibly.

According to the agency, the campaign, which began in February, focuses on measures Nigerians need to take to protect themselves and loved ones during the Christmas and New Year period.

” In the last two weeks, there has been a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country. On the 17th of December, 1,145 new confirmed cases were recorded.

“This increase is as a result of a convergence of circumstances which includes increased local and international travels, business and religious activities with minimal compliance with COVID-19 safety measures by the members of the public,” it said.

According to the NCDC, as at December 21, a total of 78,790 cases and 1,227 deaths have been recorded in Nigeria with over 70 million cases reported globally.

It said the enforcement of adherence to the safety measures should not only be the sole responsibility of the government, adding that individuals and institutions have a responsibility too and need to play their parts in ensuring adherence to the preventive measures.

“Critically, Nigerians are being urged to adhere to recommended measures by NCDC and other public health authorities, as they celebrate Christmas and New Year. Please avoid all non-essential travel within and outside Nigeria to reduce the risk of transmission. The virus that causes COVID-19 is more likely to spread in mass gatherings especially when held indoors.

“We advise that people avoid mass gatherings during this time, or hold them outdoors with physical distancing, compulsory use of facemasks and provision of handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser,” it stated.

The agency urged Nigerians to take all necessary precautions for a safe and healthy Christmas celebration.