Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, some ministers, senior government officials, and top business executives who recently had contact with President Muhammadu Buhari's Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari, have gone on self- isolation, THISDAY has learnt.
Their self-isolation followed Kyari's testing positive for COVID-19 after a trip to Germany where he had talks with officials of Siemens in Munich on improving power supply in Nigeria.
However, while Kyari, who had travelled to Germany on March 7 and returned on March 14, but did not show any symptoms, tested positive, the president, one of those who had contacts with him, tested negative.
With the spike in the COVID-19 incidence, federal and state authorities have ramped up efforts to tame the pandemic by stepping up measures to promote social distancing and flattening the curve.
Among the new curbs yesterday were the suspension of plenary, for two weeks, by the two chambers of the National Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives; the ban on interstate travelling as well as the closure of markets, except for those selling foodstuffs and drugs, and courts by the Lagos State Government; and a directive by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to all non-managerial staff to work from home.
However, efforts at tackling the pandemic got a boost yesterday with the arrival in Nigeria of test kits and ventilators donated to Africa by Chinese billionaire and co-founder of Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate, Jack Ma.
THISDAY learnt that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), had tested the president and Kyari on Monday and yesterday informed them of the results.
Kyari and Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, were among the four new COVID-19 cases discovered yesterday to bring the toll to 44, covering six states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Of the 44, two persons had been discharged and one died.
Osinbajo's Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, in a tweet yesterday on his Twitter page, @akandoj, said the vice president was working from home as he was on self-isolation in accordance with NCDC protocols.
He said: (The) "VP Osinbajo yesterday at the office conducted his meetings via video conferencing, while observing social distancing.
"Today, he continues his work from the home office, as he is in self-isolation in accordance with NCDC protocols."
It was gathered that Kyari had gone on self-isolation in a private house in Abuja.
A press conference scheduled by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, for 3.30 p.m. yesterday to give Nigerians an update on COVID-19, was hurriedly put off.
Although no official reason was given for the cancellation, a presidential source said the minister was instructed to cancel the briefing.
THISDAY gathered that the press conference was expected to give an update on the tracing of ministers, senior government officials, influential politicians and top business executives, who had contact with the chief of staff.
A minister confided in THISDAY yesterday that he had gone on self-isolation because of his recent contact with Kyari.
"I am currently on self-isolation because I had contact with the Chief of Staff to the President recently in the cause of my official duty. Some of my colleagues are also on self-isolation for similar reasons," the minister stated.
It was also gathered that a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), who also had contact with Kyari was on self-isolation in his private house in Abuja.
A top government official told THISDAY that the chief of staff was on self-isolation where he was being monitored by medical personnel because he's not showing severe symptoms of the disease.
Asked if he was not expected to be moved to Abuja University Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada where victims of COVID-19 are being treated, the source said it was not compulsory that everyone who tests positive must be taken to the hospital.
According to him, if the patient is not showing severe symptoms of COVID-19, he can merely be given bed rest, noting that most of the victims of the disease naturally, recover.
He added that over 80 per cent of victims recover without any intervention.
He said: "He may test positive and not show severe symptoms and so be in self-isolation. The symptoms in over 80 per cent cases are mild as they manifest modestly. Most people will recover without intervention. Fatality is common in old people.
"They only have to be monitored to find that the situation is not deteriorating. He can be on bed rest and given drugs related to the symptoms he's showing. If the symptom is fever, he can be given paracetamol.
"He will be given water to help him hydrate. His blood sample will be taken to know that he's not showing any signs of deterioration. The treatment given to them is just to support the immune system."
According to him, most of the victims of the disease who die are those who show respiratory symptoms like pneumonia and that is why ventilators are needed.
The source explained that staff working with Kyari who had had contact with him had been asked to self-isolate.
THISDAY also learnt yesterday that some notable presidential aides who had contacts with the chief of staff had gone into self-isolation.
Some of them contacted by THISDAY to confirm their status opted to keep mum.
Asked if there is no necessity to subject such staff to tests, the source said no test would be conducted on them unless they show signs of the ailment.
According to the source, while it is ideal for everyone to be tested, the test cannot be carried out on every suspected case until the person shows symptoms of the disease.
The members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 yesterday visited the State House for undisclosed reasons.
Led by their chairman and incumbent SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, members of the group visited the office of the chief of staff.
The group declined to speak on their mission in the State House.
Members of the group in the visiting team included Ehanire; Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Investment, Ms. Sadiya Farouq.
Earlier in the day, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, and the Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Aminu Masari, had visited the State House for undisclosed reasons.
Bauchi Gov Tests Positive
The Bauchi State Government yesterday confirmed that Mohammed had tested positive for COVID-19.
A statement yesterday by the governor's Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Mukhtar Gidado, also said Mohammed, who was tested on Monday by NCDC, had gone into self-isolation after his result turned positive.
"This is to inform the general public that the result of the six initial tests carried out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on His Excellency, Senator Bala Mohammed Abdulkadir, his family and aides that accompanied him to Lagos are out.
"Of the six initial tests carried out, one sample was confirmed positive for COVID-19. The positive result happened to be that of His Excellency, Senator Bala Mohammed Abdulkadir, the Executive Governor of Bauchi State," the statement explained.
The governor had earlier gone into self-isolation after having contact with the son of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who had tested positive of the virus.
Test Kits, Ventilators Arrive in Nigeria
Nigerians may soon experience relief as test kits and ventilators sent to Nigeria by the Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma, arrived in the country yesterday and thus raising hope of the possibilities of conducting more tests that may be considered necessary.
Patients showing respiratory symptoms can also have access to ventilators, which can help their breathing system.
Ethiopian Airlines brought in the ventilators and the test kits yesterday.
COVID-19 Cases Climb to 44, Spread to Six States
In an update yesterday on its official Twitter page, @NCDCgov, the NCDC put the number of new cases at four more, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 44.
Announcing the new cases, the NCDC said Bauchi, Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) recorded one case each.
NCDC said: "Of the four cases, one had travel history to Germany, the other to the United Kingdom, while one is a contact of a previously confirmed case."
NCDC did not mention from which country the last person came into Nigeria.
So far, Lagos has 29 cases; FCT, eight; Ogun, three; Ekiti, one; Oyo one; Edo, one and Bauchi State, one.
While 41 persons are presently in isolation receiving treatment, two of the cases have been successfully treated and discharged and one died on Monday.
National Assembly Suspends Plenary for Two Weeks
As part of the efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, the National Assembly yesterday suspended activities for two weeks.
The Senate suspended plenary for two weeks and expressed concern for the lack of sufficient testing kits to fight the epidemic in the four NCDC isolation centres across the country.
President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, who announced the suspension at the end of an executive session of the Senate that lasted for over an hour, said: "The Senate resolves to adjourn sitting for two weeks from today due to the pandemic of COVID-19 ravaging the entire world."
According to him, the Senate will resume plenary on April 7.
Lawan, however, gave an assurance that the Senate will be ready to attend to urgent national matters during the two-week break.
"However, the Senate would be on hand in case of emergency on any national issue that requires its attention," he added.
He advised Nigerians to observe all preventive measures recommended by the NCDC.
While calling on the federal government to immediately set aside a special intervention fund to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria, Lawan advocated the release of financial assistance to states for the same purpose.
Shedding more light on the epidemic, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, told reporters after plenary that "for over two weeks now in the Senate plenary, we have been observing no-hand shake and I can assure you that no senator has tested positive to Coronavirus."
According to him, the nation did not have enough testing kits in the four isolation centres across the nation.
The House of Representatives also announced that plenary and other activities would be shut down for two weeks.
The Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, made the announcement at the resumption of plenary yesterday.
Gbajabiamila said the shutdown was not a holiday, but an act of necessity in furtherance of the social distancing and isolation guidelines that have proven to be effective in preventing secondary transmission of the COVID-19.
He stated that the House would continue to observe developments and respond as the circumstances demand, adding that if it becomes necessary, the House may reconvene to act on emergency legislation and possible amendment of the Appropriation Act, 2020.
He also assured all doctors, nurses and other medical professionals on duty call that the House will ensure that the tools needed to protect themselves and practice effectively are provided.
He appealed to members to restrict all non-essential movements and observe self-isolation and social distancing according to NCDC guidelines.
The National Assembly also asked all staff to remain at home for two weeks in the first instance effective today.
The Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, stated this in a two-page circular dated March 24, 2020.
NNPC Asks Workers to Work from Home
Like the National Assembly bureaucracy, the NNPC has instructed its employees who are not in the management cadre to work from home, effective from yesterday.
The NNPC said the order was in compliance with the federal government's directive following the increasing cases of COVID -19.
It said the instruction affected all office-based staff below management level across all its formations.
A statement in Abuja by the corporation's Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr. Kennie Obateru, said the directive, which was conveyed to the NNPC workforce through a message signed by the National Oil Company's Group Managing Director, Malam Mele Kyari, directed all NNPC Strategic Business Units to activate their business continuity plans immediately.
Obateru noted that the decision to allow SBUs to continue work was to ensure minimal disruption to operations while protecting staff from exposure to the COVID-19.
"The NNPC leadership, since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, has been providing daily enlightenment to staff on how to keep themselves and their families safe from infection," he stated.
On the reported death on Monday of Mr. Suleiman Achimugu, the NNPC condoled with the family of the late engineer who it said passed on in the early hours of Monday after a bout with COVID-19.
Lagos Bans Interstate Travels, Closes Markets, Courts
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, yesterday stepped up measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state with a directive closing all markets and courts effective from tomorrow.
He also encouraged the private sector, including banks, to follow the steps of the public sector by focusing on online services.
Sanwo-Olu stated these after a meeting of the state's Security Council in Lagos.
The governor, who described his directive as not a lockdown, however, said the new order would be for seven days in the first instance.
He also reduced the number of people who can gather together from 50 to 25.
He said all travels to Lagos by air or by road would no longer be encouraged and urged all public parks, gym, swimming pools to close down with immediate effect.
According to him, security agents have been ordered to strictly enforce the directive as anyone who contravenes it will be dealt with.
The state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, has also appealed to guests who attended the recent Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards (AMVCA), organised by the pay-TV company, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, to self-isolate as one of the attendees had tested positive to COVID-19.
Among movie and showbiz stars at the event were Funke Akindele, popularly called by her moniker, Jenifa, and her husband; Uzor Arukwe, Seun Akindele, Iyabo Ojo, Toyin Abrahams and her husband; and TuFace, Banky W and his wife, Adesua, a movie star.
Enforce Quarantine Now, ANAP Tells FG
Meanwhile, the Atedo N. A. Peterside (ANAP) Foundation COVID-19 Think Tank has called on the federal government to use various agencies at its disposal to enforce quarantine following the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
It also recommended that government should separate people who are vulnerable to the virus, including sick and old from young Nigerians to curb further spread of the disease.
In a report signed by the Chairman, ANAP, Chief Atedo Peterside and made available to THISDAY yesterday, he said: "Most young people survive the illness from the virus. It can be fatal for people aged 45 years and upwards and those with underlying lung, liver, kidney, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
"They need to be kept in a room by themselves and shielded from other members of the family, especially from young ones that are carriers of the virus or who can survive the illness. "However, it is a fallacy to say it is the disease of the elderly and young people should not care. It is simply humane to avoid infecting vulnerable, sick people by young people.
"I recommend that the government makes use of various agencies at their disposal to enforce quarantine, help distribute food and prevent crime.
"Government is waking up to its responsibilities and some state governments are shutting down schools; universities have been shut down, but a lot more has to be done."
ANAP said the federal government should move into full national lockdown now.
"We also, recommend that government partners with the private sector and NGOs. This will require some distribution of food and other basic amenities to keep the most vulnerable at home.
"It is now that companies, churches, mosques and wealthy individuals should use much of their money to distribute to poor areas to help them stay at home," he stated.
Other members of the group include the Vice Chairman, Abubakar Mohammed, George Etomi, Ayo Ahonkhai, Matthew Kukah, Salamatu Suleiman, Adwoa Edun, Yinka Sanni, Funke Aboyade, Ndidi Nnoli-Edozien, Leo Ekeh, Innocent Chukwuma, Ayisha Osori, Buti Sam Kputu, Lambert Shumbusho, Ibrahim D. Waziri, Dudu Manuga, Lucy Surhyel Newman and the Project Coordinators, Tariye Peterside and Kunbi Dixon.