Nigeria: Ministers to Take Tests As COVID-19 Bites Harder, Spreads to Eight States

26 March 2020

Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is to conduct tests on ministers to determine their status following their contacts with some of the confirmed cases of COVID-19, THISDAY learnt wednesday.

No fewer than five governors have also gone into self-isolation as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the virus following their close proximity to some infected persons, especially their colleague in Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed, and Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, both of whom tested positive to the virus.

It was also gathered that the ministers, some of whom had self-isolated, had been directed to take the test as many of them had contact with Kyari in the course of their official engagements.

THISDAY had exclusively reported yesterday that some of the ministers had gone into self-isolation when the test showed Kyari to be positive.

The spread of COVID-19 to Aso Rock, the seat of power, has triggered anxiety among top government officials and prompted the presidency to scale up steps to curb the disease, which has so far infected 51 people since its outbreak in February.

Of the five more cases recorded yesterday, there were two fresh incidences in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), two in Lagos and one Rivers, bringing the number of infected states to eight and FCT.

However, amid the gloomy situation, there was cheering news wednesday as the result of the test conducted on Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who had self-isolated in the last two days, was negative.

Osinbajo's media aide, Mr. Laolu Akande, confirmed the status of the vice president wednesday.

There were also reports that Prince Charles tested positive while the only case of COVID-19 in Edo State was identified as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Frank Okiye.

THISDAY gathered that the federal government directed all the ministers to proceed on self-isolation and to allow the NCDC to ascertain their COVID-19 status. It also directed the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) to develop models for identifying herbal medicines active against the pandemic.

THISDAY also gathered that the Presidential Taskforce on the Containment of the COVID-19, headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, has been thrown into confusion as almost all its members who recently held meetings with Kyari have now gone on self-isolation for 14 days.

A presidency source told THISDAY yesterday that the situation is causing concern as governance is almost being crippled.

According to the source, most of the ministers who attended last week's Federal Executive Council meeting are being suspected of being infected by the virus.

The situation is said to have jolted most of the ministers some of whom were said to be angry at the health risk they were exposed to.

"Everybody is in disarray. Almost every minister is on self-isolation - the same with all members of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19. They held meeting twice with the Chief of Staff on Saturday and Sunday and they all shook hands with him," he said.

The source explained that the implication is that the ministers would be technically on suspension from duties till the next 14 days after they have been tested and their result is known before they could resume work.

THISDAY gathered that even the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, was not at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja yesterday to receive the aircraft that brought in the medical equipment donated by a Chinese billionaire, Mr. Jack Ma.

The Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Alhaji Abdullahi Marshi, was at the event.

Governors that THISDAY confirmed were on self-isolation were Mr. Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello (Niger), Dr. Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola (Osun) and Alhaji Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa).

However, the governors were said to be asymptomatic and only went into self-isolation in compliance with NCDC protocols.

THISDAY gathered that some other governors are also on self-isolation but refused to issue official confirmation.

The Deputy Governor of Edo State, Hon. Philip Shaibu, who announced the self-isolation of Obaseki, identified Okiye as the index case of the COVID-19 reported on Monday in the state.

He said Okiye who had travelled to the United Kingdom, came back and went into self-isolation at the Irrua Specialist Hospital, Irrua in the state.

"He sent his sample for testing and the test came back positive. He is in a stable condition and his family members have been tested and the tests came back negative," Edo deputy governor said.

He noted that the two persons the speaker got in close contact with were his wife and daughter whose samples had been taken and the result came out negative.

According to him, Obaseki went into self-isolation following his close contact with Mohammed and Kyari.

He said: "On his own, the governor avoided meeting with everybody when he arrived Benin from Abuja and has maintained social distance before going into self-isolation."

He also stated that 111 persons were being tracked by the state government, adding that 64 had been contacted out of which six has been isolated and five samples were taken for testing.

The deputy governor urged residents of the state not to panic as the government was taking measures to curtail the spread of the disease.

Niger State Government also said the governor went into self-isolation as a result of his presence at the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) meeting on March 18, attended by his Bauchi State counterpart.

A statement by Bello's Chief Press Secretary, Mrs. Mary Berje, said the governor self-isolated considering the fact that as a public figure, he must have had contact with some confirmed contact cases of COVID-19.

"The governor has also directed that all his close aides and all cabinet members should subject themselves to self-isolation."

Like his Niger State counterpart, Oyetola was said to have gone into self-isolation since he returned from Abuja on Tuesday where among other official functions, he attended the NGF meeting.

His Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Ismail Omipidan, told THISDAY in a telephone interview yesterday that it was after he took a COVID-19 test, which turned out negative, that he performed some official functions.

At a press briefing yesterday to announce the spread of COVID-19 to the state, Oyetola said his wife had also tested negative for the virus.

He appealed to citizens to take the necessary action to avoid any precarious transmission.

"I want to passionately encourage all returnees from the UK, the US, Europe, the West African countries and indeed other high-risk countries to self-isolate and submit themselves to test, so as to assist the government in containing the spread of the virus," he stated.

He announced the closure of markets with effect from tomorrow; and commencement of screening at all its 10 land borders in addition to the ban on all public gatherings.

Fayemi, who doubles as the NGF chairman, announced yesterday on his Facebook page that he had gone on self-isolation following his contact with some persons who had tested positive.

He urged the people not to panic over the development, saying he took the precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

Fayemi's counterpart in Nasarawa State said he self-isolated following his contact with Kyari on March 14 at the wedding ceremony of the son of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu.

However, Kogi State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo, refuted claims that Governor Yahaya Bello tested positive to the virus.

NGF Director General, Mr. Asishana Okauru, and his wife, a former Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Ifueko, have also self-isolated after having contacts with some persons that have tested positive to the virus.

In a statement signed by him, Okauru said: "I wish to inform the general public that my wife together with my entire household will be proceeding on self-isolation.

"We are taking this action following my exposure to His Excellency, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, who today announced the positive outcome of his test for COVID-19.

"My wife and I would be undergoing COVID-19 testing this week."

He said he attended different meetings of the NGF and the Nigerian Economic Council (NEC) last week, which were also attended by Mohammed.

Nigeria's Cases Climb to 51 in Eight States, FCT

An update by the NCDC showed that five more cases were recorded yesterday, bringing the total number in the country to 51 in eight states and the FCT.

The NCDC said two of the cases were recorded in FCT; two in Lagos; and one in Rivers.

"Three are returning travellers into Nigeria and two are close contacts of a confirmed case," NCDC said.

So far, Lagos has 32 cases, FCT 10, Ogun three, Ekiti one, Oyo one, Edo one, Bauchi one, Osun one and Rivers one.

While 48 persons are presently in isolation receiving treatment, two of the cases have been successfully treated and discharged and one person died on Monday.

20 Osun Judges on Self-isolation

Osun State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Rafiu Isamotu, also yesterday confirmed that 20 judges from the state who recently returned from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates were on self-isolation.

He said the judges went into isolation shortly after they arrived in the state pending when their medical status would be ascertained.

Isamotu spoke on the sidelines of a press conference in Osogbo, where the governor told journalists about the index case in the state.

CBN Directs Non-critical Staff to Work from Home

Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has directed its staff in non-critical roles to stay at home and work remotely effective yesterday.

It, however, said it remained fully operational despite the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic that has seen most public institutions scale down their operations.

The banking sector regulator, in a statement by its Director, Corporate Communications, Mr. Isaac Okorafor, said: "Following the current impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the global economy coupled with efforts by the Nigerian government, including partial lockdown in some states and at the federal level, to check the spread of the virus in Nigeria, the CBN wishes to inform stakeholders and members of the Nigerian public that the bank will remain open for business during this period."

According to him, as a responsible public institution and regulator, the CBN has triggered its business continuity plans to ensure that its operations remain undisrupted at this present time when social distancing has become key to checking the further spread of the virus.

He said the CBN had directed deposit money banks (DMBs) and other financial institutions to do the same, adding that the welfare and safety of staff and their families, and indeed all Nigerians, remain a top priority to the central bank.

World Bank to Deploy $150bn for Economic Recovery

The World Bank Group has expressed its readiness to deploy about $150 billion over the next 15 months to stimulate economic recovery of countries affected by the pandemic.

The pandemic has led to unprecedented disruptions to global supply chains, sharp drop in global crude oil prices, turmoil in global stock and financial markets, and lockdown of large swaths movements of persons in many countries, among others.

These outcomes have had severe consequences on households' livelihoods and business activities, resulting from a drop in global demand, declined consumer confidence and a slowdown in production.

The World Bank Group President, Mr. David Malpass in his remarks from the G20 Finance Ministers conference call on the COVID-19 pandemic said these were difficult times for all, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.

For the World Bank Group, he said the first goal is to provide prompt support during the crisis, based on a country's needs.

He noted that it was vital for governments of countries affected by the pandemic to shorten the time of recovery and create confidence that the recovery can be strong.

Malpass noted the bank is currently restructuring existing projects in 23 countries.

Testing Positive Not Death Sentence, Says Presidency

The presidency yesterday in Abuja said testing positive to the virus was not a death sentence, adding that the State House, like the entire country, is under a partial lockdown but not completely shut.

Speaking on the turn of events in the Presidential Villa, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the seat of power was not shut down but its activities were on a low key.

"Well, things are a bit on a low key. It doesn't mean that the State House is shut down. It's just that things are a bit on the low key just like the rest of the country.

"The rest of the country is also on a low key. There is a partial lockdown in most parts of the country. So, what is happening at the State House can also be called a partial lockdown but not a complete lockdown," Adesina said.

Asked to confirm the report that Buhari tested negative for COVID-19, Adesina pushed the question back to the reporter and made his remarks on the basis of the reporter's submission.

"What did you hear about the result?" he asked the reporter.

"They say it's negative," the reporter responded.

Then, Adesina retorted: "Good. So, that calls for rejoicing with him. Anybody that does the test and tests negative, we will rejoice with that person, and anybody that does it and tests positive, it's not a death sentence.

"We also would pray along with the person. Give the person our goodwill and best wishes and they will surely come out of it. Even the index case in Nigeria recovered and has been discharged."

Adesina also spoke on the suspension of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, saying the meeting was suspended because over 50 people attend the forum every week and the number exceeds the specification for convergence this season.

On the decision pruning number of State House correspondents, he said the number of correspondents was large and contravened the current rule prohibiting more than 50 people from congregating at a place.

Prince Charles Tests Positive for COVID-19

Meanwhile, Prince Charles has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from the Buckingham Palace.

The 71-year-old and his wife, Camilla, who does not have COVID-19, are currently self-isolating in Scotland.

It stated: "The Prince of Wales has tested positive for coronavirus

"He has been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual.

"The Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla) has also been tested but does not have the virus.

"In accordance with government and medical advice, the prince and the duchess are now self-isolating at home in Scotland." The couple was tested by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) in Aberdeen shire in northeast Scotland, it said.

"It is not possible to ascertain from whom the prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during recent weeks," it added.

Queen Elizabeth II, 93, and her husband Prince Philip, 98, retired to Windsor Castle, outside London, on March 19.

They brought forward their Easter break by a week because of the pandemic. Britain has more than 8,000 confirmed cases of the disease, and 422 people have died.

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