President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday extended the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States by 14 more days and called for perseverance and more understanding from Nigerians in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president, in a nationwide broadcast, the second since the onset of the pandemic on February 27 heralded by an index case from a visiting Italian, said after reviewing efforts so far to combat the virus, his administration was left with no choice than to extend the initial lockdown which expired last night.
The broadcast was made after the task force he set up to tackle the pandemic said, earlier in the day, that the rate of the spread of the virus, whose number of confirmed cases in the country rose by 20 yesterday to 343, had slowed down.
The Presidential Task Force, headed by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, also warned against the disclosure of patients' identities, saying their confidentiality must be respected and protected.
However, in Lagos, the epicentre of the pandemic, another batch of six patients was discharged yesterday, bringing to 61 the total number of those treated for the virus.
Buhari, in his first broadcast over the incidence on March 30, had directed restriction of movements in FCT, Lagos and Ogun States to enable authorities trace more contacts of infected patients and to curb the spread of the virus.
He explained that reports from officials overseeing the anti-COVID-19 battle showed that while the federal government had achieved targets of imposing the initial lockdown on FCT, Lagos and Ogun States, it could not afford to drop the ball at this stage by relaxing the restrictions if Nigeria was to defeat the virus.
He said: "The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has informed me that, a large proportion of new infections are now occurring in our communities, through person-to-person contacts. So we must pay attention to the danger of close contact between person to person.
"At this point, I will remind all Nigerians to continue to take responsibility for the recommended measures to prevent transmission, including maintaining physical distancing, good personal hygiene and staying at home.
"In addition, I have signed the Quarantine Order in this regard and additional regulations to provide clarity in respect of the control measures for the COVID-19 pandemic which will be released soon," the president said.
He stated that the public health response to COVID-19 was built on the authorities' ability to detect, test and admit cases as well as trace all their contacts.
Buhari said while he noted some appreciable progress, he contended that a lot more could be achieved.
He made the case for the extension: "Today, the cessation of movement, physical distancing measures and the prohibition of mass gatherings remain the most efficient and effective way of reducing the transmission of the virus. By sustaining these measures, combined with extensive testing and contact tracing, we can take control and limit the spread of the disease."
The president ssaid his government's approach to the virus remained in two steps: First, to protect the lives of Nigerians and residents in the country; and second, to preserve the livelihoods of workers and business owners.
"With this in mind and having carefully considered the briefings and report from the presidential task force and the various options offered, it has become necessary to extend the current restriction of movement in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT for another fourteen days effective from 11:59 pm on Monday, 13th of April, 2020. I am therefore once again asking you all to work with government in this fight," Buhari said.
He emphasised the seriousness of the situation: "This is not a joke. It is a matter of life and death.
Mosques in Makkah and Medina have been closed. The Pope celebrated Mass on an empty St. Peter's Square. The famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris held Easter Mass with less than 10 people. India, Italy, and France are in complete lockdown. Other countries are in the process of following suit. We cannot be lax."
He adopted the previously issued guidelines on exempted services.
Buhari expressed regret for the harsh days ahead but said it was the sacrifice required to defeat the virus.
According to him, "This is a difficult decision to take, but I am convinced that this is the right decision. The evidence is clear.
"The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.
"We must not lose the gains achieved thus far. We must not allow a rapid increase in community transmission. We must endure a little longer."
The president also gave details of what was achieved during the first 14-day lockdown, saying it enabled the federal government to implement measures that bolstered case identification, testing, isolation and contact tracing capabilities.
He said: "To date, we have identified 92% of all identified contacts while doubling the number of testing laboratories in the country and raising our testing capacity to 1,500 tests per day.
"We also trained over 7,000 healthcare workers on infection prevention and control while deploying NCDC teams to 19 states of the federation.
"Lagos and Abuja today have the capacity to admit some 1,000 patients each across several treatment centres.
"Many state governments have also made provisions for isolation wards and treatment centres. We will also build similar centres near our airports and land borders.
"Using our resources and those provided through donations, we will adequately equip and man these centres in the coming weeks. Already, health care workers across all the treatment centres have been provided with the personal protective equipment that they need to safely carry out the care they provide.
"Our hope and prayers are that we do not have to use all these centres. But we will be ready for all eventualities."
Stating that he realised the excruciating impact of the lockdown, he reeled out his relief package, saying his administration would sustain the current palliative measures and unfold fresh steps to address the people's plight, while security agencies had been mandated to double up efforts at safeguarding lives and property.
"No country can afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement on its economy. I am fully aware of the great difficulties experienced, especially by those who earn a daily wage such as traders, day workers, artisans, and manual workers," Buhari said, adding: "For this group, their sustenance depends on their ability to go out. Their livelihoods depend on them mingling with others and about seeking work. But despite these realities, we must not change the restrictions."
Saying existing palliatives would be maintained, he stated: "I have also directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. This means we will support an additional one million homes with our social investment programmes. A technical committee is working on this and will submit a report to me by the end of this week."
Buhari said the pandemic was certain to change the world, explaining that after it socio-economic interactions in terms of the conduct of businesses and trade, travel, and education would be different.
"To ensure our economy adapts to this new reality, I am directing the Ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Communication and Digital Economy, Science and Technology, Transportation, Aviation, Interior, Health, Works and Housing, Labour and Employment and Education to jointly develop a comprehensive policy for a "Nigerian economy functioning with COVID-19," he said, adding: "The Ministers will be supported by the Presidential Economic Advisory Council and Economic Sustainability Committee in executing this mandate."
The president added: "I am also directing the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice-Chairman, National Food Security Council, and the Chairman, Presidential Fertiliser Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure the impact of this pandemic on our 2020 farming season is minimised
The president thanked religious leaders, the media, individuals, the business community as well as international partners and friends for their support and contributions to assist Nigeria to face the battle.
With 20 More Cases Tally Rises to 343
Nigeria yesterday recorded 20 new cases of COVID-19, bringing to 343 the total number of confirmed cases in the country.
Giving a breakdown of the new cases yesterday, the NCDC said 13 of the new cases were recorded in Lagos, two each in Edo, Kano, and Ogun while one was recorded in Ondo State.
NCDC said: "As at 09:50 pm on April 13, there are 343 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Nigeria. Ninety-one have been discharged with 10 deaths."
A breakdown of the total figures showed that Lagos has 189 cases; FCT 56; Osun 20; Edo 14; Oyo 11; Ogun nine; Bauchi and Kaduna six each; Akwa Ibom and Katsina five each; Kwara four; Ondo, Delta and Kano three each; Enugu, Ekiti and Rivers two each while Benue, Niger, and Anambra have one each.
Lagos Discharges Six More Patients
The Lagos State Government has discharged six more COVID-19 patients, bringing to 61 the total number of persons successfully treated in its isolation centres.
The Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the newly discharged patients included five males and one female.
He said: "For us, this is indicative of our will power to triumph in the war against COVID-19. We won't be deterred until victory is achieved."
FG: Rate of Spread Has Slowed Down
The federal government has said that it has slowed down the spread rate of the virus in the country.
It has also opened talks with the Rivers State government to secure the release of the two pilots of Caverton Helicopters, who were arrested in the state for flouting the state's restriction orders.
In addition, the federal government has also resolved to hand over the distribution of palliatives to governors.
Mustapha, who chairs the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the COVID-19 pandemic, told reporters yesterday in Abuja that 92 per cent of contacts tracing had been achieved.
Mustapha, while reeling out the achievements of the task force, stated that it had also made some recommendations to the president on further measures to combat COVID-19.
He listed the achievements of the task force to include the intensification of case identification, testing, and isolation, contact listing and isolation, saying that 92 per cent of all contacts have been identified.
Besides, the panel has facilitated an increase in the number of testing laboratories by 100 per cent to bring the total number nationwide to 11.
Testing capabilities have gone up by 50 per cent so that Nigeria is now carrying out 1,500 tests per day, with over 6,000 tests done.
FG Demands Confidentiality of Patients
In his remarks at the task force press briefing, the National Coordinator of the group, Dr. Sani Aliyu, expressed concern about repeated breaches of confidentiality where names of those who have tested positive to the virus were being made public without their consent.
Aliyu said the practice was creating stigma, fear in the society and destroying the efforts of the PTF to get more people to be aware of the pandemic.
He also stated that the number of people that have been tested for the virus was relatively low compared to other countries because of low demand in some of the new labs that were recently activated.
FG Opens Talks with Rivers on Arrested Pilots
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. Hassan Musa, said the federal government and the Rivers State government were in consultation to secure the release of the two pilots of Caverton Helicopters arrested last week for allegedly flouting the state's no-movement order.
Musa, who stood in for the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, at the press briefing, said the issue had taken a different dimension as unions in the aviation sector were threatening a strike over the detention of the pilots.
Govs to Share FG's palliatives
Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Mrs. Sadiya Umar-Farouk, said the federal government was set to hand over palliatives to the governors for onward redistribution to the vulnerable in their states.
Responding to a question on whether the federal government was thinking of changing the strategy of sharing the palliatives owing to criticism from Nigerians, the minister said the country had a national response plan on the ground, with representatives from the national to local government on board.
"Going forward, we have decided to handover this food relief to the state governors for onward redistribution to their citizens, the poor and vulnerable in the society. In fact, I have started that. I was in Lagos last week and Ogun States and I have handed over trucks of food relief to these governors.
"So far we have reached out to the three affected states that have been locked down by the federal government, the two states plus the FCT. Also, we have deployed some food relief to two southeastern states of Imo and Ebonyi specifically," she said.
FG Approves Home-made Face Masks
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, has recommended home-made face masks for Nigerians.
Ehanire said the government was recommending the use of face masks as a means of preventing COVID-19 infections, especially in markets and other public places where social distancing might be difficult to observe.
"We are recommending it and we are not saying that it is compulsory. Secondly, we said that it does not have to be a hospital-rated mask or surgical mask; you can make your own. Preferable, you can wash it clean and reuse them," he said.
Ehanire also said the federal government had received five tonnes of medical equipment, including 50 ventilators donated by the United Nations.
Speaking on the assistance being extended to Nigeria by donor agencies and countries, the minister said some of the donors had indicated willingness to help with medical equipment.
He said the consignment of medical supplies donated by the United Nations arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja yesterday.
Ehanire restated that the PTF was working on a compensation package for health workers in recognition of their sacrifices and to further motivate them.
"It goes beyond the well-known group life insurance for public servants, the routine workmen's compensation and health workers hazard allowance. Details of the new package will be made available later," he said.
Northern Govs Seek More Testing Centres
In a related development, Northern States Governor's Forum yesterday met to discuss issues relating to COVID-19 pandemic and requested for more testing centres in the region.
The meeting, which was conducted via teleconference and chaired by the Forum's Chairman, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, discussed various issues including experience sharing on measures adopted by individual states to deal with the disease.
After receiving reports from various states, the forum resolved to strengthen preventive measures against the pandemic through enhanced border controls and surveillance as well as greater collaboration to ensure that there is synergy among them in movement restriction.
They noted that so far, the lockdown in some states in the region has had varying levels of success, but also raised concerns that enforcing cross-border movements remains a challenge as some of the cases recorded in some States were imported from outside despite the closure of borders by States.
They agreed that at the moment, each State would adopt the measure suitable to its setting because total lockdown of the region will come at a very high cost since most of its citizens are farmers who need to go to farms since the rains have started.
Another issue discussed by the Northern Governors was the issue of palliatives from the federal government where they regretted that so far, no state in the region has received a dime as special allocation despite the fact that some of them have recorded cases while others are making frantic efforts to prevent any outbreak as well as prepare against any eventuality.
This they observed has eaten deep into the pockets of the states as they have spent a lot of money already and may not be able to sustain this for a long time. Since "prevention is better than cure", they canvassed that the federal government grants them some special funds just as it has done to other states.
They mandated their chairman to liaise with the federal government through the Minister of Finance, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the private sector donor basket in order to benefit from available palliatives and donations.
As for testing centres, the governors lamented that the region had no testing centres, which was very disturbing. They resolved to again liaise with the federal government to ensure that each state at least gets one testing centre while highly populated ones get two.
The governors also discussed the economic impact of COVID-19 on the region and decided that they needed to take a wholesome look at the economic prospects of the region with a view to repositioning it for less reliance on Federal Allocation and to prepare for the future by diversifying to areas of comparative advantage such as agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, and human capital development.
They consequently set up a 7-man Committee chaired by Governor of Kebbi State Atiku Abubakar Bagudu to fashion out the way forward. Other members are Governors of Kaduna, Sokoto, Kwara, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Gombe and Nasarawa State.