President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday made a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, relaxing from Monday the lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States even as he shut for two weeks, the emerging epicentre of COVID-19 pandemic, Kano State.
Acknowledging the escalation of the spread of the virus despite the lockdown he imposed on the two worst-hit states and the FCT since March 30, the president, in a nationwide broadcast, said no nation could afford to close its economy for longer than necessary hence the need to ease the restriction.
He, therefore, directed the easing of the restriction of movement effective from Monday apparently to give room for the implementation of his fresh measures for the unlocking of the economy of the two states and the federal capital territory.
But Kano that had been home to strange deaths in the last few days came under the president's total restriction order for two weeks in the first instance.
Buhari last night gave legal backing to his fresh directives aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly virus by signing the Proclamation Order on the General Management of COVID-19 in Lagos, Ogun, Kano and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
A statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the proclamation order would also be in force in other states in Nigeria as contained in the president's national broadcast.
The statement added that the order was in the exercise of the powers conferred on the president "by Section 3 of the Quarantine Act, CAP Q2 Laws of the Federation 2004 and all powers enabling him in that behalf."
The president's extension of the restriction by a week in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States, and the lockdown of Kano State received justification from last night's update by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which showed that the virus had increased its spread by 64 moving the tally since February 27 to 1,337 with 255 persons discharged and 40 dead.
Happily, no new state has recorded an index case, leaving the virus' territory at 32 states. The 64 new cases were reported from five states, including Lagos 34, FCT 15, Borno 11, Taraba two, and Gombe two.
Specifically, the president imposed a nationwide curfew, lasting from 8 pm to 6 am and banned non-essential inter-state travels, social and religious gatherings form Monday.
He said the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States would henceforth witness a phased lockdown subject to the implementation of certain measures, partial and controlled interstate movement of goods and services; and mandatory use of face masks or coverings in public.
He said: "In line with the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the various federal government committees that have reviewed socio-economic matters and the Nigeria Governors' Forum, I have approved a phased and gradual easing of lockdown measures in FCT, Lagos and Ogun States effective from Monday, 4th May, 2020.
"However, this will be followed strictly with aggressive reinforcement of testing and contact tracing measures while allowing the restoration of some economic and business activities in certain sectors."
He highlighted further measures: "There will be an overnight curfew from 8 pm to 6 am. This means all movements will be prohibited during this period except for essential services;
"There will be a ban on non-essential inter-state passenger travel until further notice;
"Partial and controlled interstate movement of goods and services will be allowed for the movement of goods and services from producers to consumers; and
"We will strictly ensure the mandatory use of face masks or coverings in public in addition to maintaining physical distancing and personal hygiene. Furthermore, the restrictions on social and religious gatherings shall remain in place.
"State governments, corporate organisations and philanthropists are encouraged to support the production of cloth masks for citizens."
According to him, the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos, and Ogun States will remain in force until the new measures introduced to ease it take effect.
"The Presidential Task Force shall provide sector specific details to allow for preparations by governments, businesses and institutions. In respect to the above guidelines; state governors may choose to adapt and expand based on their unique circumstances provided they maintain alignment with the guidelines issued above.
"To support our businesses and traders, the monetary and fiscal authorities shall deploy all the necessary provisions needed for production to continue and thus, jobs restored," he said.
Buhari excluded Kano State from these revised guidelines.
"With regards to Kano, I have directed the enforcement of a total lockdown for a period of two weeks effective immediately. The federal government shall deploy all the necessary human, material and technical resources to support the state in controlling and containing the pandemic and preventing the risk of further spread to neighbouring states," he stated.
The president commended health workers whom he said had been at the forefront of the battle against the virus, noting that some of them who had been infected would be duly supported by the government.
The president said the lockdown in the last month had had adverse effects on the economy with many businesses shut down.
According to him, no country could sustain the trend while awaiting vaccines for the treatment of the disease.
He explained that both the federal and state governments have been collaborating on how to handle the situation.
He said various reviews had been carried out in recent weeks, including how children would learn during the pandemic and how businesses would continue to run and livelihoods preserved.
Against this background, he said the goals of the governments were to come up with policies that would aid the functioning of the economy while the fight against the pandemic remained in force.
The president acknowledged the support of traditional rulers, the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and other prominent religious and community leaders, saying their cooperation and support have contributed to the successes recorded so far.
The president, who also thanked the NGF and the PTF for what he described as their hard work, also saluted corporate organisations, philanthropists, the United Nations (UN) system, the European Union (EU), friendly nations, the media, and other partners for "taking up the responsibility for supporting our response."
The president thanked and commended Nigerians for their cooperation, sense of resilience and patriotism, which he said they had shown in the country's collective war "against the biggest health challenge of our generation."
PDP accuses Buhari of Offering No Solutions
Reacting to the president's speech, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it was appalled that Buhari failed to offer decisive solutions to protect Nigerians from the deadly pandemic.
The party also expressed its disappointment that the president did not offer any post-lockdown stimulus to assist Nigerians in the private sector whose businesses have been crippled by the lockdown and are now faced with the burden of workers' salaries and business refinancing.
The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, noted that the president did not offer a decisive solution regarding the production of drugs, testing kits and management of equipment to safeguard Nigerians, despite the huge resources at the disposal of his administration.
The party described as saddening that the president did not address the demands by Nigerians to engage competent hands, including indigenous researchers, equipment manufacturers, pharmaceutical, and medical as well as virology experts to infuse home grown therapeutic solutions in the overall effort.
"Our party invites Nigerians to observe how countries like Senegal had effectively mobilised their indigenous medical researchers and manufacturers to produce low-cost quick testing kits as well as ventilators while investing massively in the production of drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 patients," PDP said.
FG Approves New Allowances, Insurance Cover for Health Workers
Meanwhile, the federal government has approved the payment of enhanced hazard allowance to all categories of health workers to serve as motivation to those of them in the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking yesterday at the media briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 in Abuja, the Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, said after diligent negotiations with stakeholders in the country's health sector, the federal government had arrived at a new hazard allowance and insurance cover for all public and non-public health workers.
The minister said the meeting agreed to shelve the payment of the existing hazard allowance of N5,000 across the board to health workers and in its place, a special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance of 50 per cent of the consolidated basic salary to be paid to all health workers in all federal government teaching hospitals and federal medical centres and designated COVID-19 centres and primary healthcare centres. The payment will last for the first three months in the first instance.
In the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Mamora; the acting Chairman of the National Income, Salaries and Wages Commission, Mr. Ekpo Nta; the President of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Faduyile; President of the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria, Mr. Munir Elelu; National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), it was resolved that 40 per cent of consolidated basic salary would be paid as special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance to healthcare workers at special non-public hospitals and clinics in the federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) for the same three months' period.
The federal government said 20 per cent of the consolidated basic salary would be paid as special risk allowance additionally on the special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance to all health workers directly managing the pandemic at the infectious disease hospitals, isolation, and treatment centres.
The last category, which constitutes those regarded as non-core medical professionals working in the health sector and operating at the designated hospitals or clinics, are to be paid 10 per cent of their consolidated basic salary also for a period of three months in the first instance.
The PTF on COVID-19 is also expected to consider a special allowance for the third category above at federal and state levels.
On the issue of insurance, the federal government said it had paid and activated the group life insurance for all categories of workers in the public service with 13 insurance companies.
The MoU, however, urged the federal government to ensure full payment for the cover to last for one year.
It urged the government to also fully reactivate the insurance policy for employees under the Employees Compensation Act (ECA) to cover for infirmities, critical illnesses, disability ' and death in the course of managing COVID-19 cases.
"These two insurance covers, which are for all federal public servants, especially the health workers for COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 period for the next one year is guaranteed by the MoU.
"The PTF is requested to provide additional insurance cover aside the above listed for frontline health workers at Infectious Diseases Hospitals (IDH), isolation and treatment centres.
"In addition, the PTF is urged to dedicate all the life insurance donations to the volunteers and National Youth Service (NYSC) health workers.
"The review of retirement age for healthcare professionals and request for retirement of health workers to be moved up to 65 years, and that of medical doctors consultants to 70 years were discussed but the federal government accepted to consider it subsequently," it said.
Mamora also said the federal government was concerned about the rising number of new infections, especially in Kano State.
According to the minister, two additional laboratories have been activated in the NCDC network - Usman Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital laboratory in Sokoto and Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Kaduna thus bringing the total number to 15 laboratories in the country.
He said the ministry was planning to set up emergency ambulance services to ease the problems witnessed by those seeking emergency help from NCDC officials.
Non-compliance with Lockdown Fuelling Cases, Says FG
Mamora also attributed the high increase in cases to failure to comply with the lockdown order.
He said: "The rising number of cases is of concern to all but there is evidence of increasing in-country community transmission which to a large extent is as a result of non-compliance with lockdown orders and other non-medical interventions and other presumptive sources of exposure to infections.
"And also the unauthorised treatment of highly contagious COVID-19 patients in private homes or unaccredited health facilities with the risk of infecting their families, other patients, visitors, and health workers. These factors necessitated the active case finding strategy with the house to house and cluster testing, which has contributed to increased case detection."
The NCDC also said it had restored the testing laboratory at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and activated a second one.
The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, while responding to a question about the situation in some states, which were yet to record any confirmed case of the pandemic said the affected states had not done enough tests to ascertain their real status.
He said the centre was not satisfied with the number of samples so far collected in states like Kogi, Nasarawa and other states with zero cases of the pandemic, warning that they risk a sudden explosion when more tests eventually take place.
According to the NCDC boss, the responsibility for collection of samples of suspected cases resides with the state health officials, adding that so far some of the states are not bringing patients samples for testing at the laboratories.
"There are only four states that have not recorded a case in Nigeria - Cross River, Kogi, Nasarawa, and Yobe State. We are looking at the number of samples collected from those states; we are not satisfied with the number of samples collected, so we need to test more.
"But to test more we need to collect more and that collection part is the responsibility of states and their public health teams. We want to really encourage every state in Nigeria; you can't hide this, eventually, it will emerge. It is better we understand what is happening early than leave it till we start hearing stories of deaths," he stated.
It said with the launch of ROSCHE machine, the country could test 50,000 COVID-19 samples.
FG Launches Machines with Capacity to Test 50,000 Samples
Ihekweazu said the country could now test 50,000 samples of COVID-19 with the launch of the ROSCHE machine.
"The ROSCHE machine eliminates the need for an extraction kit, so we can actually do a lot more work and do it quickly. So if all the collections happen from the states, we can do up to 900 to 1,000 samples in a day. So really, there is a lot of capacity to test now. The challenge is to bring in the samples quickly and get the equipment working. Partners like the UN family, the US government and other partners have helped to get this working.
"What we have in the country now with the new Rosche machine we launched today (Monday) is about 50,000 capacities but the challenges to collect samples and we are coordinating all of them. Every new lab comes with logistics, travels, transportation by road challenges.
"What we have in the country at the moment is a capacity to test about 50,000. This is with the conventional RT-PCR and the new ROCHE equipment that we have launched today.
"The challenge now is all the other things that have to happen - the swabs to collect samples, the virus transport media, the people, etc., and we are coordinating all of this. For every new lab we set up, it means we have to provide the lab with the logistics and everything it needs to collect samples, and we are looking to do these in 36 plus one states.
"There has been a lot of conversation about the situation in Kano but I want to remind everyone that in times of pandemic, the risk of spread is highest in those places where the population is dense. We are all aware of the population density in Kano State. The state has always been very high on our radar, so the high number of cases of infection in Kano is really not a surprise," he said.
He explained that the NCDC has deployed 15 members of its rapid response team in Kano to help in combating the virus.
In an apparent response to criticisms over alleged slow response by NCDC officials to calls for emergency assistance by families of suspected cases, Ihekweazu said centre would not succumb to any undue pressure or insinuation.
Speaking on the successes recorded so far in Senegal, the NCDC boss said: "Our responsibility is to look into it. We know the company; it is a UK firm working with the lab in Senegal. We are in touch with them already through the Africa Centre for Disease Control and we will look into what the options are.
Jonathan Urges Stronger Economies, WHO to Support Africa
Former President Goodluck Jonathan has called on stronger economies and international agencies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) to support the efforts of African nations towards procuring the necessary equipment and kits to enable them to conduct aggressive testing that would make the current lockdown imposed on cities more productive.
The former president also appealed to international financing and donor agencies as well as creditor nations to grant palliatives, including debt relief or placing a moratorium on repayments to help weaker nations cope with the economic difficulties brought upon them by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jonathan stated this over the weekend while speaking as a panelist in an international web-based conference organised by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) with the theme 'Governance Challenges in the Era of the Coronavirus Pandemic.'
The other panelists included Mr. Stephen Harper, former Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Sang Hyun Yoon, South Korean parliamentarian, and Dr. Thomas Walsh, UPF Chairman.
Patient Successfully Delivers in LUTH
A 40-year-old COVID-19 patient has successfully been delivered of a baby girl at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba.
Announcing the feat yesterday, the Chief Medical Director, LUTH, Prof. Chris Bode, said both the patient and her 3.3kg baby were doing fine.
He said: "A team of LUTH doctors, anesthetists and nurses has just delivered a COVID-19 woman of a bouncing baby girl this afternoon. Both the 40-year old mother and the 3.3kg baby are doing fine.
"I express gratitude to these gallant men and women and all warriors making the nation proud in the face of this scourge."
Lagos Discharges 15 More Patients
Also yesterday, the Lagos State government discharged 15 more COVID-19 patients from its isolation centres, bringing to 138 the total number of successfully treated cases in the state.
Announcing this yesterday, the state Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the discharged patients comprised 11 females and four males.
He said: "The 15 discharged patients include one Indian national. Eleven were discharged from the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, while four were discharged from the Onikan Isolation Centre."
Protest in Lagos over COVID-19 Lockdown
The Eleko community of Ibeju Lekki area of Lagos State erupted in a violent protest yesterday over the continuous lockdown currently ongoing in the state.
The protest, which started in the early hours of yesterday, turned violent as the youth were said to have had a face-off with some security officials over the enforcement of the COVID-19 lockdown in the community.
THISDAY gathered that the youth mounted roadblocks with bonfires at different locations of the road which leads to several companies, including the Dangote Refinery in the area.
They accused the security officials enforcing the lockdown of being bias, saying expatriates were allowed to go to their places of work while residents were forced to stay in their houses.
But the police said they had dispersed a group of violent protesters at the Eleko Junction area of the community.
Witnesses said while calm had been restored to the community, it looked deserted as residents scampered to their various houses following the deployment of more police and military personnel in the area.
Mass Deportation of Almajiris for Safety Purpose, Says FG
The federal government has said that the mass deportation of Almajiris by Northern Governors' Forum to their states of origins was not a breach of their constitutional rights.
The Chairman Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said yesterday that the decision was taken by the governors to guarantee the safety and security of the Almajiris.
Mustapha, who is also, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation said being minors, the Almajiris were entitled to protection and security as enshrined Section 14 (1) of the Constitution, which empowers a governor to provide for the welfare and security and welfare of its citizens.
He warned that as minors, the Almajiris scenario could explode on the nation if not properly handled and they are allowed to spread COVID-19 by nature of their rough living.
He also echoed the fear of prominent northern leaders, who spoke extensively on the issue of the Almajiri that the nation was building an army that could overwhelm the people and nation in the future, if they were not catered for, educated in their faith and turned into productive citizens.
FG Insists Customs Rice Fit for Consumption
Meanwhile the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Ms. Sadiya Farouq, has said the rice received from the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and distributed as a palliative to some South-west states were certified fit for consumption by NAFDAC.
Farouq said the rice was assessed and certified good by NAFDAC before it was distributed.
"I spoke with the Ekiti State Governor (today) Monday and he told me the one he received was good. Let us be frank, even our house, if we keep rice, it is bound to have some colouration. But it does not mean it is not good for human consumption," Farouq added.