Abuja and Lagos — The federal government yesterday unveiled plans to restart the economy that has been paralysed for more than four weeks due to measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also outlined operational guidelines in furtherance of President Muhammadu Buhari's broadcast on Monday to relax the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States from next Monday.
The reopening of the economy will be done in phases, spanning a total of six weeks and broken into three tranches of two weeks each.
The virus, however, afflicted 196 more persons yesterday bringing to 1,728 the total number of confirmed cases in the country.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Lagos recorded 87 new cases, Kano 24, Gombe 18, Kaduna 17, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) 16, Katsina 10, Sokoto eight, Edo seven, Borno six, while Yobe, Ebonyi, and Adamawa recorded one each.
It said so far 307 persons had been discharged, while 51 had died.
As part of its easement process, the federal government has limited the total operational hours for all commercial banks nationwide, starting from Monday, to only six hours per day from 8 a.m to 2 p.m.
All arrivals in Nigeria will now undergo mandatory supervised isolation for at least 14 days.
The federal government also announced its decision to purchase 107,000 cartridges to be used in the deployment of the GeneXpert machine already configured for the testing of people for the virus.
Also yesterday, the Lagos State Government announced the discharge of 49 more patients just as it has projected that the number of cases in the state will continue to rise until June when it is expected to slow down.
However, the state has placed four hotels on standby for conversion to isolation centres to absorb the expected surge.
Speaking yesterday in Abuja during the media briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Chairman of the task force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said the phased reopening of the economy was designed to reduce the pains of socio-economic disruptions.
He explained that the overnight curfew imposed by Buhari during the broadcast is applicable nationwide from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, effective from Monday.
"In line with Mr. President's directive in paragraphs 38-41 of his broadcast, the PTF has developed sector-specific guidelines. The gradual reopening of the economy will span a total of six weeks broken into three tranches of two weeks each," he said adding: "This phased strategy is designed to reduce the pains of socio-economic disruptions while strengthening our public health response, which would ultimately reduce the recovery of our economy and provide succour to the poor and vulnerable."
He called for collaboration with the state governments. Asking them to coordinate market and transport associations to implement the directive of the president.
He directed the security agencies to strictly enforce the new measures that had been pronounced by the federal government.
The SGF stated that the technical team of public health experts sent by the PTF to Kano had commenced evaluation of the situation in the state.
He added that 50 trucks of assorted grains have been sent to Kano.
"I am pleased to also inform you that the operationalisation of the laboratories in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and Bayero University Kano will considerably improve our response to the pandemic in Kano State," he said.
FG to Enforce Supervised Isolation for all Arrivals
Mustapha also said there would be mandatory supervised isolation of persons arriving from outside the country for at least 14 days.
He said all state governments in collaboration with security agencies and relevant trade associations had been advised to ensure the strict enforcement of the measures.
He tasked the management of various offices, premises and businesses that will be gradually re-opened to ensure fumigation and decontamination and arrangement for physical distancing as well as to supply of hand sanitisers and handwashing facilities and enforce the mandatory use of face masks.
FG Restricts Banks to Six-hour Daily Operation
Unveiling the guidelines for the gradual easing of the lockdown, the National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said the federal government had limited the total operational hours for all commercial banks nationwide, starting from Monday, to only six hours per day.
Aliyu said all banks would be allowed to operate only from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., together with other preventive measures in place, such as not having more than 20 persons in the banking halls, provision of hand sanitisers and measuring customers' temperature.
He explained that there would be a ban on interstate movements except for essential services and a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
In addition, pharmacy shops will remain open overnight while construction of critical bridges will be allowed.
Aliyu said waivers would be given by governors to enable movement of construction workers.
Under the guidelines, restaurants will not open to the public but will be allowed to engage in home delivery service.
The guidelines encouraged manufacturing and production industry to run shift work and limit their staff to only 20 - 30 workers to maintain social distancing.
Schools are to remain closed indefinitely and are encouraged to continue with e-learning and e-teaching while all social activities such as concert, movies, and theatres are suspended indefinitely.
All government offices and staff will be allowed to open but strictly based on a specific grade level in order to reduce the amount of congestion in offices.
Neigbourhood markets will continue to open with the same standards and restrictions applied in the past.
Aliyu stated that there will be further discussions with state governments so as to have a common approach to the implementation of the guidelines.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the creative industry had been badly hit by the lockdown.
FG Orders 107,000 GeneXpert Cartridges to Fast Track Testing
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, at the press briefing in Abuja, said the ministry had ordered for 107,000 cartridges to be used in the deployment of the GeneXpert machine already configured for the testing for COVID-19.
"The GeneXpert is very useful because it can fast-track testing. We are going to order over 107,000 cartridges using the global fund facility that we have and if we are able to have the bio-safety cabinet for the 26 of them, we can boost the number of the GeneXpert machines we have in the country.
"With this, we can do quite a lot of testing. The good thing about them is they can give you results at a faster rate, within 45 minutes to one hour," he said.
Ehanire added that his ministry is training primary health care (PHC) workers to fight against the pandemic.
"I am optimistic that significant control of community transmission will be achieved if the capacity of more than 220,000 primary healthcare workers across the 36 states and the FCT, as well as in the communities they serve, are strengthened and supported," he said.
The minister listed another pressing urgency as the need to provide and prepare Isolation centres and more bed spaces in all states of the federation to cope with the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Ehanire added that the ministry had completed plans to train intensive care workforce for various parts of the country.
According to him, the increasing figure of confirmed cases underscored the ongoing community transmission, which is a major challenge and again necessitates a call on all citizens not to take COVID-19 lightly.
He said the intervention team sent to Kano State would start work on the outlines of providing technical support to the state COVID-19 task force, as well as planning capacity building for frontline health workers.
He urged the public to practice physical distancing by strictly maintaining a distance of at least two metres (six feet) between people always.
He advised that the elderly and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions (hypertension, tuberculosis, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease) should not attend gatherings and should avoid receiving non-essential guests during the pandemic.
394 Trucks of Grains Distributed to FCT, Lagos, Ogun, Kano
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Ms. Sadiya Farouq, said 394 truckload of grains were distributed by the federal government from the national grains storage as food palliatives to the FCT, Lagos, Ogun, and Kano States.
Kano State received 50 trucks from its share of 110 trucks.
Farouq, who spoke yesterday at the PTF briefing, said the distribution was from the 70,000 metric tonnes of grains from the national reserves.
The minister said 9, 320 metric tonnes of grains had been sent to the FCT and the three states with high coronavirus cases.
Lagos Discharges 49 More Patients
The Lagos State Government has discharged 49 more patients from its isolation centres, bringing to 187 the total number of successfully treated cases in the state.
Announcing this yesterday, the state Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said 28 of the patients were females and 21 males, including a Greek.
He said: "The patients; 18 from the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba and 31 from Onikan Isolation Centre have fully recovered and tested negative to COVID-19 in two consecutive readings. With this, the number of patients successfully managed and discharged in Lagos is now 187."
Lagos Projects More Rise in Cases until June
However, the Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Prof. Akin Abayomi, has said the number of cases in the state will continue to rise until June when it is expected to slow down.
He explained that four hotels had been placed on standby for conversion to isolation centres to absorb the expected surge, saying that one in every five residents of the state who presents with respiratory symptoms has COVID-19.
Abayomi, during an interview on ARISE News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, said yesterday that a study of the pattern of symptoms presented by Lagos residents showed that for every five persons with respiratory symptoms, one was likely to come down with the virus.
He said: "We know the numbers are rising, however, we have not reached our peak yet. We predict it will happen in the next two months. As the outbreak rises, we will review our strategies and then those with more moderate to mild symptoms will go to public health facilities. We may not get there, but that is the projection. We may even get there faster depending on the dynamics of infection.
"On the expected relaxation, I believe the economy is an integral part of health. You don't cause a new problem because you want to solve another. Malnutrition will make people more vulnerable to the disease. With low immunity, one is more susceptible to dying from the virus. So the decision on relaxation is a way to balance the economy and health of the people.
"We can't take research from China or the US and adopt them here because our environment is different. So we are driving the research agenda along with our colleagues to find our own solutions."
According to him, the state is reviewing circumstances that led to every COVID-19 death and is looking at the patterns and characteristics of the people.
Abayomi said: "One thing we have found out is that age, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and immune-compromised illnesses are major factors leading to the deaths.
"With this knowledge, what we do know is that for anyone with any of these factors, we categorise them as high risk even if they do not have symptoms. Those who fit into these categories must be very careful.
"Our death rate is very low because we have a young population. Our environment may also play a role because we live on the equator where we are exposed to different types of coronavirus. I do not mean COVID-19 because that is just one part of the coronavirus," he added.
Also speaking on ARISE News Channel, the Chief Medical Director, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Prof. Chris Bode, called on the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to train medical personnel in the private health sector to assist government-owned public hospitals in treating COVID-19 patients.
The professor of surgery also called for deep private sector investment in the health sector in order to achieve a high-level healthcare delivery system in Nigeria.
He added that government alone cannot achieve the right level of investment needed in the health sector.
According to him, medical personnel in both the public and private hospitals could treat COVID-19 patients, provided they are well trained to handle COVID-19 related cases.
He gave instances where COVID-19 patients are treated in the isolation ward of LUTH, with 58 of them currently receiving treatment with over 200 persons tested so far since the isolation ward was established three weeks ago.
Bode explained that Nigeria would achieve more in the healthcare delivery system if private investors invest more in the country's healthcare system.
Vaccine May Be Ready by September, Says Pfizer
An American biopharmaceutical company, Pfizer, has said its COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for emergency use by September.
The Cable quoted the pharmaceutical giant as saying that it will begin testing the experimental vaccine in the US next week.
The announcement came a week after Germany approved the human trial of a possible COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine, named BNT162, was developed by Biontech, a Mainz-based company.
The company had said the vaccine would be tested in the US after the human trials in Germany.
The United Kingdom has also announced that there would be clinical trials of a potential vaccine.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said there are about 20 different potential COVID-19 vaccines currently in development.
US Company Successfully Treats 150 Patients
Meanwhile, Gilead Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company in the US, yesterday announced "positive data" in the clinical trial of Remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug, for the treatment of COVID-19.
TheCable reported that Remdesivir was originally developed by the company as a potential treatment for Ebola, but it failed.
According to the company, the drug was found to be effective on COVID-19 patients during the trial which began in February.
Gilead Sciences said it administered the drug on 397 severely ill COVID-19 patients and more than half of them were discharged within two weeks.