The Federal Government has released a list of updated guidelines in the wake of its decision to ease the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states as part of emergency control measures against the spread of coronavirus.
Government's action came, yesterday, as the World Health Organization, WHO, Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, and nurses on the front-line in the fight against the virus, warned against easing lockdown, saying the pandemic was not yet over.
But the Federal Government said gradual reopening of the nation's economy would span a period of six weeks.
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha stated this yesterday in Abuja at the daily briefing of the Task Force.
On his part, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, announced that the ministry has directed its relevant departments to collaborate with research institutions to develop a home-grown solution to the pandemic.
Also, Director General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu, said he would not join issues with Kogi State government regarding the efforts of the state in guarding against the outbreak of COVID-19 in the state.
According to Dr Iheakwazu, his position is based on empirical evidence that the scope of COVID-19 pandemic cannot readily be ascertained without adequate testing.
Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar-Farouk, explained the inability of the government to reveal the identities of those who benefited from its palliatives, saying it was not only against the norm but also below human dignity to do so.
On the economy, the SGF said it was going to be re-opened in phases.
"In line with Mr. President's directive in paragraphs 38-41 of his broadcast, the PTF has developed sector specific guidelines. The gradual re-opening of the economy will span a total of six weeks, broken into three tranches of two weeks each.
"This phased strategy is designed to reduce the pains of socio-economic disruptions, while strengthening our public health response, which would ultimately help the recovery of our economy and provide succour to the poor and vulnerable.
"The overnight curfew is applicable nationwide from 8.00pm to 06.00am daily, effective Monday, May 4, 2020;
"Inter-state travels are banned except for the movement of goods, agro-products, petroleum products, essential services, etc such as directed by Mr. President.
"The management of various offices, premises and businesses that will be gradually reopened are mandated to ensure that the following preparatory steps are taken:
Fumigation and decontamination;
Arrangement made for physical distancing;
Provision of hand sanitizers and hand washing facilities;
Application of the policy on mandatory use of face masks;
Provision of thermometers for temperature checks;
Consideration must be given to persons living with disabilities while making all these arrangements;
Increased communication with staff on COVID-19 and measures put in place; and any other measure that may be peculiar for the organisations and/or sector;
Mass gathering of more than 20 people outside of a workplace is strictly prohibited; -Controlled access to neighborhood markets and locations of economic activities will be enforced;
Mandatory temperature checks will be conducted in public places;
Social distancing of two metres to be maintained between people in workplaces and other public places;
All passenger flights remain under ban; and mandatory supervised isolation of persons arriving from outside the country for at least 14 days."
Mustapha, who underscored the role of research in combating the pandemic, added that the Federal Government would "encourage our local scientists and deepen our capacity for research.
"The Federal Ministry of Health is coordinating the process, in conjunction with the National Institute for Medical Research and the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development.
"We have received information on domestic and international claims about emerging inventions on COVID-19. These are most welcome but scientific validation process and protocols will have to be followed. We are open to all options for the good of humanity."
Elderly, infirm persons'll be protected
National Coordinator of the Task Force, Dr Sani Aliyu, who provided further insight into the updated guidelines, added that the elderly and those with morbidities would be protected from the general population.
He said: "Outside the curfew period, people may go out to buy necessary goods and for exercise but we are strongly advising persons to restrict themselves to their local government areas, except for those who live in metropolitan areas where this would be very difficult, unless of course you are going out for critical reasons such as healthcare and work.
"Inter-state travel is restricted to those involved in the supply chain services such as food, agricultural products, petroleum products, courier services, relief items and others. For intra-state, business owners and offices must provide sanitizers for customers.
"Any person going into the public would be expected to use non-medical face masks. There must be temperature checks while respiratory hygiene is followed.
Need for more isolation centres
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, on his part, called on states to provide more isolation centres, describing it as a pressing need.
He said: "Another pressing urgency is the need to provide and prepare Isolation centers and more bed spaces in all states of the federation. I wish to appeal to each state authority and the FCT to give first-line attention to this requirement in order to meet expectations and obligations.
"As testing ramps up, the need will become more and more obvious. It should, therefore, be prioritized, so we are not taken by surprise. I should take the opportunity to request senators, members of Houses of Representatives and Assemblies to also get involved in the disease surveillance and notification efforts in their constituencies and to actively support the drive to rapidly increase bed spaces for Isolation and treatment in their states."
Ehanire advised the elderly and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions, such as hypertension, tuberculosis, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, to not attend gatherings and also avoid receiving non-essential guests at this time, to reduce the risk of infection.
WHO kicks against easing of lockdown
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization, WHO, has kicked against attempts by countries across the world to ease lockdown, warning that the spread of the virus was not yet over.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, who stated this in a video posted on his official Twitter handle yesterday, said as the cases continue to decline in Europe, countries must ensure they trace, isolate, and treat those infected with the virus.
He said: "The pandemic is far from over. I repeat: the pandemic is far from over. As lock-downs in Europe ease, with declining numbers of new cases, we continue to urge countries to find, isolate, test and treat all cases and trace every contact to ensure the declining trends continue."
Dr Ghebreyesus expressed concern over the increasing rate of the pandemic in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia, calling for unity in the fight against COVID-19.
The WHO chief noted that the global pandemic would only be defeated if countries were united in the fight, stressing that the agency would continue to harp about solidarity in the fight against the disease.
He said: "WHO continues to be concerned about the increasing trends in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and some Asian countries.
"But I repeat, national unity is the foundation for global solidarity. Solidarity! Solidarity! Solidarity! That is what we will say every single day. This virus will not be defeated if we are not united."
It's premature to ease lockdown - NMA President
Reacting to the World Health Organisation's WHO, warning, the National President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Dr Francis Faduyile, said the position of WHO was scientific and warned Nigeria to be wary of easing lockdown.
He said: "Our position in NMA has been that the time to ease the lock-down is not the time Nigeria is having an exponential rise in confirmed cases. It does not sound reasonable in science.
"If you follow other pandemics, they have different waves, for example, the flu pandemic in 1918 to 1920, the greatest number of cases came with the second spike. I think we have to be wary. I am not the president of Nigeria but we have given our advice.
"On the part of the NMA, It is not the best to ease out all the measures that can contain the spikes while we are having an exponential rise. We have cases rising sharply in Kano, Borno states and other states and the graph is going sharply up, it is premature and not the time to relax lock-down, the stringent method you need to contain the outbreak. WHO sounds scientific and that should be the appropriate thing."
Pandemic far from over, but - NARD President
On his part, President, Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, Dr Sokomade Aliyu, who agreed that the pandemic was far from over, said on medical point of view, it was not yet time for Nigeria to ease lock-down
"WHO recommended that the lock-down be implemented in the countries to contain the spread of the transmission of the disease. Most countries have adopted it as the measure to stop the spread but the stand of Nigeria is that the country cannot contain the social-economic consequences of the lockdown, that is why Nigeria can consider other alternatives to prevent the spread of the disease.
"Lock-down would have been an effective strategy but in the situation we find ourselves, it is not sustainable. From the medical point of view, I agree with WHO the lock-down should continue, but with other variables, it is not sustainable, we should also look at other alternatives," he stated.
WHO warning in line with scientific findings - NANNM, President
On his part, the National President, National Association of Nigerian Nurses & Midwives, NANNM, Abudulrafiu Adeniji, said WHO's alarm and warning were based on sound scientific findings and evidence-based practices.
"It is very correct that without bringing down the curve of the graph of the rate of COVID-19 infection, it is not advisable to ease lock-down.
"The easing of lock-down is a signal to how we seem to understand the nature and scope of COVID-19. Therefore, this government needs to know that any effort to succumb to pressure and allow untimely stoppage of lock-down will make community transmission to be complicated and aggravate fatality and mortality rate from COVID-19. We have a very large uninformed population," he said.
Adeniji appealed to Nigerians to exercise caution and cooperate with the government to ensure social distancing, steer clear of gatherings and crowds and forego social celebrations and occasions.