Abuja, Lagos, Lokoja, Umuahia — President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the relaxation of the restriction on places of worship based on guidelines issued by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and protocols agreed by state governments.
He has also approved reopening of hotels and the resumption of full banking operation in the financial sector, which hitherto had operated skeletal services in the last two months as a result of measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus in the country.
These measures are aimed at curbing the virus which infected 416 more persons yesterday, bringing to 10,578 the total number of confirmed cases in the country.
The nation also recorded 12 fresh deaths, raising the figures from 287 to 299 deaths within the last 24 hours.
Announcing this last night, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Lagos recorded 192 new cases, Edo 41, Rivers 33, Kaduna 30, Kwara 23, Nasarawa 18, Borno 17, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) 14, Oyo 10, Katsina seven, Abia and Delta five each, Adamawa and Kano four each, Imo and Ondo three each, Bauchi and Ogun two each, while Niger recorded one case.
To rein in the virus, Buhari has also approved the reopening of the airports for domestic flight operations with effect from June 21, while schools would remain closed until it is safe for them to reopen.
Also, under the second phase of the ease of lockdown approved by the president for the next four weeks - June 2 to June 29, the nationwide curfew imposed on May 18 from 8 pm to 6 am, has now been relaxed from 10 pm to 4 am, while the ban on interstate movement is sustained.
These developments were revealed yesterday by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, at a press briefing addressed by the task force in Abuja.
Buhari also approved the implementation of new protocols and guidelines for the second phase of the ease of guidelines on COVID- 19 nationwide.
The new measures are over the next four weeks effective from June 2 through June 29 and subject to review.
Mustapha said Buhari also approved the recommendation of the task force by lifting of restriction on Churches and Mosques across the country.
He added that the relaxation of the restriction on places of worship will be based on the guidelines issued by the PTF and protocols agreed by state governments working with religious leaders.
The federal government also imposed a ban on the gatherings of more than 20 people outside of the workplace.
Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), said the restricted opening of places of worship will be based on state government protocols and restricted guidelines and physical distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions.
He added that this will apply to regular church and mosque service only.
According to him, the ban on interstate travels still remains in place with the exception of movement of agricultural produce, petroleum products, manufactured goods and essential services.
The PTF also said the use of non- medical face masks in public places is mandatory in addition to the mandatory provision of handwashing facilities.
He said: "The PTF submitted its recommendations and the president has approved the following for implementation over the next four weeks spanning 2nd - 29th June, 2020, subject to review:
"Cautious advance into the Second Phase of the national response to COVID-19; application of science and data to guide the targeting of areas of on-going high transmission of COVID-19 in the country;
"Mobilisation of all resources at State and Local Government levels to create public awareness on COVID 19 and improve compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions within communities; sustenance of key non-pharmaceutical interventions that would apply nationwide and include: ban of gatherings of more than 20 people outside of a workplace; relaxation of the restriction on places of worship based on guidelines issued by the PTF and protocols agreed by state governments," Mustapha explained.
Mustapha also announced that from June 2, banks would resume operations within the normal working hours.
Domestic Flights May Resume June 21
Also speaking at the briefing, Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, disclosed that the restrictions placed on domestic flights may be lifted on June 21.
The minister said industry stakeholders should start developing protocols towards flight resumption.
"The aircraft have been parked for three months, we have to ensure that within now and that time, these airplanes are good and safe to fly," he said.
Sirika also explained that pilots and other members of the cabin crew would be required to undergo medicals and have their license renewed ahead of resumption.
Clarifying the issue, the National Coordinator of the task force, Dr. Sani Aliyu said: "When we say from June 21, we mean that we are preparing the aviation sector towards that date. That date may not necessarily be June 21; it could be June 26, 28, or even July 1.
"It depends on whether or not they are prepared. So we are giving them a time frame of three weeks to start preparing for domestic flights.
"Once we open up the skies to domestic flights then we would have to review the arrangements regarding interstate travel because you cannot have a ban on interstate travel and you have people flying from one state to another.
"We are giving an opportunity for the aviation sector that is heavily regulated to make sure that they start getting their acts together so that airports open up in a safe way."
Passengers would be required to wear masks or face shields, maintain physical distancing.
Curfew Period Now 10pm to 4am
Aliyu further stated that the 8 pm-4 am curfew has further been relaxed to between 10 pm and 4 am.
He said: "There would be full opening for the financial sector with banks now allowed to operate with more working hours five days a week. The mass gathering of more than 20 people outside of a workplace or places of worship remain prohibited.
"There would be controlled access to markets and locations of places of economic activities but local authorities will continue to provide guidance on opening times. Restrictive opening of places of worship will be based on state governments' protocols and strict guidelines on physical distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions and just to clarify this would apply to the regular church and mosque services only.
"Mandatory supervised isolation of person that are arriving the country will continue to be for 14 days until a new policy comes into play. There would be no further evacuation of Nigerians until a new policy currently developed with the private sector comes into place."
He said persons that are on essential duty including but not limited to those involved in critical services, including frontline health workers and journalists on essential duty and critical infrastructure are exempt from the curfew.
In addition, he said all interstate travels by individuals remain prohibited except for the movement of goods and services.
Aliyu said hawking and street trading are prohibited, adding that the PTF will look into this in greater detail with the state authorities.
He explained: "For the industry and labour sector, in terms of working hours, normal working hours will apply to offices and other government offices provided it is kept within the curfew hours.
"Offices are to maintain working at 75 per cent capacity. Government offices can open between 9 am and 2 pm from Monday to Friday. Prior to this, we allowed only three days in the week. However, only persons that are within Grade Level 14 and above in the federal and state level will be allowed to come to work. We will encourage staff to continue to work at home if possible, making the best use of technology that is now available," Aliyu said.
Hotels Reopen, Bars, Gyms Remain Closed
Aliyu added that hotels may also reopen but must observe all mandatory non-pharmaceutical interventions, while all bars, gyms, recreational parks, communal sports and night clubs remain closed until further evaluations.
Personalised services like mechanics and artisans, hair salons that own their workshops and stations are allowed to operate from now on provided they comply with non- pharmaceutical intervention like wearing of face masks and provision of sanitisers, while also limiting the number of customers and workers within their premises.
All Schools Remain Closed
The PTF said all schools are to remain closed until further evaluation while the Federal Ministry of Education is instructed to work with schools to start the process of preparing students that require exiting exams to allow them to take exams early in the next phase of the lifting of the lockdown.
Aliyu also gave an inventory of the total available personal protective equipment (PPE) currently available in the country.
According to Aliyu, as at last week, there were about 44,000 PPE cover-ups, 27,000 protective gowns, 16,000 goggles, 26,000 face shields and 4.7 million types of gloves and 220,095 masks in the country.
FG Addressing Resident Doctors Complaint, Says Ehanire
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, at the press conference, assured medical doctors in public hospitals across the country that their grievances were being looked into and would be resolved soon.
When asked about the federal government's response to the threat by Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to embark on strike action in the next 14 days if nothing was done to address their grievances, Ehanire said he had spoken to the association assuring them of government's readiness to attend to their complaint.
"I used the opportunity to speak to the resident doctors and urge them not to carry out any action at this time. Everything is being done to make sure that all their questions are answered," he said.
Ehanire said he had to ensure that adequate personal protective equipment was being supplied to hospitals, and appealed to the doctors to always approach the federal ministry of health whenever they have issues bordering them.
"Our offices are open to them all the time and they can write to me and discuss issues at the ministerial level before it goes to the public. All of us are members of the NMA and so we understand their positions and we will see to its resolution,' he said.
Kogi Gov Bows to Pressure, Orders Lockdown of Kabba/Bunu LGA
Meanwhile, following the reported two cases of COVID-19 in Kogi State by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in Abuja, the state Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, has bowed to pressure and directed the total lockdown of Kabba/Bunu Local Government Area of the state as part of measures to contain the spread.
The state government has also urged the medical personnel who attended to the patient at FMC to go into self-isolation for the next 14 days.
Bello made this announcement yesterday while addressing journalists at Government House in Lokoja.
He said the local government would be locked down for two weeks starting from 12 midnight of Tuesday, June 2, 2020, to stop the spread in the town.
Bello insisted that these two cases were heavily disputed by the state government.
The governor noted that the state government had come out publicly to express reservations with which the cases were allotted to the state by NCDC, stressing that efforts by the state government to confirm the same proved abortive as NCDC officers were not forthcoming.
Bello said: "Only available information is that the two cases are father and son - a community leader and Imam from Kabba/Bunu Local Government Area of the state. It was reported that the man took ill after receiving stings from bees after attending a particular burial ceremony.
"He was managed at a particular health facility in Kabba and subsequently transferred to the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja, and later taken to Abuja.
"Contrary to all known guidelines of NCDC, neither NCDC nor FMC had involved the state government at any point before these cases were allegedly transferred to Abuja. This is condemnable, but in order not to engage in avoidable acrimony that attended the announcement, as a state government we shall pursue this to a logical conclusion."
He added: "As I said in the earlier days of COVID-19, I said while COVID-19 is genuine in other climes, it is taking a political dimension in Nigeria, which is already playing out. We are already seeing it, we don't know the intension of NCDC, Federal Ministry of Health, and all these political jobbers; we do not know their interest in Kogi State.
Abia Govt Shuts Down as Ikpeazu, Deputy, Cabinet Members Self-isolate
Meanwhile, government businesses have ground to a halt in Abia State as Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has gone into self-isolation and directed his deputy and members of the state executive council to follow suit following the death of the Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Solomon Ogunji.
In addition, Ikpeazu and his commissioners would be tested for COVID-19 infection.
This new development has generated panic across the state as government officials and people who might have directly or indirectly come in contact with Ogunji before his death are now uncertain of their status.
The state government had earlier stated that Ogunji's death, which occurred on May 23, 2020 at the Abia State University Teaching Hospital(ABSUTH), Aba was caused by high blood pressure.
In a press release issued late Sunday by the state Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, the state government did not disclose the reason for the self-isolation of the governor, his deputy, and cabinet members.
"Following the outcome of tests conducted on close family members of the late member of the state executive council (Exco) and member of the Interministerial committee on COVID-19, Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, has directed all members of the committee and those of the Exco who might have recently come in contact with the late commissioner to immediately undergo COVID-19 tests and isolate themselves thereafter pending the outcome of the tests.
"Governor Ikpeazu who is still in mourning will also subject himself to all other necessary protocols as he has directed his Exco members including the Deputy Governor to do," the statement explained.
WHO to Decide on its Hydroxychloroquine Trial Suspension in 24 Hours
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) should have enough information in 24 hours to decide whether to continue suspending its trial of hydroxychloroquine for use against coronavirus, its chief scientist, Ms. Soumya Swaminathan said yesterday.
The UN body paused its large study of the anti-malarial drug to treat COVID-19 due to concerns it increased death rates and irregular heartbeats in patients.
The move prompted several European governments to ban the use of the drug, also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus and promoted by US President Donald Trump to help combat the disease.
Olawale Ajimotokan, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Kasim Sumaina, Chinedu Eze, Ibrahim Oyewale and Emmanuel Ugwu