Lagos and Abuja — Following the lifting of restrictions on places of worship, the federal government has issued a safety advisory, which among others, restricted children from churches and Islamiyya schools in mosques, as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 during regular religious services.
The federal government has also asked governors to take charge of the enforcement of the protocols to contain the spread of the virus.
In Lagos and Kaduna states, therefore, the governments have said places of worship would remain closed.
The virus' tally rose to 10,819 in the country yesterday having infected 241 more persons.
The number of deaths rose from 299 to 314 in the last 24 hours even as 3,239 persons have been discharged.
Announcing this last night, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Lagos State recorded 142 new cases, Oyo 15, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) 13, Kano 12, Edo 11, Delta 10, Kaduna and Rivers nine each, Borno eight, Jigawa four, Gombe and Plateau three each, while Osun and Bauchi recorded one each.
In Kaduna, the Special Adviser to the Governor, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye, said religious activities would remain on lockdown, adding that the state government had started engagements with business, community and religious leaders to discuss and agree on the protocols for the safe re-opening of businesses, markets and resumption of congregational worship.
The decision in the case of Lagos State would be taken by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who would take into consideration, the rising cases of the pandemic in the state.
The advisory to churches and mosques, which was developed in liaison with the leadership of the religious community and state governments, was reeled out yesterday by the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Control, Dr. Sani Aliyu, during the task force's media briefing in Abuja.
He, however, insisted that it's safer for the public to worship at home because religious places are particularly recognised to have the major potential of spreading the virus among worshippers.
He said places of worship that are unable to comply with the measures should not be allowed to operate by governors.
Aliyu said the advisory was issued in the event that members of the public wanted to perform their spiritual needs and it's impossible to carry it out at home.
Some of the recommended guidelines, which PTF noted are minimum standards that mosques and churches must comply with include, the supply of running water, soaps and alcohol sanitisers at entry and exit points and in all high contact locations, including bathroom. He added that worshippers must sanitise their hands and undergo temperature checks before entry.
The use of face masks is now mandatory in mosques and churches, while all close contacts, including shaking of hands, hugging, kissing, handling out of materials and sharing of worship items, including prayer mats, musical organs, and microphone is strongly discouraged.
"The capacity of the facility should be limited to allow for physical distancing rules to apply. Local authorities should also be advised in terms of areas of hotspot that might require greater restriction. Volunteers should be restricted to a certain number and none of the volunteers should have an underlying condition or be above the age of 55 years," Aliyu said.
PTF also recommended limiting congregation time for places of worships, only opening for regular church and mosque services.
Under this proposal, churches are to open from 5.00 a.m. and close by 8.00 p.m. automatically ruling out night vigils.
Each church service would be for a maximum of one hour with an interval of 30 minutes in between services to allow time for disinfection.
Mosques may open 15 minutes before Adhan (call to prayer) and close 10 minutes after prayer for fajr, subr and asr. Prayers are to be shortened to reduce contacts between congregants.
"The reason for this, as I said yesterday, is that there are various factors that contribute to you catching COVID-19 when you come across somebody with it. And one of the factors is the duration with that person. The longer you stay with that person, the less protected the person is in terms of face mask - or you yourself. The closer you are to the person, the higher the likelihood of catching COVID-19," he said.
He added that for Friday Jummat prayers, mosques are to open 20 minutes before prayers and close 20 minutes after prayers. The duration of Friday prayers, including sermons, should not exceed an hour, he said.
Similarly, Aliyu also noted that Islamiyya schools, children's Sunday schools and children's activities, as well as night vigils, are to remain suspended, adding that for mosques, only five daily prayers and Friday Jummat service are permitted.
According to him, mass gatherings that make it impossible to enforce physical distancing are not allowed, while it's advised that prayer sessions should be staggered to accommodate people.
Aliyu also said church worshippers should be encouraged to sign up for preferred service time ,while virtual worship options should be made available.
He also added that if possible places of worship should plan for separate entry and exit point.
In addition, there should be no social gathering before and after services.
He also strongly objected to operation of business outlets within churches and mosques, saying they should remain closed while people with underlying conditions, such as HIV, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and those above 55 years are advised to stay at home and consider remote participation or non-contact attendance.
"When we look at the mortality rate for people who have died from COVID-19 in Nigeria, more than half of those that died were above the age of 50. Secondly, the case fatality rate if you are above the age of 50 is 17 per cent; if you are above the age of 60; it's 18 per cent - it is almost one in five chances of dying if you catch COVID-19 and you fall within that group.
There should be improved environmental hygiene and clear decontamination processes. For instance, places of worship should ideally be free of carpets to allow easy and regular disinfection of floors and furniture. Windows should be left open during service and preferably use non-enclosed open-air services as much as possible," he explained.
He reminded worshippers not to attend in person if they are experiencing common symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath or have had close contact with an infected person in the last 14 days.
Govs to Enforce Protocols
Also speaking at the briefing, the Chairman of the task force, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said the task force would continue to monitor the progress and keep the option of review of the protocols open should such needs arise.
He said while the federal government had issued so many protocols with regards to business places and places of worship, the responsibility for the enforcement is ultimately with the state governors and security agencies.
Mustapha noted that governors have the responsibility to superintend over their territory, adding that the federal government wants to see enforcement that applies to confinement of the governors' responsibility and jurisdiction.
"The governors have the responsibility to superintend over their territory. Most of the issues we want to see enforcement applied are things that attend to the confines of their responsibility and jurisdiction to ensure enforcement in those areas.
"I can assure you that I have seen some of the governors in action. I am quite satisfied with the level of enforcement that they have demonstrated. They might not all be in the same category; some have been quite decisive in dealing with this pandemic, some probably because of the numbers they have not been that decisive in the open as you will see with certain governors that are working very hard to ensure that they limit the rates as much as possible - the rate of transmission into their territory.
"And now that the virus has ceded itself into parts of the country, every governor will have to take ownership of this level of driving home everything that has to do with our response to this pandemic. This is the time for the governors to stand out for their people and ensure the implementation of the guidelines," Mustapha said.
Nigeria Resumes Participation in WHO's Solidarity Trials
Meanwhile, Nigeria, according to PTF, has resumed her participation in the World Health Organisation (WHO)-facilitated drug trials for the cure of the virus, which was suspended last month based on the advice of the global health body.
Nigeria had suspended her participation in the clinical trials known as WHO Solidarity Trials last month following the advice by the world body.
Speaking during the media briefing, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the return to the trials was informed by the realisation that Nigeria has something to add to the body of knowledge to be generated from the trials.
"After consultation with top Nigerian scientists of the Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee, I am advised that Nigeria has something to add to the body of knowledge around these trials. I have, therefore, approved the continuation of the trial, as recommended, under strong precautionary conditions to be built into it," he said.
Ehanire said the leadership of the ministry had also been briefed by the Ministerial Advisory Panel of Experts yesterday.
He said the panel led by foremost virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, had provided a series of very useful advisories that would be discussed and shared with Heads of Agencies and Departments of the Ministry.
Ehanire said his ministry is working with the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, to finalise plans on the engagement of existing community volunteers and agents to conduct house to house sensitisation at the community level, especially in high burden local government areas of Nigeria.
He explained that about 20 local government areas account for nearly 60 per cent of Nigeria's positive cases.
The minister said the COVID-19 burden was not evenly distributed within the country, as Kano and Lagos are currently bearing the highest burden.
He said a team from the Federal Ministry of Health led by the Executive Director of NPHCDA and comprising doctors from Departments of Family Health, Hospital Services and Public Health and NCDC has been deployed to Lagos on an appraisal visit, during which a situation analysis would be conducted.
He said the team would also visit the contiguous Ogun State on the same mission.
"The visits are in continuation of similar useful initiatives in the past to Kano, Katsina Sokoto, Jigawa, Gombe, and Borno, to share experience and ideas, align strategy and support each other.
"We continue to advocate for states to strengthen their response activities and have begun a programme to strengthen the capacity of all federal health institutions in Nigeria to deal with COVID-19 challenges in their states by additional training, supplies, and equipment," he said.
On the findings on the Madagascar's herbal regiment, the minister said no timeline has been set for the agencies to submit their report.
Ehanire dismissed fears about the plan to use public school facilities as isolation centres, assuring Nigerians that the government would make sure that only schools that are on vacation are used and that they are promptly decontaminated after use.
FG to Deploy GeneXpert Machines in Kogi, Cross River
Ehanire also said following recent reports on the situation at the Federal Medical Centre in Lokoja, Kogi State and University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, in Cross River State GeneXpert machines, would be deployed in the two states as soon as the test kits are validated by the Medical Laboratory Science Council, so that citizens of the state states would no longer have a shortage of opportunity to be tested.
"Our observation is that states are at varying levels of readiness and it is important to re-strategise to meet all citizens at their points of need. COVID-19 has since become a global phenomenon affecting nearly all parts of the world.
"I urge all state authorities in Nigeria to accept the reality and also work with each other and federal government, and play their part in the strategy to keep the people safe. This includes the decentralisation that requires making a minimum of 300 isolation beds ready, so that the national health system does not run out of COVID-19 bed spaces," he said.
The minister added that the FCT is no longer under bed space pressure, having been well supported with assets to meet all levels of care, security, and needs.
He said there would be no reason for a COVID-19 positive person to be outside a designated isolation and treatment centre, especially with the THISDAY Dome Isolation Centre ready to take care of such cases.
Ehanire noted that THISDAY Dome Isolation/treatment facility would be headed in the introductory phase by the Medical Director of Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, one of the most experienced virus disease hospitals in Nigeria.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, in his presentation, said despite the spike in the number of COVID-19 positive cases, the country was yet to reach the peak in the pandemic.
He frowned at the insinuations making rounds that the effort at curbing COVID-19 were fraudulent, adding that the wrong figures allegedly being peddled by some media outfits is very unfortunate.
NCDC boss said Nigeria currently has the third largest number of positive cases in Africa behind South Africa and Egypt.
However, NCDC's position contradicts WHO's claim that Nigeria recorded the second-highest cases in Africa.
WHO reported that COVID-19 cases in Africa had risen to over 150,000 as of June 2.
WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, gave the update on its official Twitter handle @WHOAFRO.
According to the report, South Africa has 34,357 cases and 705 deaths, followed by Nigeria with 10,578 confirmed cases and 299 deaths, while Algeria has 9,513 confirmed cases and 661 deaths.
It said Ghana had 8,070 reported cases and 36 deaths, while Cameroon recorded 6,397 confirmed cases and 191 deaths.
However, Ihekweazu disclosed that 60 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in country are found in 20 local government areas of the country.
"Another number that is important is that 60 per cent of our cases are in 20 local government areas. This will now definite our engagements further," he said.
Ihekweazu also explained that NCDC has distributed over 40,000 pieces of personal protective equipment across the country.
NCDC boss, who disclosed that the country has tested over 65,000 samples, added that there's a need for further increase in the testing so as to completely scale down to the degree of threat of the virus.
He said about 812 health workers are presently infected with COVID-19, while eight of them working with NCDC are now receiving treatment at Idu treatment centre in Abuja.
Churches, Mosques Remain Closed in Lagos, Says Govt
Meanwhile, Lagos State Government has ruled out immediate reopening of churches and mosques in the state.
Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs, Prince Anofiu Elegushi, said yesterday that Lagos being the epicentre of the pandemic would not reopen worship centres until there is a "clear coast for the state to do so."
He said this on the sideline of the 2020 Ministerial Press Briefing commemorating the first year in office of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Elegushi said the state was still looking at the possibility of reopening worship centres despite the federal government's guidelines.
According to him, "Even before the pronouncement by the federal government, we have been having meetings with the religious leaders; we even had one with safety commission, looking at the possibility of reopening of religious houses.
"We also had one with the leaders of the two faiths and I want to tell you categorically that at that meeting, the possibility of reopening religious houses was ruled out totally.
"They claimed that they cannot take such responsibility of ensuring that only 20 or 50 people are praying behind them.
"As an Imam said, he doesn't know what is going on at the back immediately he is leading a prayer. He said if more than 20 or 50 people are staying at his back, he is not going to take responsibility for their presence.
"So, in the meeting, we ruled out in totality the issue of reopening the religious houses until we have a clear coast for us to do so.
"The federal government mentioned it, but it never ruled out the state in achieving that pronouncement.
"So, all states will have to look at the possibility of doing so in their respective states.
"We all know Lagos is still having more figures. So, definitely, that will speak to our decision."
India Approves Remdesivir Use on Patients
In a related development, India's highest drug controller, Central Drug Control Standard Organisation (CDCSO) has approved the emergency use of Remdesivir on COVID-19 patients, saying it reduces replication of the virus in the body.
Announcing this yesterday, the agency said it has given permission to Gilead Sciences, makers of the drug, for marketing authorisation.
It said: "Remdesivir will be available in the form of an injection and will only be sold on retail by the prescription of a doctor for hospital use. The drug has been shown to reduce the replication of COVID-19 in the body system.
"The decision was reached after consultation with an expert committee has granted the Remdesivir drug only to be given in emergencies in laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients in India."
Lagos Discharges 33 More Patients
Meanwhile, Lagos State Government has discharged 33 additional COVID-19 patients from its isolation centres, bringing to 908 the number of successfully treated persons in the state.
Announcing this yesterday, the Incident Commander on COVID-19 in Lagos State, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said seven of the patients are females, while 26 are males, including three Indian nationals.
He said: "21 of the patients were discharged from the Onikan Isolation Centre, nine from Eti-Osa (Landmark) Isolation Centre, two from Lekki Isolation Centre, while one was from Gbagada Isolation Centres.
"With this, the number of patients successfully managed and discharged from our Isolation facilities is now 908."