The Federal Government, through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, has explained why the lockdown measure should not be relaxed amid efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), had on March 29 ordered a lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states for 14 days to curb COVID-19 spread. Many states had also followed suit.
But as the number of COVID-19 cases increased, the President on April 13 extended the lockdown for 14 more days.
As of the time of filing this report, the coronavirus had spread to 26 states and the FCT, with 1,095 cases recorded across the country by the NCDC. While 208 patients had been discharged, 32 had died.
The new cases were 80 in Lagos, 21 in Gombe, five in FCT, two each in Zamfara and Edo, and one each in Ogun, Oyo, Kaduna and Sokoto states.
Speaking on Friday at a media briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja, the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said it was not yet time to relax the lockdown.
He noted that although the lockdown was having negative effects on the economy as it was impeding Nigerians’ ability to go about their daily activities, he said it was vital to be patient and endure the lockdown further to ensure a safe and healthy society when the economy would be reopened.
He said, “We will eventually exit this stage and restart our normal life but that stage is still a while to come and I ask for your endurance, support and patience. Lots of efforts are going on across the world to find new therapy, to find vaccine.
“Everybody is pushing hard along this direction. We need unprecedented level of caution to continue carrying out the preventive measure that we have advised many times on this platform.
“Many families have not been able to bury their dead, rescheduled their marriages and baptism and everything they are doing. In a way, life is in suspense. Everyone recognises the sacrifice Nigerians have made but we really have to encourage one another to continue to a position where we can relax some of that (lockdown) but until we get to that place, we have to continue in the short term.
“We are working hard to reach a point where we can relax some of these measures but we are not there yet. We ask you to join us to continue this journey with us and amplify these messages that we are giving. We are happy to have the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress here with us today (Friday).”
Ihekweazu added that the citizens must remember that the most vulnerable people were the elderly and people with other illnesses.
“We must protect them. In protecting them, if they are living in the village, leave them there and support them with whatever resources you have. But please, now is not the time to encourage travelling,” he added.
Pension fund won’t be used for COVID-19 –SGF
Meanwhile, at the briefing, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said although the body considered using part of the funds lodged in the Contributory Pension Fund for COVID-19 palliative, it decided not to touch the money after considering the “ravaging” impact of the pandemic on the world economy and health of the people.
He said, “We looked at the issue of (contributory) pension fund and we even asked the Minister of State for Education to do a position paper but our conclusion was that the time was not ripe for us to go there because the entire world order, in terms of economy and health system, have been disrupted by COVID-19 and nobody can imagine the consequence all over the world until the dust is settled.
“The $48m given by the Chinese Government (to support Nigeria’s fight against COVID-19 fight) and other donations go into separate accounts that have been created by the Account General of the Federation in five commercial banks. On a daily basis, he will mop the account and move the money to the two CBN accounts created for COVID-19.”
Earlier in his address, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, warned against the use of the pension fund, saying it was contributed by workers and meant for life after service. He said there was the need to protect the fund.
Govt to review sacked doctors’ issue
In his address at the briefing, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said government would review the issue of 25 doctors sacked in Jos, saying it was a wrong time to sack health workers.
He said, “With regards to the doctors that were dismissed in Jos, this is not the time for any doctor to be pulled out of service. We need all hands on deck at this time. But for the people who were laid off, there must have been reasons which I do not know about. But if the reasons are strong enough, it will be looked into by the board of the hospital and we shall advise accordingly.”
He noted that the health insurance promised for health workers was still being processed and that more people would soon be discharged from isolation centres as soon as they tested negative.
Also speaking on the issue of the sacked doctors, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN), said the minister would intervene on behalf of the health workers.
NLC to monitor PPE to health workers
Speaking on the 40 health workers that have been infected by COVID-19 and supply of Personal Protective Equipment to hospitals, NLC president, Wabba, said a help room had been set up to look into the issue.
He stated, “We have set up the labour, civil society labour room where workers can phone in. Their unions can also phone in and we can intervene, especially in terms of provision of PPE.
“I think it is important to scale up occupational health and safety.”
Kano testing to resume
At the briefing, Ihekweazu also said the Kano laboratory that was closed because of the infection of workers at the laboratory during the week would be reopened on Saturday (today).
He said that so far, samples from Kano were being tested in Abuja.
“We suspended the Kano laboratory for a couple of days for routine measure but it will be back today (Friday) or tomorrow (Saturday). Samples from Kano are being sent to Abuja for testing until the laboratory is open,” he said.
N112.5m insurance paid to heath workers
Meanwhile, on the welfare of health workers caring for COVID-19 patients, the SGF said, “I am pleased to inform you that the Federal Ministry of Health, in conjunction with other MDAs and the health sector professional bodies, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for various allowances and other incentives.
“In addition to what the Federal Government is doing, the insurance industry has responded massively to the call for support. The PTF has received the life insurance cover to the frontline workers on COVID-19 for a maximum of 5,000 health workers who are employed to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The premium in the sum of N112,500,000 for the cover has been fully paid by the Nigerian Insurance Industry, in line with the principle of No Premium, No Cover.”
Chinese health workers’ results not yet out
The Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunibe Mamora, disclosed at the briefing that the results of COVID-19 tests done on Chinese health workers who arrived in Nigeria recently to help in the fight against the coronavirus was not ready.
He, however, promised that the results would be made public as soon as they were ready.
Borno to sanction imams conducting congregational prayer during lockdown
In the meantime, Borno State Government says it will sanction three imams found conducting Jumaat prayers during the lockdown.
Addressing a press conference in Maiduguri, the state Commissioner for Information, Babakura Abba-Jatto, said the imams violated the lockdown measure against COVID-19 by conducting Jumaat.
Abba-Jatto said the Chief Imam of Borno and the Shehu of Borno had been informed of the violation and adequate sanctions would be meted out to the imams.
The commissioner, however, noted that the issue had to be treated with caution so as not to elicit religious violence, considering the culture of the people and the season of Ramadan.
He explained that it was important for everyone to keep to the lockdown, saying “if only one infected person attends the prayers in a mosque with 1,000 people, only God knows how many people will also be infected.”
Also speaking at the briefing, the State Commissioner for Health, Dr Salihu Kwaya-Bura, said in view of the Ramadan fasting, the state task force on COVID-19 would grant a window of time to grinding machine operators and food vendors to operate so that people could have food to break their fast.
Kano emir calls for special prayers
The Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero, has called for special prayers during this year’s Ramadan to end COVID-19 in the country.
The monarch said, “God Almighty listens and hears every request we make. In this difficult situation, I urge the people of Kano State to join me in praying for an end to this pandemic, for it to be kicked out of our state and Nigeria in general.
“We must observe all the necessary personal hygiene, adhere to advice by medical experts, stay at home, and more importantly, pray hard. God will surely see us through.”
Additional reports by Kayode Idowu and Tukur Muntari