The Federal Government, on Monday, decried the nationwide non-compliance with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19’s guidelines for gradual reopening of the economy.
The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, who stated this during the task force press briefing in Abuja, warned that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), could restore the lockdown if the guidelines were not observed and there was a surge in coronavirus cases.
The President had, on March 30, imposed a two-week lockdown on the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states, but at the expiration of the first lockdown on April 13, he extended it by another 14 days.
In his broadcast to the nation on April 27, Buhari said phased and gradual easing of the lockdown would begin on May 4 (yesterday). He also imposed a dusk to dawn curfew on the nation.
Besides banning interstate movements, the President imposed a total lockdown on Kano State, which had witnessed a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Guidelines on gradual reopening of the economy issued by the PTF a few days after the presidential address mandate anyone in public spaces to use non-medical face masks.
They also prohibit interstate travels, apart from for essential services. The guidelines ban gathering of more than 20 people outside of a workplace.
Commercial vehicles are only allowed to operate outside the curfew hours and should practise social distancing in the number of their passengers.
But our correspondents, who monitored activities in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states on Monday observed that people did not observe the PTF guidelines, including social distancing.
Although banks limited the number of people that entered their premises, customers ignored social distancing as they crowded at bank gates.
Pedestrians and motorists from Ogun State crossed over to Lagos in violation of the ban on interstate movements.
‘Easing lockdown: There will be new infections’
The NCDC boss, at the PTF’s press briefing on Monday, reviewed compliance with the guidelines across the country and concluded that it was not satisfactory.
He said the President could restore the lockdown if the task force guidelines were not observed.
Ihekweazu stated, “Today (Monday), some of the measures are being eased. Initial reports are not too pleasing across the country. Now that we have seen the sunlight again, the challenge for us as a society is, how do we organise ourselves to mitigate these risks and limit transmissions from each other?
“Though we might have a few extra infections today and tomorrow, what we don’t want is an explosion of new infections? If we do have that explosion, there will be almost no choice left for the leadership of the country but to ask all of us to go back to our homes.”
NCDC boss faults banks, fears new infections
Ihekweazu noted that banks were among business groups that were allowed to open on Monday.
He, however, lamented that many banks limited the number of their branches that opened, adding that there would be a spike in infections due to the way people mingled.
The NCDC boss said, “When we say take responsibility this time, yes, we are addressing individuals, but we really need to address corporate Nigeria. There is benefit of the doubt, but when you limit the number of branches opened, everyone goes to the one branch that is opened and that becomes counterproductive.
“Today, we might forgive a little bit because it was the first day. We will have infections because of what happened today, no doubt about that. Everybody here (on the PTF) knew today would be a problem because, for the first time, people were let out of their homes.
“We can produce all the guidelines in the world. We can preach and do press conferences, but how can we learn from the mistakes of today, tomorrow and the day after, so that, by Friday, hopefully, we have normalised some of these things?”
He stated that organisations must support the implementation of the preventive measures, help manage the risk and focus on a risk-based approach.
Why markets are opened, places of worship shut —PTF
Ihekweazu, while fielding questions from journalists, noted that the decision to open markets and close places of worship was because “food is an existential issue.”
He added, “We are not even saying we are happy with the markets across the country. But we are really still appealing to everyone in those markets to help us make it (curb in transmission) work.
“We know that many of our markets were not built for an era of COVID-19. We’re sure about that. Our markets are historically very congested places with many ports of entry, very difficult to control access; in fact, a perfect place for transmission.
“So, by no means are we saying the marketplaces are the examples of perfect locations for managing transmission. We have to allow markets to continue because people have to eat.”
Speaking on the efforts of the PTF’s in Kano State, Ihekweazu said experts deployed by the Federal Government were working to guide the ministry of health in the state.
‘Kano testing is slow’
According to him, the NCDC team and the Kano State officials are working to improve the laboratories in the state.
He said, “The speed of testing (in Kano) is a little bit slower than you would expect. But that is the price we have to pay in order to get this up and running. I’m confident that we will leave that lab better.”
The NCDC boss also said the task force supported the delivery of a new lab funded by the Aliko Dangote Foundation, delivered by a Nigerian company, 54 Gene.
Continued interstate movements of almajiris violating protocols —PTF
The PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, in his remarks, said there had been “very noticeable” relocation of almajiris from one state to another.
Mustapha said, “With the ban on interstate movement, the continuation of this exercise will not be in alignment with the guidelines issued. The PTF shall engage with state governments on how to achieve their objectives.”
Don’t neglect treatment of other ailments, minister tells hospitals
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, in his address, urged all health care facilities not to reject persons seeking medical help, especially in emergencies.
He said it was unethical not to attend to persons in distress.
“I also urge citizens to go to hospitals when not feeling well and to cooperate by giving accurate information especially with regard to travel history,” he said.
Nigeria to take part in COVID-19 medicine trials, says FG
Ehanire also noted that the country had informed the World Health Organisation that it would take part in trials of medicines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to him, efforts are ongoing to also conduct research in Nigeria.
He said, “Other drugs can be added based on emerging evidence. We shall ensure the maintenance of ethical standards and safety of our people.”
The National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, in his remarks, decried non-compliance with the task force protocols, saying the easing of the lockdown was in, no way, a licence to relax self-protection against the infection.
He restated the PTF guidelines, saying, “No interstate travel is allowed except for transportation of essential commodities and services. No passenger flights. Churches, mosques and schools remain closed.
“Clubs, bars, parks, sporting and gaming centres will also remain closed. It is absolutely necessary to continue to maintain those measures that will continue to protect us.
“We must wear our masks to protect ourselves and one another at all times. We must keep washing our hands. We must maintain the safe physical distance of two metres and comply with the eases lockdown measures.”
89 COVID-19 vaccines being developed —WHO
The WHO Country Representative, Fiona Braka, while fielding questions, stated that research was going on globally for a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to Braka, no fewer than 89 products are undergoing development.
He stated, “Research is going on globally to study the genetics of the virus. This helps us to develop a vaccine. Thanks to rapid sharing of genetics data from countries, we are able to advance the production of vaccines.
“We do acknowledge the contributions of countries in sharing their genetic sequencing data, including Nigeria. So, the first vaccine trial started as early as 60 days just after the genetic sequencing information of the virus was shared by China.
“We have about 89 products that are currently under vaccine development. The numbers keep getting updated because there is an accelerated process going on globally to try and find a vaccine.”
Nigerians shun social distancing, storm banks, bus stops
Meanwhile, on Monday, Nigerians, who trooped to banks, bus stops and other public places, disregarded measures introduced by the Federal Government.
Our correspondents, who monitored activities in Lagos and Ogun states, as well as the Federal Capital, observed that motorists failed to observe social distancing.
The PUNCH correspondent, who went round Sokoto, the Sokoto State capital, observed that social distancing was not adhered to by most people in the city.
Customers, who thronged most of the banks, located on Kano Road, were struggling to enter their premises
Lagos bank customers, transporters violate social distancing
In the Berger and Ikorodu areas of Lagos State, it was observed that commercial transport workers and passengers were partially complying with the use of face masks, but ignored social distancing as most buses were filled with the regular number of passengers.
Also, the influx of people into various banks and to board the Bus Rapid Transit attested to the lack of compliance with the social distancing directives.
An eyewitness in Ikorodu, Shukurat Adebayo, said she aborted the transaction she wanted to do in a bank because of the large crowd, adding that bank customers and commuters were not observing social distancing.
She said, “Currently, I am at the Ikorodu Garage, I wanted to do a transaction at the GT Bank but the branch at Ayangburen road did not open. We were directed to another branch at Agric, but I did not go. I left for Polaris Bank to do another transaction, but on getting there, it was crowded. There was nothing like social distancing because I saw a lot of people trying to gain access into the bank. They were not orderly and efforts by the bank officials to talk to people didn’t work.
“Also, the situation is the same at BRT Park. Although, I can confirm to you that the drivers conveyed only 20 passengers because I boarded a bus this morning from Lagos Island to Ikorodu. The queue was crowded as usual and commuters were not observing social distancing.”
Motorists plying Sango/Tollgate to Oshodi were seen carrying passengers, while the bus stops at Meiran, Ijaiye, U-turn and Abule Egba were overcrowded.
The majority of the passengers were seen wearing face masks but disregarded the social distancing order of the federal and state governments.
At Agege, a driver, Abbas Ramon, told The PUNCH that it was not possible for commercial vehicles to load 60 per cent of their capacity because the National Union of Road Transport Workers was still collecting normal levy from them.
Rivers commercial vehicle operators flout social distancing order
In Rivers State, commercial bus operators still loaded their vehicles with passengers without observing social distancing.
While the state government had insisted that only two passengers should be on a row, the commercial bus drivers still allowed four passengers.
Recall that the state Governor, Nyesom Wike, had threatened to ban the operation of commercial vehicles in some parts of the state should commercial drivers continue to flout the order on social distancing.
A commercial bus driver, who identified himself as Godswill, said he would not be able to make profit if he adhered to the order of having only two passengers per row.
“How can I have only two passengers where I am supposed to be carrying four passengers? If I try that, I will not make profit,” Godswill, who plies Ikwerre to Choba, said.
FCT residents besiege banks
In the FCT, hundreds of people on Monday besieged commercial banks.
The banks in Garki Area One, Adetokunbo Ademola Wuse 2, Central Business District, and other parts of the city were thronged by customers, many of whom wore no face masks.
At the Ecobank branch beside AP Plaza, Wuse 2, scores of customers were locked outside the bank and only a few were allowed to enter in line with the social distancing guidelines.
The same situation was observed at a GTB branch located beside a popular eatery where tens of customers waited impatiently outside the bank.
A customer, Stanley Wosu, said he had an urgent transaction to make in the bank hence his visit, adding that he would not have come to the bank on account of the pandemic.
14 more Lagos patients discharged
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government on Monday announced the discharge of 14 more COVID-19 patients who had recovered from the virus.
The state Ministry of Health, via its twitter handle, @LSMOH, said 261 patients had been discharged in Lagos.
It tweeted, “14 more COVID-19 Lagos patients; six females and eight males, all Nigerians were today (Monday) discharged from our isolation facilities at Yaba, Onikan, LUTH and Eti-Osa (Landmark) to reunite with the society.
“The patients; seven from Onikan, two from IDH, Yaba, four from @LUTHofficial and one from the Eti-Osa (LandMark) isolation centres have fully recovered and tested negative twice consecutively to COVID-19.
“With this, the number of patients successfully managed and discharged in Lagos is now 261.”