Omololu Ogunmade, Olawale Ajimotokan, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja, Chiemelie Ezeobi and Funmi Ogundare in Lagos
President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the extension by two weeks of phase one of the relaxation of the lockdown he had imposed on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states to check the spread of COVID-19.
Specifically, the nationwide curfew, the ban on interstate travel and the lockdown of Kano State, which had emerged the third epicentre of the pandemic, would continue until June 1, according to the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, who conveyed the presidential directive at the daily briefing of the task force in Abuja yesterday.
The president had through a regulation signed on May 3 pursuant to the Quarantine Act eased the lockdown he had imposed on March 30, in an effort to balance the requirements of public health safety and the need to safeguard the economy from total collapse.
Mustapha said Buhari granted the extension based on the recommendation of the task force.
In the meantime, the virus increased the number of its victims by 216 yesterday, bringing the total infection to 6,175 with 1,644 persons discharged and 191 dead.
Announcing this last night, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Lagos recorded 74 new cases, Katsina 33, Oyo 19, Kano 17, Edo 13, Zamfara 10, Ogun, Gombe and Borno eight each, Bauchi and Kwara seven each, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) four, Kaduna and Enugu three each, while Rivers has two cases.
This was coming as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) accused Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), of usurpation of presidential powers by announcing an extension of the curfew in the country.
Announcing the president’s decision, the SGF stated that the extension of the restriction across the federation takes effect from Monday, May 18 to June 1, 2020.
He also said the total lockdown on Kano State had been extended by another two weeks, while a precision lockdown would be imposed on states or metropolitan areas that had been identified as high burden areas.
He also said the government would henceforth engage in aggressive scaling up of community participation in the campaign against the COVID-19 scourge.
He, however, informed again that all the exemptions that had earlier been given as the first phase of eased lockdown commenced would remain as before, especially as it related to farmers who need to resume for planting season.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the reality is that in spite of the modest progress made, Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority. Any relaxation will only portend grave danger for our populace,” he said, adding: “Advisedly, the current phase of eased restriction will be maintained for another two weeks during which stricter enforcement and persuasion measures will be pursued.”
He said the two-week extension was also to enable other segments of the economy prepare adequately for compliance with the guidelines, preparatory to reopening in the coming weeks.
“For the PTF, we share your pains but our future is in the hands of every Nigerian and future decisions will depend greatly on our compliance,” he said.
He stated that the presidential approvals were “based on the recommendations of the PTF.”
He said: “Mr. President has approved the following: The measures, exemptions, advisories, and scope of entities allowed to reopen under phase one of the eased locked down, shall be maintained across the federation for another two weeks effective from 12.00 midnight today, May 18, 2020 to June 1, 2020;
“Intensifying efforts to ‘tell (communicate), trace (identify) and treat (manage)’ cases; elevating the level of community ownership of non-pharmaceutical interventions;
“Maintain the existing lockdown order in Kano State for an additional two weeks; “Imposition of precision lockdown in states, or in metropolitan/high-burden LGAs, that are reporting a rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises. This would be complemented with the provision of palliatives and continued re-evaluation of the impact of the interventions;” and
“Aggressive scale up of efforts to ensure that communities are informed, engaged and participating in the response with enhanced public awareness in high-risk states.”
He also said the nationwide curfew imposed from 8.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. in addition to the ban of interstate movement would also be in place.
Mustapha noted the time was not ripe for the government to relax its containment protocols against COVID-19.
The PTF said the fight against the pandemic is a long term as the virus is not likely to go away very soon, with the situation further underscored by the fact that no vaccine is expected till around the end of 2021.
Buhari Tasks Govs to Work with PTF
Meanwhile, for better harmony in the fight against the pandemic, Buhari yesterday appealed to governors to work closely with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the disease.
Following the appeal, the president cancelled his scheduled nationwide broadcast yesterday.
Speaking during an online meeting with members of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), the president told the governors that PTF had briefed him on the way forward on the national response to the pandemic.
Consequently, he said he had instructed the task force to work effectively with the governors.
“I have directed that they work very closely with the governors,” he said.
The president, according to a tweet by his media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, on his Twitter handle, @FemAdesina, had left the responsibility of unveiling the new guideline for PTF.
A statement later by Adesina said the president during his meeting with governors, remarked that the pandemic was “beyond technology, power, and resources.”
According to him, the countries which have all such resources had recorded the highest rate of casualties across the world.
PDP Accuses Mustapha of Usurping Presidential Powers
In a related development, PDP has accused Mustapha of usurpation of presidential powers by announcing an extension of lockdown and curfew in the country.
PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, pointed out that nowhere in the laws of Nigeria are the powers to broadcast presidential executive orders to declare curfew and restriction of movements vested in the Office of the SGF.
Thye opposition party said the action of the SGF has brought serious confusion in the polity regarding the legality or otherwise of the directives contained in the SGF’s announcement.
“Such powers are vested in the person and office of Mr. President and not exercisable by proxy, directly or indirectly; which makes the action of the SGF a recipe for a serious constitutional crisis in our country.
“Our nation is a state governed by dictates of the law, particularly in the exercise of powers vested in statutory offices, especially that of the president,” the party said.
PDP added that it holds that the announcement by the SGF is, therefore, another manifestation of abuse of the statutory offices arising from the abdication of responsibilities by the president since the last five years, which had also become more pronounced in this fight against COVID-19.
“Our party, therefore, invites Mr. President to end the confusion in the polity, arising from the action of the SGF, by immediately addressing Nigerians in his official capacity to fulfill the demands of our laws in respect of the necessary protocols on restrictions and other management procedures in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in our country.”
First Vaccine Tested in the US Shows Promise
Meanwhile, early data from Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, the first to be tested in the United States, showed that it produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, the company said yesterday.
Reuters reported that the data comes from eight people who took part in a 45-subject safety trial that kicked off in March.
The Moderna vaccine is one of more than 100 under development intended to protect against the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 4.7 million people globally and killed over 315,000.
Overall, the study showed the vaccine was safe and all study participants produced antibodies against the virus.
An analysis of the response in the eight individuals showed that those who received a 100 microgram dose and a 25 microgram dose had levels of protective antibodies to fend off the virus that exceeded those found in the blood of people who recovered from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
The news, issued in a release by the US biotechnology company, lifted shares of Moderna more than 22 per cent and helped drive the broader stock market higher.
“These are significant findings but it is a Phase 1 clinical trial that only included eight people. It was designed for safety. Not for efficacy,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security who was not involved in the study.
The very early data offers a glimmer of hope for a vaccine among the most advanced in development.
Adalja said many glitches could occur between now and the time this vaccine is tested for efficacy in thousands of people. “What we do see is encouraging,” he said.
Navy Commander Dies
Lieutenant Commander Chike Okoro, an officer of the Nigerian Navy (NN), has died of suspected complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The deceased, who was of the 53 Regular Course (53RC), was said to have been tested by NCDC but some people claimed the officer did not follow up with his result before he died.
Speaking on anonymity, a senior naval officer said although details of his final hours were still sketchy, he had gone for testing but did not receive the result till he died.
Asked why they figured out he had the virus, he said although the deceased did not have any recent travel history, he was, however, exposed to the virus, which prompted a call to NCDC.
He said: “Yes I knew him. Details of his death are still very sketchy. I learnt he went for testing at the NCDC centre in FESTAC but they never brought or gave the result till he passed.
“This is more painful because he barely had seven months to hang his commander rank (equivalent to lieutenant colonel in the army and wing commander in the air force), something he had been looking forward to for a long time.”
The deceased had celebrated his 38th birthday on March 23 and a visit to his Instagram page saw a deluge of condolence messages from friends and colleagues.
Mortality Rates Drops in Kano, Sokoto
Meanwhile, the federal government has said that mortality has significantly reduced in both Kano and Sokoto states as a result of the government’s recent intervention aimed at checking the spread of infection.
The Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, who disclosed this at the daily briefing, said his ministry had engaged influential religious leaders in Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Plateau, Sokoto and Zamfara states.
He also disclosed that a ministerial team of experts had been dispatched to Calabar to engage with state authorities and to determine their material and technical needs.
Mamora said the efforts of the federal and state response teams in Kano and Sokoto states are paying off as deaths have now reduced.
On the situation in Sokoto, he said the mission to Sokoto was successful, adding that the team was presently in Maiduguri to support the state.
“A curious finding in Sokoto is the cluster of COVID-19 cases in only one local government area. The number of deaths has dropped and we are beginning to see a decline in positive cases in the state. I wish to thank Governor Aminu Tambuwal for his support and commitment to the response in the state,” he said.
With regards to Kano, the minister said the response has been restructured to be more responsive and positioned to effectively tackle the pandemic.
He said: “Mortality has significantly reduced. Our community engagement is paying off as more people are submitting themselves for testing. Testing capacity has thus increased to about 660 daily from 250 last week. The ministry has directed that more test kits and laboratory consumables be sent to Kano to ensure the sustenance of the testing capacity.”
Mamora added that NCDC is collaborating with development partners to engage influential religious leaders in Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Plateau, Sokoto and Zamfara states on sensitisation mission on the measures to stop the infection.
Mamora noted that the ministry had commenced Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) training specifically for the Almajiri in Kano State.
NAFDAC Receives over 40 Applications on Test Kits
In a related development, the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, yesterday, said the agency had received more than 40 applications on rapid testing kits, out of which 15 have been approved.
She, however, said the agency was yet to receive the Madagascar remedy for COVID-19 from the presidency, noting that once it gets it, the agency would expedite action on it to ensure that the health of the users is safeguarded.
Adeyeye, who was a guest at the ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY, said: “We have to go through stringent scrutiny to ensure that whatever is coming to the country, will be safe and dependable. The remedy from Madagascar, we have not received it, but as soon as we receive it, we will expedite action because this is important to us; herbal medicine is more complex than the orthodox drug, because there may be eight or 10 chemical components that are active. The way nature has done it is that they work in concert, so you can’t just take one out and say it is going to work.”
Adeyeye restated that the agency had not approved the use of Chloroquine for the treatment of the dreaded virus. She said the agency only gave the go-ahead for clinical treatment.
She added that it was important for Nigerians to know the difference between routine and clinical treatment, noting that the two should not be mixed.
“Chloroquine has not been approved for routine use in the treatment of COVID-19. We only approved it for clinical treatment, not for routine treatment. There is a difference between routine use and clinical treatment,” she said.
Speaking on the herbal mixture discovered by the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, NAFDAC boss said the agency was still expecting the application of Iwu with regards to finding an herbal cure for the virus.
“Prof Iwu is a member of one of our committees. We have not received any application from him. Maybe he’s still working on it,” she added.
“NAFDAC is a regulating agency, affiliated with others around the world. We welcome all submissions but it would have to follow a process; it must go through laid down protocols. We have to ensure it follows safety measures. We have to do an analysis and clinical trial of all the products. Those herbal drugs must be well scrutinised and be believable. Data do not lie.”
CBN, NNPC to Fund Accommodation, Feeding of Evacuees
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have agreed to pick the hotel accommodation and feeding bills of returning stranded Nigerians abroad.
The cost is to cater for the remaining over 3,000 Nigerians stranded in several countries as a result of global lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking yesterday at the briefing, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, disclosed that both agencies agreed to pick the bills for the isolation of the Nigerians stranded abroad on their return.
He said the government was not too happy with the idea of returnees picking their bills but for the paucity of funds.
According to him, all efforts to raise funds have been very difficult.
He said the fund used for the funding of the first set of evacuees was a fund meant for something else.
He explained his predicament: “So, Friday night after getting all the barrage from around the world, including people saying that we were somehow conspiring with hotels to fleece Nigerians and make money for ourselves and other forms of accusation and we continued never the less; we tried to find a way through and they say that two heads are better than one; the Honorable Minister of Environment, Dr. Mahmoud Abubakar, called me and said why not try NNPC? Why not try CBN. You know they have a corporate social responsibility funding and I told him I will do that immediately.
“I got in touch with Governor of the CBN and used as much persuasive channel as possible to get him over and told him I will do the same with GMD of NNPC. And the Governor of the CBN, very generously and very kindly, agreed and said the amount that I was talking about was over N1 billion because we have over 4,000 Nigerians out there, and if over 3,000 or something of them come back the cost of accommodation and feeding and everything else is over a billion that we don’t have.
“He said he was ready to explore and share the cost with NNPC. I spoke to the GMD of NNPC and he said he was going to consult and we kept our fingers crossed.
“Thanks be to God, today he got back to me to say he was ready. He was going to meet up with the Governor of the CBN and together they would fund this portion – a very important portion – the accommodation and feeding of evacuees. So, we go forward in a better environment.”
Flight Ban Delays Return of Chinese Medical Team
In another development, the Managing Director of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), Mr. Michael Yigao, has said the ban on commercial flights has delayed the return of the Chinese medical team to China, saying the experts, who arrived the country on April 8, were in the company’s care.
Yigao told journalists yesterday that the team came into the country to especially help CCECC fight the disease and protect its employees.
“The team had a telecast meeting with the Minister of Health and some doctors around the country and shared their experience in China on how they’re fighting the virus and the meeting was very positive.
“They are here with us and have continued to teach our staff how to protect themselves because protection and prevention are more important than the treatment.
“Most of the workers understand the situation now and they know the risk, so they follow the proper procedures and cooperate with their instructors,” he said.
He said the medical experts would be heading home as soon as the ban on commercial flights to China is lifted.
“Right now, commercial flight to China is not open, but when flights are open again, we’re considering the team going back to China,” he stated.
UK Adds Loss of Smell, Taste to List of Symptoms
The UK Government has included loss of taste and smell to the list of COVID-19 symptoms people should look out for in addition to previous ones such as cough and fever.
England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Jonathan Van-Tam, said yesterday the development has become imperative to further enhance existing ways of detecting those infected with the novel virus.
The Cable quoted him as saying that anyone suffering the loss of taste or smell, or a noticeable change, should now self-isolate for seven days to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
Cough and fever have been the major symptoms suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for people to self-isolate or get tested.
FG Quarantines Pilots of Seized British Aircraft
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, also said at the briefing that the federal government had quarantined the pilots of the impounded aircraft owned by a British company for 14 days.
He said: “There is a company called Flairjet. I want to apologise that I tweeted in the afternoon (on Sunday) when the fasting was biting harder and we verified this as Flair Aviation. The correct name is Flairjet and it is a UK registered company.
“They have an aircraft, Legacy 600, and the registration number of the aircraft is GPRFX. Their business address is Business Aviation Centre, Terminal Road, Birmingham International Airport, West Midlands, and their code is B26QN
“This company applied severally as to operate humanitarian flights and we did approve. It is very clear at the beginning of this exercise that we defined what those flights should be: essential flights basically – cargo, medical evacuation, medical supplies, and so on and so forth.
“Unfortunately, this company decided to become commercial in their service, charging money and flying people in and out.
“In the first place, the whole essence of a lockdown is to ensure there is no movement of persons freely because this COVID-19 we are all spending sleepless nights for happened because somebody travelled abroad. So, we believe this shouldn’t happen.
“Current status, we are investigating the matter right now, it would finish very soon. The crew is British nationals. The pilots are subjected to 14 days quarantine at the moment while the investigation goes on. Whatever is there in our laws will be applied to the fullest.”
99% Nigerians Aware of COVID-19
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said the latest NOI Poll which was conducted this month showed that 99 per cent of Nigerian respondents said they were aware of the virus, while 28 per cent of respondents in March said they believed they were immune to the virus.
The figure according to the minister has now dropped to 26 per cent.
The poll also said 57 per cent of the respondents said they were in support of easing down of the lockdown announced on April 27 by the president, while 29 per cent said they did not support it.
The poll said 91 per cent of respondents said they were aware of the different preventive measures, handwashing at 87 per cent up by 10 per cent; use of face masks is at 85 per cent up by 22 per cent; and social distancing is at 55 percent up by 43 per cent.
Also speaking, PTF National Coordinator, Dr. Sani Aliyu, condemned the growing incidence of fake news associated with the government’s COVID-19 emergency response.
He cited examples of fake news around activities of the task force to include false statements about the lockdown guidelines as well as false reports on relief funds received all spent by PTF.
The family of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua has, however, donated food and personal protective gears to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to support its palliative drive in the battle against COVID-19 in the territory.
A representative of the family under the aegis of Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation, Malam Shehu Yar’Adua, while presenting the items to the administration commended the doggedness of all the health workers, adding that their dedication to service in these challenging times should serve as an example to other professional bodies.