The federal government Thursday kicked against large gathering during Sallah celebration holding saturday, saying it might put many people, particularly the aged, at risk of COVID-19 infection.
Some governors in the northern part of the country had relaxed the lockdown, imposed on their states to halt the spread of the virus, to enable their citizens to celebrate the Eid-ul-Fitr.
As the governors eased restrictions, Nigeria recorded 339 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, bringing to 7,016 the total number of confirmed cases in the country.
It has also recorded 11 new deaths, raising the figures from 200 to 211 in the last 24 hours.
Announcing the update last night, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Lagos recorded 139 new cases, Kano and Oyo 28 each, Edo 25, Katsina 22, Kaduna 18, Jigawa 14, Yobe and Plateau 13 each, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) 11, Gombe eight, Ogun five, Bauchi and Nasarawa four each, Delta three, Ondo two, while Rivers and Adamawa one each.
Speaking at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Chairman, Mr. Boss Mustapha, warned that the relaxation of the lockdown by states might boomerang and appealed to the governors to be cautious in their responses to agitations for the opening of places of worship.
Specifically, Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), warned against large gatherings of people during the Sallah celebration to mark the end of the Ramadan fasting by the Muslim faithful.
He said the federal government was concerned that large gatherings at the Eid prayer grounds could inadvertently endanger the elderly, the sick, and those with underlying ailments.
He also reiterated the position of PTF that any large gathering of more than 20 persons remained prohibited and that all the protocols on safety should be adhered to.
”Mass gatherings for the purpose of the Eid or on Sunday, for now, expose the elderly to serious health problem. It exposes this category of people to serious danger and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure they are not exposed to those dangers.
COVID-19 has come to stay with us. It has completely disrupted our ways of life and it is impossible to suddenly return that way of life,” Mustapha said.
PTF National Coordinator on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, also warned Sallah revelers to ensure that they wear their face masks if they must at all be at the Eid grounds.
Aliyu, who read the guidelines on the enforcement on easing of the lockdown, also said in terms of enforcement of the regulations, PTF would continue to work with local authorities for the immediate creation of mobile courts to try and prosecute offenders, particularly those who violate guidelines on face masks covering, measuring temperatures and institutions that fail to comply with the protocols.
”Effective from May 18, the easing of the lockdown remains largely the same and will be characterised by enforceable actions which will include mandatory use of non-medical face masks, mandatory provision of hand sanitisers in public places, the restriction on interstate travels and adaption of offices and businesses to observe social distancing, including crowd control and mass gathering reduction strategies,” Aliyu said.
He added: ”The public is warned to avoid unnecessary contact with people, interstate travel is restricted except for those that deal in supply chain travels such as goods and agricultural products with limited capacity and petroleum products, relief items, construction supplies, and registered courier service.”
FG Warns against Use of Hydroxychloroquine for Treatment
Mustapha also strongly urged the public to desist from self-treatment and the use of the anti-malaria drug, Hydroxychloroquine as prophylaxis for COVID-19.
The SGF noted that through the surveillance system set up by PTF, the task force had received reports that some Nigerians had been purchasing the drug in large quantities for prevention and outright treatment of COVID-19, warning that the drug has not been certified for use by relevant authorities in the country.
”We wish to reiterate that this drug has not been certified for use in treating COVID-19 in Nigeria by the relevant health and pharmaceutical authorities. Self-medication of any kind is fraught with the danger of increasing risks of avoidable casualties. We, therefore, strongly warn against self-medication. If you are sick, please seek medical advice and if you are confirmed positive, kindly self-isolate in an approved facility,” he said.
Mustapha also apologised to journalists and other essential workers who were harassed on Tuesday in Lagos State by policemen enforcing the 8.00 p.m to 6.00 a.m curfew.
FG Urges Caution in Relaxation of Lockdown
Meanwhile, Mustapha has also urged caution in the manner at which governors were relaxing the lockdown on religious congregation in violation of the national response and guidelines.
He noted that the federal government had conveyed this concern at the virtual deliberation of the National Economic Council (NEC) held yesterday, which was attended by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and all the state governors.
”During the meeting, the issue of alignment of their state-level actions with the guidelines issued was emphasised. Similarly emphasised is the need for states to diligently implement and enforce compliance. Particularly, I underscored the need for the governors to provide personal and strong leadership, carry the policy of community ownership to the grassroots and create deeper awareness.
”The governors were also advised on the decision taken by some of their colleagues to permit large gatherings as such decisions could inadvertently endanger the elderly, the sick and those with underlying factors during such gatherings,” Mustapha explained.
NEC Raises Committee to Work out Modalities for Opening of Economy
Meanwhile, NEC yesterday held its first virtual meeting presided over by the Vice President in the State House and set up a committee to work out the modalities for opening of the economy.
A major part of the economy has been locked down for over six weeks in the federal government’s bid to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Answering questions from journalists after the meeting, Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Badaru, said in accordance with the presidential directive, governors would work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to effectively bring the pandemic to an end.
He denied that states were working at cross-purposes with PTF, saying perceived differences in operations were only dictated by peculiar situations.
However, he said such differences in operations had been resolved during the last virtual meeting of the president with governors on Monday, adding that it was further decided at the NEC meeting yesterday that both the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and PTF should work together.
He said: “That has been resolved because, at our last meeting with Mr. President, the President was clear that the Governors’ Forum and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 should meet and agree on steps to be taken, and it has been discussed today (yesterday) and commitment has been taken by today’s NEC that the Governors’ Forum, the presidential Task Force would work hand-in-hand to see to the end of COVID-19.
“A committee was formed today that will look up to the eventual opening up of the economy. Sometimes you will see a different approach by different states; that doesn’t mean that there is a loggerhead between the states and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
“Some peculiar situations require some peculiar solutions and that is why at times you see such and that will always be discussed with the Presidential Task Force so that we will always be on the same page.”
Badaru said with the suspension of deductions from allocations to states, governors could still pay salaries now, noting however, that with the falling oil revenue, the situation might grow worse in the nearest future.
He said: “On the deductions that have been suspended, I think most of the states are paying salaries already. But we have not seen the worst yet. I may not be able to answer this question correctly until we see what comes up in the next part; that is when we expect the worst-case scenario on the fallen oil prices. And at that time we will do the calculation and all the scenarios will come up and that will determine whether we will be able to pay salaries or not.”
A statement later yesterday by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity (Office of the President), Mr. Laolu Akande, said the committee formed would be chaired by the Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa.
Akande listed other members of the committee as Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Anambra) and Simon Lalong (Plateau) as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Mohammed Bello.
According to him, the seven-man committee is “to ensure a more effective synergy between the federal government and the sub-nationals, especially in matters related to the fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how to effectively and efficiently reopen the Nigerian economy after the lockdowns and shutdowns across the country.”
Patients with Hypertension, Diabetes, Tuberculosis, Others Account for 70% Deaths, Says FG
In a related development, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, yesterday disclosed that people with health challenges such as hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, HIV, cancer and tuberculosis accounted for 70 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Nigeria.
Speaking yesterday in Abuja during the briefing by the task force, Ehanire said about 70 per cent of the fatalities were persons of 60 years old and above.
According to him, 50 per cent of them died using home treatment without showing any symptoms of the virus.
The minister said analysis of the number of deaths so far recorded as a result of the virus showed that 70 per cent were males, while the remaining 30 per cent are females.
Ehanire also said majority of positive cases recorded so far were between the ages of 29 and 49, adding that those are the most active ages in life.
He said: “The core morbidity of the fatalities we have had to COVID-19, 70 per cent of them have hypertension or diabetes, and the rest were kidney disease, HIV, cancer, tuberculosis, and other sundry challenges.
“A finding from the analysis of the death patterns shows 70 per cent to 30 per cent for male and female around that ratio and about 70 per cent fatalities were persons who are 60 years old, while the majority of positives were between the ages of 29 and 49; those are the most active ages in life.
“A curious finding from the analysis of the deaths shows that nearly half of them died at home. Of those who died at home, about 50 per cent did not show any symptoms. This underscores my earlier emphasis on the need for those who test positive to report for treatment.
“I would also advise those who have taken the test and are awaiting result to heed the advisory to self-isolate from friends, wear face masks and observe hand and respiratory hygiene until your result is out so that your community and those around you will not necessarily be exposed.”
FG to Integrate Home Care in Isolation Strategies
On his part, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the federal government was reviewing the mandatory institutional isolation and treatment for cases.
He added that based on the increasing number of persons testing positive, such institutional isolation is no longer sustainable.
He disclosed that the federal government was considering integrating home care in the isolation strategies.
“We have struggled with the decision of whether to continue to institutionalising isolation of positive persons or to allow them to self-isolate at home,” he said.
Ihekweazu said PTF was thinking around options to take, which would soon be made public.
He also noted that the public transport group had submitted to NCDC a draft operational guide on how it hoped to reopen operations, while maintaining the required safety measures against the pandemic.
NCDC boss added that materials for the operation of the Genexpert machine would arrive the country next week.
Ihekweazu explained that due to the pressure on the testing facilities and having found out over time that those who tested negative the first time always recorded negative on a second test, the centre had decided to be discharging patients after testing negative once.
When asked whether the deaths recorded in Kano would be added to the pandemic statistics since the state health officials had confirmed that they were COVID-19-related, NCDC boss said it could not be rolled in.
IG to Exempt Returnees from Ban on Interstate Movement
In a related development, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, has assured Nigerian returnees, who have completed their mandatory supervised quarantine in Abuja and Lagos that the ban on the interstate movement would not affect them.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, made this disclosure yesterday at the PTF briefing.
Some Nigerians who were evacuated from UAE, United Kingdom and the US were isolated in Lagos and Abuja and are planning to travel to other parts of the country to reunite with their family members after the 14-day quarantine.
”As we are about to end the 14-day quarantine, the IG of Police has directed the Commissioners of Police in Lagos (Hakeem Odumosu and FCT, Bala Ciroma) to give them personalised passes to go through boundaries going home,” Onyeama said.
He noted that there were still many Nigerians all over the world, particularly in India, South Africa, US, UK, France, Turkey, Sudan, China wishing to come home, but which government finds airlifting them a challenge.
”I urge them to be patient because we only process a limited number of people to come in because of limited resources,” he added.
FG Analyses Report of Fact-finding Team Sent to C’River
Meanwhile, the federal government has said that it’s currently studying the report of the fact-finding medical team that was deployed in Cross River State.
The medical team was sent to Cross River State to verify the medical situation in the state, which has so far reported no single case of the virus.
Ehanire said the fact-finding team sent to Calabar had concluded its assignment and submitted a report.
He said the state still maintained a zero infection record as at the time of the medical team’s visit, adding that the only identified weakness is the absence of a testing laboratory.
“We have been able to identify areas of strength and areas that are in need of upgrade including laboratory infrastructure. The state of readiness of the state against COVID-19 is reasonable and includes setting up of task force, production of personal protective equipment, face masks of which samples were provided to our team and will be forwarded to NAFDAC for validation.
“Areas of weaknesses and strength like I said are still being analysed so as to improve federal-Cross River State collaboration and support. The critical findings are still that no case of COVID-19 has been reported as at May 20, 2020 when the team returned to Abuja,” he said.
The minister said 16 samples had been tested in Cross River State and that they were negative.
Also the minister explained that a federal medical team visited Gombe and Borno states to carry out a fact-finding mission.
He said the reports from the two states were being awaited so that the ministry could streamline the response and provide a more targeted response.
Ehanire added that he was planning to resend another NCDC team to Kogi State to assess the situation there.
THISDAY Dome Treatment Centre Begins Operation
Meanwhile, as part of efforts to improve on the country’s capacity to deal with the pandemic, Ehanire said the federal government had put together a medical team to take over the management of the THISDAY Dome Isolation and Treatment Centre in Abuja donated by THISDAY Media and Technologies Group and other private sector donors.
He said opening of the new treatment centre would provide a comprehensive treatment for COVID-19, including a section for conducting dialysis and facilities for waste disposal.
The minister noted that he had intervened in the protest by Lagos State health workers over harassment by security agents and arranged with the state Commissioner for Health to issue security pass to health workers for easy identification.
Lagos Engages Local Scientists to Produce Testing Reagents
Due to the global shortage of reagents for testing suspected cases of COVID-19, Lagos State Government has engaged the services of local scientists to produce alternative testing materials.
It said it had also tested 16,000 residents since the beginning of the pandemic in the country, and that it would soon commence home isolation and treatment for patients following the rise in number of cases in the state.
Stating these during a press briefing on Thursday, Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, said engaging local scientists would ensure the state no longer have to worry about not having supplies to test suspected COVID-19 patients.
He said: “We have engaged scientists here to produce alternative reagents. Two of the scarce reagents have been produced locally already, thereby taking the pressure of chasing manufacturers of reagents overseas.
“With the availability of reagents, we will start doing 1,000 tests per day within the coming days. Although we have done the highest testing in the country since February 27, which are over 16,000, this new approach of engaging local scientists will help increase the capacity.
“The cost of testing a patient ranges between N40,000 to N50,000, but it is free for patients because the government bears the cost. Efforts are on to get the cost subsidised through insurance or donations by aid partners,” the commissioner said.
He also mentioned that the state would be validating a rapid-testing model, which would give hospitals the opportunity to test any person coming to the medical facility under 10 minutes, adding that some manufacturers have been engaged in this activity.