Federal government yesterday extended the ease of lockdown in the country by another four weeks, saying coronavirus was now in 536 of the 774 local government areas in Nigeria.
The government also expressed its readiness to reopen the nation’s airspace for international flights in ‘a matter of weeks’.
Consequently, it said the 10pm to 4pm curfew, limitation on mass gatherings and virtual holding of government meetings remained in place, and noted that in the last month, the number of states with over 1, 000 confirmed cases increased from four to 10 and the FCT.
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, who disclosed these during yesterday’s briefing of the taskforce, lamented the increased non-compliance with non-pharmaceutical prevention measures; and lack of enforcement of necessary guidelines issued to preserve lives.
He also listed insufficient engagement by some states with the national response; lingering concern about the gap between identified cases and the actual burden of disease; apathy, fatigue and disbelief as factors combining to challenge public enlightenment, compliance and behaviour change.
He said: “Community transmission is increasing, as reflected in the fact that 536 Local Government Areas – 69 per cent of the total – have reported a COVID-19 case.
“To sustain gains already made, therefore, the PTF recommended to the President the retention of the current phase of the response with minor changes to address economic, socio-political and health concerns.
‘’These measures are further outlined in the guidelines to be elaborated upon by the national coordinator. It is, however, important to inform you that the major changes being proposed are aimed at achieving the following: Gradual re-opening of international air flights within established parameters.
‘’Re-opening of rail transportation within established parameters; granting permission to exit classes to resume ahead of examinations; allowing civil servants from Grade Level 12 to resume work; and opening recreational parks for supervised exercises.
“After due consideration of the recommendations, Mr. President approved the following: Maintaining the current phase of the National Response to COVID-19 for another four weeks, in line with the modifications reflected in the report; partnering with states and local governments to improve community sensitisation and engagement to the COVID-19 response.
‘’Mandating state authorities and the FCT to enforce non-pharmaceutical guidelines, primarily the use of face masks in public appearance and places; encouraging state governments to collaborate with Local Government Authorities to intensify necessary measures, such as contact-tracing, grassroots mobilisation and risk communication; and strengthening of collaboration with other mandate groups at federal/state levels to harmonise the country’s COVID-19 response on short, medium and long-term basis.’’
On his part, the National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, said the task force has asked the aviation ministry to work towards resumption of international flights in weeks.
Aliyu added that the management of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, had also been told to start working towards resumption in the next phases of the eased lockdown.
He said: “The restrictions in the entertainment and education sectors as well as other activities that attract mass gatherings, such as operation of markets and worship centres, remain.
“Specific to air transportation, domestic operations have already resumed as well as the railways. For international travel, we have made recommendations to the aviation industry to commence the process for opening international airports, provided all existing international and local prevention guidelines on COVID-19 are in place.
“We have modified the advice with regard to the arrival for flights. Passengers arriving at the airports for domestic flights are advised to arrive at least one and a half hours before their flights and three hours before international flights when it is restarted.
“There might be requirements for additional infrastructure in some of the airports. What we want to do, and we have made it very clear at the PTF, is we want to reopen as soon as possible but in a safe manner that does not put at risk all the efforts we have made to control this pandemic.
“Hopefully, the airports would open in weeks, rather than months. That is what we are looking at.’’
On returning students, Aliyu warned that they should not be tested unless they showed signs of the symptoms of coronavirus.
“We do not request for testing before students return to school because the value of a test is when it is being taking, a day after, the test is not valuable, so students should not be tested before they resume. What is important is that schools should monitor the symptoms and take necessary steps.”
Meanwhile, Rivers State Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kaniye Ebeku, yesterday, directed immediate removal of the principal of Community Secondary School, Elibrada, Mr. S.I. Amadi, and his counterpart in Community Secondary School, Rumuji, C.O. Ekwueme, both in Emohua Local Government Area of the state, for violating COVID-19 protocols.
Recall that SSS3 students resumed studies on Wednesday in the state based on the directive of the state governor, Nyesom Wike.
But, Ebeku in a statement in Port Harcourt by his Special Assistant on Media, Faustina Nwanekwu, directed the removal of the two principals for failing to obey set standard by the government, and ordered the State’s Schools Board to appointment the next in rank in the affected schools to take over.
Similarly, the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, said yesterday it would not hesitate to shut down any school within the territory that violates COVID-19 guidelines recommended for the safety of their students in exit classes who are resuming for their examinations.
The Chairman, FCT Ministerial Enforcement Task team on COVID-19 Restrictions, Ikharo Attah, who led the team to inspect some schools within the nation’s capital, stated that the administration could not afford to expose the students to the danger of contracting the virus, and would, therefore, not compromise the guidelines for resumption of the schools.
“Any school that fails to comply, we will do everything within our powers to safeguard the students and such schools would likely be shut down through legal processes, while the students will have to write their exams somewhere else, pending when the school complies with the safety guidelines, and those responsible for the school mismanagement will be brought to book,’’ he warned.