Another extension likely as WHO warns against lifting of lockdown
•President Muhammadu Buhari
There are indications that President Muhammadu Buhari may again extend the lockdown in Abuja as well as Lagos and Ogun States as the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday warned countries to apply caution in lifting COVID-19 lockdowns.
Specifically, the global health body warned of a resurgence of infections if the current restriction measures put in place to flatten the curve on the pandemic were relaxed too soon.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on March 29 ordered a total lockdown in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.
Two weeks later, he extended the lockdown in the nation’s capital and the two Southwest states for another 14 days.
There had been agitations among Nigerians over what they described as untold hardship and impending hunger in the land as a result of the sit-at-home order, with most of the citizens calling on the Nigerian leader to lift the lockdown imposed to combat the global scourge.
But the expectation that the president may relax the restriction order was dashed yesterday when WHO’s Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Takeshi Kasai, warned nations of the world against lifting lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of Coronavirus.
At an online media briefing in Manila, Kasai noted that lockdown measures have proven effective in slowing and reducing transmission of the highly infectious disease while easing the burden on the overstretched health system.
“This is going to be a long battle. This is not the time to relax,” Kasai said in an online coronavirus media briefing.
Instead, he stressed the need to be ready for “a new way of living that strikes the right balance between the measures to keep the virus in check and enable vital parts of the economy and society to function.”
The WHO director urged the people in the region to protect themselves, their family and their community by physically distancing and frequently cleaning hands.
Others are covering coughs and sneeze as well as staying at home and away from others especially when sick.
He also urged the private sector to adopt new ways of working such as establishing staff to work from home where possible and other measures to reduce the risk of infections in the workplace.
“For the government this means preparing for the worst, having a system that works in every corner of the country to detect and care for people in case of large-scale community transmission,” he said.
Already, Kasai said, COVID-19 had upended millions of peoples’ lives and had caused a major economic impact on the world.
He said that the governments in the region were making “extremely complex decisions about introducing or enhancing or easing or lifting lockdowns and physical distancing measures.
“As we move forward in these difficult times, our lives, our health systems and approach to stopping transmission must continue to adapt and evolve along with the epidemic.”
According to him, until a vaccine is found, the process of adapting to the epidemic will have to become a new normal.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to doing this but WHO strongly urges that decisions on measures be guided by public health principles, the lifting of lockdowns, and other measures that need to be done gradually.
“If restrictions are relaxed or lifted before the strong system is in place to identify, isolate and care for this sick, and trace and quarantine their contacts, this will likely lead to a resurgence of diseases,” he warned.
“As long as the new coronavirus is circulating no country is safe from potentially overwhelming outbreaks,” Kasai added, stressing the need to be vigilant and to work together to contain the viral disease.
Kasai also welcomed efforts by countries with COVID-19 experience like China to share with other countries in the region, their best practices on how to control the disease.
“And I think it’s very important the countries which have the experience to share those experiences with the countries that are really trying to ramp up their effective response. And I really wanted to continue to encourage and support that kind of things occur in these missions,” he said.
PMB to receive progress report on FCT, Lagos, Ogun
Meanwhile, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 will by the end of this week submit a new report to President Muhammadu Buhari on the level of compliance and impact of the lockdown on Abuja, as well as Lagos and Ogun States to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Chairman of PTF and Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, gave the hint yesterday at the national daily briefing on COVID-19 pandemic in Abuja.
Mustapha, who said the taskforce has continued to evaluate the impact of the lockdown ahead of the submission of its latest report to Buhari, however, noted that despite general compliance, more work was needed to create awareness among the people.
He noted: „While the PTF continues to assess the impact of the lockdown preparatory to the submission of a Report to Mr President, we have observed general compliance with the restrictions. However, much more work shall be required in the creation of awareness among the people and securing the buy-in of stakeholders.
“I find it necessary to remind us all that this COVID-19 pandemic is not a joke and it is a global pandemic. I therefore renew the appeal of the PTF to all Nigerians to view it as such and comply with all advisories and directives in the interest of humanity“.
The SGF added that more discoveries are being made from the PTF‘s collaboration with states of the federation as reports of such collaborations will soon be out.
“There is obvious need to support the states in strengthening coordination across board. More guidance should be provided in the area of non-pharmaceutical interventions Particular attention is to be focused on some states with heavy burden, particularly, Kano; and priority is being placed on Intensive State Level Support“, he stated.
Mustapa further revealed that the PTF has approved the distribution plans for medical equipment and consumables available in stock to the states, adding that the physical distribution shall commence immediately.
“This will be in addition to the Jack Ma equipment and materials already shared to the states,“ he added.
The SGF singled out media practitioners and frontline health workers, among other stakeholders, for their professionalism and hard work respectively in the war against COVID-19 even, as he called for unity of purpose among all stakeholders in order to win the battle.
He continued: „Let me once again thank the Media for the tremendous support we continue to receive. I similarly thank the selflessness of our frontline health workers for their professionalism and hard work.
“We stand with you as you work to save lives. I equally thank countless public-spirited Nigerians, corporate organizations, faith based organisations, etc for demonstrating unparalleled commitment to the survival of our nation and for being your brothers’ keeper.
“I consider it apt to repeat that this is the time for all hands to be on deck so that the PTF can improve on its delivery. Unity of purpose is critical. Everybody has a role to play for self, for family, for community, for the nation and for humanity“.
PMB writes CJN, orders another pisons decongestion
President Muhammadu Buhari has called for urgent measures towards the speedy trial of cases and decongestion of custodial centres in the country in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the president drew His Lordship’s attention to the recent call by the United Nations on all countries “to consciously reduce the population of prison inmates since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible.”
A statement by his special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, quoted President Buhari as stating in the letter: “From available records, the inmates population at various custodial centres across the country presently stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs).
“Most of these custodial centres are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control.”
In view of the above scenario, the President said, “It has become imperative for Your Lordship to request State Chief Judges to embark on immediate visit to all custodial/correctional centres within their respective States to identify and release deserving inmates where that has not been done already.”
He noted that during such visits, “the Chief Judges are enjoined to consider conditional or unconditional release of ATPs who have spent 6 years or more in custody. ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged.
“It is expected that particular attention should be on the aged, those with health issues, low risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, inmates convicted for minor offences with or without option of fines and inmates who have less than 3 years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract 5 years and above.
“Payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines,” Buhari added.
He further said a Report on the proposed visits is expected to be forwarded to the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion Secretariat, Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja for compilation and onward transmission to his office.
He also suggested to the CJN to “at this stage, consider taking immediate steps as appropriate to ensure the setting up or designation of Special Courts in all States, including the FCT, to try cases of armed robbery, banditry, kidnapping and other serious offences, in order to facilitate speedy trials.”
In addition, President Buhari said, “There is the need to ensure that the Chief Judges of States and FCT High Courts direct lower courts to comply with requirements of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/Law in issuing remand warrants in criminal cases especially in cases which are not within their jurisdiction.”
According to him, “this will regulate the volume of entry of Awaiting Trial Inmates into custodial centres.”
UN warns of global hunger
Meanwhile, as the World Health Organisation kicks against attempt by countries to lift lockdowns, the United Nations (UN) has cautioned that the number of people facing acute food insecurity could nearly double this year to 265 million due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.
According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the impact of lost tourism revenues, falling remittances and travel and other restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic are expected to leave some 130 million people acutely hungry this year, adding to around 135 million already in that category.
“COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” chief economist and director of research, assessment and monitoring at the World Food Programme (WFP), Arif Husain, said.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have hit nearly 2.5 million globally.
Businesses are coping with lost revenue and disrupted supply chains as factory shutdowns and quarantine measures spread across the globe, restricting movement and commerce.
Unemployment is skyrocketing, while policymakers across countries race to implement fiscal and monetary measures to alleviate the financial burden on citizens and shore up economies under severe strain.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had on April 9 said the coronavirus pandemic had instigated an economic downturn the likes of which the world has not experienced since the Great Depression.
On April 15, the IMF had also warned economies in Asia would see no growth this year, for the first time in 60 years, with the service sector particularly under pressure.
Osinbajo, IMF, W/Bank review FG’s economic stimulus package
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday held an online meeting with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
The meeting, anchored via videoconferencing from the presidential villa, Abuja, deliberated on how the agencies could collaborate with Nigeria in the planned additional economic stimulus packages to address the fallout of COVID-19 pandemic.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on March 30 set up the Economic Sustainability Committee(ESC) headed by the vice president to develop a clear economic sustainability plan until 2023.
The committee was tasked with identifying fiscal and monetary measures to enhance oil and non-oil revenues in order to fund the plan, develop a stimulus package and come up with measures to create more jobs while keeping existing ones.
Buhari had also approved an initial economic stimulus package of N500 billion.
The global economy is expected to go into recession in 2020, while the IMF has predicted that Nigeria will go into recession to a level of negative 3.4 per cent.
The ESC had expressed optimism that with the plans it had drawn, Nigeria would be able to return to positive growth by 2021.
Coronavirus vaccine to be tested in UK from Thursday
Human trials of a potential Coronavirus vaccine developed at Oxford University are to begin on Thursday, Britain’s Health secretary Matt Hancock announced yesterday.
Speaking at the daily 10 Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock said the government was „throwing everything“ at the vaccine drive and announced he was providing £20 million to the Oxford team to help fund their clinical trials, with a further £22.5 million going to researchers at Imperial College London.
Oxford Vaccinology professor Sarah Gilbert said that the inoculation being developed by her team could be ready for use as early as September, despite the search for an effective vaccine normally taking as long as 18 months.
Hancock said, “The team have accelerated that trials process, working with the regulator the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency), who have been brilliant.
“As a result, I can announce that the vaccine from the Oxford project will be trialled in people from this Thursday.”
Minister warns against fake COVID-19 drug
The federal government has warned Nigerians against resort to the use of a ‘fake vaccine’ produced in Kano for the treatment of the novel coronavirus.
\Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, gave the warning in Abuja during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
He said; “In the absence of vaccine or drugs, Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention NPI remains the most effective way to contain the spread of the disease and protect Nigerians. By the way, you must have heard of the vaccine being hawked in Kano which is called ‘COVID-19 Vaccine’. It is yellow in colour. It is not certified by anybody.
„Please, do not patronise the hawkers. In the meantime, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has taken steps to prevent misinformation via the broadcast stations by warning them to adhere strictly to the professional ethics of balance and fairness in reporting COVID-19.
“In particular, the commission has warned the stations against bringing on their programmes ‘panellists’ with agenda to make reckless statements and insinuations,” he said.
NCDC, WHO tour sates to assess readiness
The federal government has said that the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) representative on the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 have been touring the states to assess and standardise their infrastructure and their readiness.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, who stated this during the daily briefing on COVID-19, yesterday in Abuja, said that the NCDC DG and WHO representative have so far visited six states across the country.
He listed the states visited to include Imo, Anambra, Rivers, Delta, Katsina and Kano, with three more states to be covered by today.
Mustapha reiterated that the lockdown and the subsequent extension was to slow down the spread of the virus by minimizing contact and congregation of people and to enable government put in place necessary infrastructure, train personnel, take delivery and distribute essential equipment and materials in readiness for any eventuality.
“While the PTF continues to assess the impact of the lockdown preparatory to the submission of a Report to Mr President, we have observed general compliance with the restrictions. However, much more work shall be required in the creation of awareness among the people and securing the buy-in of stakeholders”, he stated.
On states support, the SGF said there was obvious need to support the states in strengthening coordination across board, adding that particular attention is to be focused on some states with heavy burden, particularly, Kano.
„I am pleased to inform you that as part of the support to the states, the PTF has approved the distribution plans for medical equipment and consumables available in stock to the states. The physical distribution shall commence immediately. This will be in addition to the Jack Ma equipment and materials already shared to the states,“ he stated.
The minister of state for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Momora, said they are assessing additional laboratories for accreditation and will announce more laboratories soon.
He said active case search in communities is ongoing, adding that the strategy requires more testing kits and diagnostics.
He emphasised the use of face masks, saying it has been scientifically proven to reduce spread of respiratory infection, while also urging all Nigerians to practice hand and respiratory hygiene, avoid mass gathering.
On confirmed cases, he said, „As of today, 21st April, 2020, a total of 665 people in 24 states and the FCT have been confirmed to have COVID-19. The 38 new confirmations are distributed as follows: 23 in Kano, 5 in Gombe, 3 in Kaduna, 2 in Borno and Abia and 1 each in FCT, Sokoto and Ekiti. 22 deaths have been recorded so far, and 188 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Nigeria and have been discharged.“
Doctor tests positive for Coronavirus in Ekiti after treating patient
In what appeared to be the fourth Covid-19 case in Ekiti State, a medical doctor with a private clinic yesterday reportedly tested positive to the dreaded viral disease.
The medical practitioner was said to have contracted the disease while treating a pregnant woman who was last Saturday confirmed by Governor Kayode Fayemi as the third case in the state.
The 29-year old woman, who is a health worker with Lagos State government, was last week discovered to be infected with the virus while in labour.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr Mojisola Yaya-Kolade, who confirmed the development to journalists in Ado Ekiti said only one doctor tested positive with 15 turning out to be negative among the blood samples taken to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
„Yes, we have one doctor who tested positive and he is being treated at the isolation centre, but others were negative“, he stated.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Ekiti chapter, has called for adequate protection for medical workers through provision of life insurance and other measures as a doctor reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
The association also expressed delight at the news that 15 doctors working with the Federal Teaching Hospital, Ido Ekiti, tested negative, describing it as cheering news to members of the profession.
Sokoto, Abia Ttrace contacts of three cases
Following the discovery of an index case of COVID-19 in Sokoto, the state commissioner of Health, Dr Muhammad Ali Inname has said they have commenced tracing of contacts of the index case.
Inname assured that the state will activate its COVID-19 testing centre in two days following the arrival of NCDC in the state.
The commissioner, who spoke yesterday at the state NUJ secretariat while giving update on the development, added that they will trace and test all those that had contact with the index case in the last two weeks.
He said, „We are in serious emergency case. We have a patient in our isolation center now. I will brief you on the full history of the index case hence that will enable us have better information of contact tracking and tracing.
„Those that had contacts with the index case in the last two weeks will be tracked and tested.
„His immediate family members will also be tested. We are still investigating how he got infected as he assured that he has no travel records recently“.
Similarly, Abia State government has commenced tracing of those who may have had contact with the two confirmed index cases of coronavirus in the state.
The commissioner of Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, hinted this in a press statement he issued following the confirmation of the report by the NCDC.
He said the cases were reported in Ukwa and Umuahia North local government areas, adding that the patients who are both advanced in age and stable are currently at an isolation center receiving medical attention.
Kwankwaso donates 60-bed jospital as isolation centre
Meanwhile, former governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, has donated a 60-bed space hospital as isolation centre to cushion the effect of Coronavirus in the state.
A statement signed yesterday by his media aide, Mr Saifullahi Hassan, noted that the hospital named Amana Hospital was newly built, fully equipped with 60-beds capacity.