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05 May 2020

Prepare for fresh total lockdown if COVID-19 cases rise, says PTF

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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