Bolaji Ogundele and Moses Emorinken, Abuja
There will be no precision lockdown in 11 “high-burden” local government areas, where Coronavirus is prevalent, the government said on Monday.
Seven of these councils are in Lagos – which is the epicenter of the virus in the country – with others in Kano, Bayelsa and two others in unnamed states.
National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 Control Dr. Sani Aliyu said at a briefing in Abuja on Monday that closing down those local government councils will be akin to closing down the states.
He said the geographical nature of the councils make it impracticable to do isolated lockdown.
According to him, the PTF was working with the affected councils through risk communication and community engagement as part of the means of intervention to reduce the high infection rate.
“We have 11 high-burden local government areas we’ve identified, we are doing a lot of works in these local government areas, especially as it relates to risk communication and community engagement activities.
“We are also trying to improve testing, particularly in Lagos where seven of the 11 local governments are; we are improving case management, discussing with the various states in terms of improving access to care, access to oxygen and so on.
“For instance, if we were to lockdown those local government areas in Lagos, we’ll have to lockdown the entire state. States like Bayelsa, where in Yenagoa, which is the local government with the a high-burden, if we lock Yenagoa down, virtually all the roads across the state have to go through this local government.
“Technically it will be very difficult, we know if the interventions that we proposed are being implemented and people are cooperating, you don’t actually need to lock people down at all”, he said.
PTF Chairman Boss Mustpha said inbound passengers from foreign trips will henceforth be tested for COVID-19 on arrival at the Nigeria airports.
Mustpha, also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), added: “Considering the importance of international air travel to the economy, the PTF and the Aviation sector are working hard to fast track reopening of the international airspace.
“Most importantly, the arrival protocols for passengers on inbound flights are being firmed up for seamless testing and detection.
“Relevant Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) will hold further consultations,” he said.
Mustapha urged Nigerians to be patient and await the date for the resumption of international flights, as no date had been fixed yet.
The SGF said: “The Aviation sector has been working assiduously to develop the protocols for the resumption of international air services.
“PTF remains conscious of the significant contributions of air travels to economic growth, and shall continue to push for a safe resumption.
“The next phase is for the aviation regulators to engage with other stakeholders to facilitate an integrated and seamless resumption of international flights.”
The PTF Chairman said phase two of the eased lockdown, which ought to have ended tomorrow, had been extended by one more week.
According to Mustapha, the one week extension had been necessitated by the fact that the end of phase two coincides with Eid-el-Kabir celebrations.
“We informed you two weeks ago that the process of submitting the Sixth Interim Report and recommendations for next steps had commenced. The PTF has reached advanced stages of the process.
“It has also considered that due to the upcoming Sallah (Eid El-Kabir) festivities which coincides with the expiration of the current phase, it would be prudent to extend by one week, from 29th July, till 6th August, 2020.
“It has accordingly secured permission to retain the existing guidelines till that date”, he said.
He also urged Muslims to continue to adhere strictly to the protocols to curb the spread of the virus, during the Eid-el-kabir celebration.
“Similarly, the PTF appreciates the Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), who has always been a great champion in the fight against the pandemic for advising Muslims to avoid massive gatherings at Eid grounds and pray at Area Mosques under prescribed protocols”, he said.
Mustapha remarked that the PTF has continued to evaluate the developments as well as the level of compliance nationwide and has “regrettably come to the inevitable conclusion that majority of Nigerians irrespective of status, creed and level of education continue to live in denial on the virulent nature of the virus and consistently breach the guidelines and non-pharmaceutical measures put in place.”
Citing the increasing cases of COVID-19 around the world, Mustapha pointed out that people of 50 years and above are the most at risk of the virus infection in Nigeria as he stressed the need for citizens to comply with prescribed protocols.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, reiterated that the target it set nearly three months ago, to test two (2) million persons for COVID-19 by the end of July, is not the sole target for the agency but that of the country as a whole.
He said although it has not yet reached the target, the agency now has in its network of labs, 60 testing sites for COVID-19 scattered across the country, and it plans to increase the numbers and capacity.
Ihekweazu said: “On testing, our target actually was to test two million by the end of this month. But always remember that the purpose of testing is not necessarily the target itself. The purpose of setting a target is to mobilise action towards that goal.
“When we set that target, we had many states that were resisting testing. Now every state in Nigeria is at least coming forward to test. We have 60 laboratories across the country; we have activated GeneXperts sites. We have 60 sites altogether.
“Yes, we are not yet at that target, but what we have done is mobilize the entire country towards this. The test in itself is not the end – it is a window into a spectrum of both clinical care and public health that is now mobilising itself across the country to improve the response.
“Yes, we have not met the target collectively because it is a Nigerian target and not an NCDC target, but I think what that target has done is focus our minds on what needs to be done in order to respond to this outbreak.”