By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA – The Federal Government has said it will only re-open the nation’s economy fully when it is able to strike a delicate balance between safety and economic considerations.
This was as it explained the whereabouts of a 15-member Chinese Medical Team after initially engaging in several backs and forth on the issue.
It also lamented the growing number of casualties with regards to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying many of those who died recently, apart from having some underlying illnesses, had embarked on some form of self-medication or home care.
These were disclosed Tuesday in Abuja during the daily briefing of the Presidential Taskforce PTF on Covid-19.
The federal government also announced that it has met the relevant committees of the National Assembly in its bid to deepen its collaboration with the legislature and strengthen its National Response to the pandemic.
It added that about five drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, are currently being analysed by research institutes in the country to determine their efficacy in the treatment of Covid-19.
Reopening the Economy
Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha said the decision of government to extend the eased lockdown for another two weeks is to effectively contain the virus before fully reopening the economy fully.
Mustapha added that he has taken delivery of the Madagascar Covid-19 Syrup, stating that he would engage the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire in that regard.
He said; “Yesterday, the PTF comprehensively conveyed Mr. President’s directive on extending the eased lockdown for another two weeks in the bid to further contain and control the spread of the disease.
“This well-considered decision was taken out of an abundance of caution, current experiences from different countries and expert advice. I must add also that we were persuaded by the history of global pandemics because it is replete with evidence of exponential rise in pandemic upon early lifting of restrictions, for which the 1918 – 1920 influenza remains the most recent example in human history.
“Nigeria, judging from these historical perspectives, must in our present approach, delicately balance between safety and economic considerations before we reopen the economy, fully. Again, I wish to repeat that the decision is not punitive, we share your pains and also share your concerns. However, our future remains in our hands and compliance is one of the keys to opening that future.
“I must also emphasise that the two additional weeks should be utilized by businesses, offices, professional bodies, places of worship, educational institutions, etc awaiting reopening to plan and adopt new strategies under a COVID-19 era in line with the guidelines. Above all, behavioral change is a must for every citizen because COVID 19 has changed the world completely.
Engagement with NASS
“As part of our engagement strategy, the PTF met with the Joint Health Committees of the National Assembly, today, to seek further collaboration and support for the battle. We robustly presented the Health Sector Response to the pandemic. As expected, the interactive session was very useful and the PTF COVID-19 received a re-assurance of the support from the legislature”.
We’re not paying for Madagascar Syrup
“We have repeatedly said here that we did not ask for it. It was given to us by the government of Madagascar to African countries as its contribution to wanting to find a solution to Covid-19 pandemic. And I have repeatedly said that our consignment and that of West Africa were dropped in Guinea-Bissau. We were making arrangements to go and airlift, but as God would have it, the President of Guinea-Bissau decided to visit our President last Saturday. So, when he was coming, he came with our consignment of five cartons and those five cartons were delivered to me yesterday in the evening, sealed.
“I am going to engage the Minister of Health who has responsibility of validation through his institutions that are chartered by law to do that and the President was upfront with that even when he took the delivery from the President of Guinea-Bissau. He said it quiet clearly that what we were going to do with the consignment will be guided by science. After the processes of validation, we will now know where to go.
“In terms of the question of whether it comes with a cost, well it was handed to me without an invoice. So, I assume it doesn’t come with any cost. That is my assumption. For that, I think the Madagascar issue and the Chinese issue should be laid to rest because these two issues are not central to the problem that we have at hand now. So, we should try as much as possible to minimise the judicious use of our time to deal with important issues. I believe you (the media) will support us in this cause, that these two issues should be laid to rest”, he stated.
Mustapha advised those who are infected to seek help rather than going underground.
“For those who are struggling with the disease, help is available. Do not go underground. It is important to talk about it and to seek help. Every effort spares humanity the agony of the spread of the virus”, he stated.
Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire added that many recent cases of fatalities were as a result of the preference of some patients for home care, rather than accessing official treatment.
He said; “It is of great importance that we, members of the health sector and citizens, endeavor to use this period to dedicate their effort to strive for the best, but also prepare for the worst. As we learn more about coronavirus every day, we must be ready to adjust our strategy, based on knowledge and evidence.
“1, 644 patients have been treated and discharged from care, but we have sadly recorded 191 deaths in 26 states and the FCT. Even though this figure seems low compared to other countries, a disturbing picture emerging from statistics is that not only are most fatalities observed to be linked with preexisting diseases, many are educated, well-to-do people, who chose home-based care, where they develop sudden complication and have to be rushed to hospital. Experience is showing that breathing complications in COVID-19 patients can arise with little or no notice. This is an added reason why all persons should seek medical attention when they test positive.
Research on drugs
“We do not support self-medication. There are medicines that should not be in your hands except they are prescribed by your doctor. There is a study being down on the efficacy of some drugs by about five centres in our country. Hydroxychloroquine is one of them. When the result is out, I will let you know. But do not take medications on your own because you can do considerable harm to yourself”, he added.
He advised Nigerians to always check for the NAFDAC numbers of hand sanitizers they are buying as well as verifying that the ingredients used in making such sanitizers are displayed on the body, with one of them being at least 60 percent alcohol.
No reward for states with low or higher cases
Director General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu dismissed speculations that the federal government has a financial reward for states with high number of Covid-19 cases.
He said; “None of them. Whether you report more or less, there is no direct relationship between the number of cases and how much support you get. So, I do not see the benefit of either reporting more or reporting less. In our situation report today which we have made public following your request, the number of tests that every state in Nigeria has carried out so far, I think the data speaks for itself”.
C’ttee on post-COVID-19 initiatives
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed announced that his ministry has set up a Committee on Post-Covid-19-Initiatives for the Creative Industry.
“If you recollect, I announced the establishment of the committee two weeks ago, when I met with members of the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria BON.
“The Committee comprises 22 members drawn from the various sectors of the Creative Industry. The number of members increased from the 14 that was initially announced to 22, as we brought in more sectoral representatives.
“The Committee is to:- assess the expected impact of the pandemic on the industry in general; advise the Government on how to mitigate job and revenue losses in the sector as well as to create succour for the industry small businesses; Suggest the type of taxation and financing that is best for the industry at this time to encourage growth and advise the Government on any other measure or measures that can be undertaken to support the industry.
“The establishment of the committee was necessitated by the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Creative Industry, which is very key to the nation’s economy and also a major plank of the economic diversification policy of this Administration”, he stated.
Decontamination of Airports, Planes
Minister of Environment, Dr Mohammed Mahmood Abubakar also spoke on how far the ministry has decontaminated some places in the country, including airports and planes.
“So far, there is a team in the Northwest right now even working at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. Over the weekend, they decontaminated and disinfected the Nigerian Defence Academy NDA and some other places, the courthouses around there. Again, tomorrow, the teams in South-South and Southeast will commence the decontamination and disinfection starting particularly in Edo and Anambra. Equally, next week, we will have the team that will start in the Northeast, Adamawa, Gombe and places like that. Then, the same next week, our team will continue in Lagos where we have been doing a lot of decontamination and disinfection because of the situation on ground right from the beginning.
“As for the aviation industry, I told you earlier that this is an industry that is different. You have to tread carefully because of its safety kind of structure. One of the issues really have to do with the kind of chemicals being used for decontamination and disinfection. The industry wants to see in relation to how it will affect their equipment, the aircraft. This is very important. We will be visiting with the officials of the aviation industry to do that”, he stated.
Free data for e-Learning
Minister of State, Education, Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba said most of the electronic learning resources of the ministry can be accessed by students using free data.
He said; “I have answered this question before, where I explained that almost all our online services have been granted data-free status by all the major networks as part of the collaboration they have already rolled out with us. So, if you go to any of our e-Learning platforms, most of them are already accessible using free data. They have also gone ahead, I am sure, to generally reduce data offers as part of what they are offering. But that is available for everybody. However, for the specific education websites, they have already granted free data”.
No immediate access for Nigerians in France
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama said Nigerians who are in France and seeking to come into the country through Cotonou in Benin Republic would not be granted immediate access.
He said; “For Nigerian citizens in France who were enquiring whether they could safely board an Air France plane destined for Cotonou with the assumption that they can then cross into Nigeria, the thing is that we have a protocol in place. We can only take people according to the number of facilities that we have available, where they would be quarantined for two weeks and when we have adequate staffing to monitor them for that period of two weeks. That is really the precondition for an approval for anybody to come into the country from outside.
“I have reported here in the past that we have taken in almost 100 Nigerians who have come in through the land borders from Togo, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. So, the possibility is there, but first, we have to be sure that we have the requisite capacity to take in those people. So, the simple answer to them in this particular case is, if it is the case that they have already bought tickets and have boarded the flight or are about to board the flight, when they get to Cotonou if it is a fait accompli, we will, as in the past liaise with our Charge de Affaires in Cotonou and with the two states, depending on the borders that they choose to go through and to see what capacity they might be in and see how we can process them from Cotonou. But there is certainly no guarantee that they will have immediate access to the country until such a time that they can be absorbed. We also do not know the number of those who might have boarded that flight.
“On the 13, 000 students in Malaysia under threats of deportation presumably for overstaying their visas, because I do not know what the reason will be for such deportation. But we have not in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gotten such information. Ordinarily, if such a thing were to happen or to be considered, our Embassy there would have informed us and we would have engaged with the Malaysian government in respect of that. But the global practice at the moment is that every country knows that the air space have been closed all around the world and that there are people in those countries who for no fault of their own might be forced to overstay the duration of their visas. So, it is not the practice at the moment for governments to unilaterally embark on issues of deportation. That is certainly not how such matter would be dealt with if indeed that is the case with Malaysia”, he added.
Chinese Team still in Nigeria
Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola disclosed that the 15-member Chinese medical team came into Nigeria on the bill of CCECC and that they are still in the country.
He said; “Indeed, 15 Chinese nationals came into Nigeria on April 8, 2020 and from everything we have heard and said, they are here on the bill of CCECC, a Chinese company working in Nigeria, doing some work for us in several places and in conjunction with some Nigerian companies agree to support us in the effort to respond to the Pandemic. At Idu in Abuja, they participated in retrofitting and equipping the isolation there. They equally worked on the Dome project that was handled by the NNPC Consortium in conjunction with Thisday. So, those were the locations in which they came to work. They helped in retrofitting the two facilities and installing critical, essential and sensitive medical equipment. They came in, 15 of them, on April 8. They came on a 30-day Visa issued in Beijing. They are still here. I do not need to tell you why they are still here. They are still here not because they have not completed their job but because there is a restriction on travels in Nigeria occasioned by the protocol of Covid-19”.
Senate on Mental Health Bill
Senate’s Committee Vice Chairman on Health, Sadiq Umar said the lawmakers were working on a Mental Health Bill to assist the country handle such medical cases.
“I can tell you authoritatively that this Senate is aware of how antiquated our mental health laws are. So, as of today, Sen. Yahaya Oloriegbe has sponsored a new robust Mental Health Bill that has passed the first and second reading and has been referred to the committee for the final preparation to pass. Unfortunately, with Covid-19, we cannot have public hearing but I can assure you that he is the Chair of the Committee too. So, as soon as we can have public hearing, this bill will be passed expeditiously.
“Mental Health is equally as important to us in the Senate that another Senator, Shettima also brought another bill on Mental Health. It has passed the first reading and is about to go for the second reading. So, be rest assured that mental health concern will be robustly taken care of by this National Assembly”, he added.