*Virus now in 536 LGs as FG extends eased lockdown by four weeks
By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA—The federal government has expressed its readiness to reopen the nation’s airspace for international flights in ‘a matter of weeks’.
This was as it lamented the growing wave of community transmission of Covid-19, saying the virus has now made incursions into 536 out of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas.
Consequently, the government has extended the current phase of the eased lockdown by another four weeks while planning towards re-opening of the airspace for international flights.
Also, the 10 .m. to 4p.m. curfew, limitation on mass gatherings and virtual holding of government meetings remain in place.
It noted that in the last month, the number of states with over 1, 000 confirmed cases increased from 4 to 10 and the FCT.
Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce PTF on Covid-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha disclosed this during Thursday’s briefing of the taskforce.
He lamented the increased non-compliance with non-pharmaceutical prevention measures; lack of enforcement of necessary guidelines issued to preserve lives; insufficient engagement by some states with the national response; as well as “a lingering concern about the gap between identified cases and the actual burden of disease; and apathy, fatigue and disbelief combining to challenge public enlightenment, compliance and behaviour change.
“Community transmission is increasing, as reflected in the fact that 536 Local Government Areas – 69% 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 the short, medium and long-term basis”.
Int’l Flights, NYSC
National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu on his part said the taskforce 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 has been told to start working towards resumption in the next phases of the eased lockdown.
He said; “The restrictions in the entertainment and education sector 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 regards 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 reooen 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”, he added.
Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control NCDC Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu said the National Council on Health which held its meeting on Thursday resolved that the sector must continue to work harder to halt the spread of the virus in order to be able to fully reopen the economy.
According to him, until there is a vaccine, workers in the health sector cannot relax in the battle against Covid-19.
“What we collectively agreed was in order for our economy to reopen, in order for our country to restart slowly, in order for the full benefits of the eased of restriction to manifest, we on the public health side have the responsibility to strengthen our response.
“Until we have a vaccine there won’t be a point where we would say, okay, let us relax. That is completely out of the question. The meeting we had today with the Honourable Commissioners of Health was to really encourage ourselves, you know, the motivation to keep going in spite six months of really tough work”, he said.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika said the resumption of international flights is not solely an aviation function as the main consideration is the health of the people.
According to him, while the industry would love to reopen fully so as to make money and save jobs, the reality on ground is such that it has to work with relevant stakeholders before reopening the airspace for international flights.
FCT threatens to shut schools
Meanwhile, the Federal Capital Territory Administration FCTA said it will not hesitate to shut down any school within the territory that violates the Covid-19 guidelines recommended for the safety of their students in exit classes who are resuming for their examinations.
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 cannot afford to expose the students to the danger of contracting the virus, and therefore will not compromise the guidelines for the resumption of the schools.
“Any school that fails to comply, we will do everything within our power to safeguard the students and such schools would likely be shut down through legal processes while the students will have to go and 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.
“The FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello has been very clear about it, that he is not going to risk the life of any student or teacher. He said everyone must come in within the context of safety”, Attah said.
He noted most of the public and private schools his team visited to ascertain their level of compliance, had shown about 80 percent in their preparedness to the safety of students and teachers in their respective schools, by providing adequate handwashing hand points, sanitizer and decontaminated environment.
“From our own point, it is already encouraging in the sense that the schools we have been to, both government and private, if we assess them at a point of average, you will score them about 85 percent in terms of preparedness. They have complied. You could see hand washing points, hand sanitizers and there was also social distancing in their classrooms”, he said.