*FG mulls travel ban over new strain of virus
*Orders workers on GL12 and below to stay at home for 5 weeks
*Schools to remain shut till Jan 18lAbuja, Lagos, Kaduna named as epicenters
*Halt flights from the UK over new strain of Covid-19 — Atiku, others
*200 arrested in Lagos for ignoring safety protocols
*FG not prepared for campaign on Covid-19 vaccination —Senate
*N400bn needed to vaccinate 70% of Nigeria’s population —FG
*Airports fully prepared – FAAN
By Sola Ogundipe, Health Editor, Henry Umoru, Chioma Obinna, Omeiza Ajayi, Victoria Ojeme, Esther Onyegbula & Gabriel Olawale
The Federal Government has expressed concern over the mutated strain of COVID-19 manifesting in the United Kingdom, saying it may impose a travel ban to and from certain parts of the world.
This came as about 40 countries have banned flights from the UK, namely India, Russia, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Lithuania, Latvia, France, Malta, Sweden, Greece, Turkey, Hong Kong, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Estonia.
Also, Jordan, El Salvador, Ireland, Czech Republic, Colombia, Morocco, Chile, Finland, and Argentina have banned travellers from the UK.
The Federal Government also issued fresh guidelines to stem the rising tide of COVID-19, lamenting that the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Lagos and Kaduna states have become the new epicentres of the virus.
This came as former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar asked the Federal Government to immediately restrict flights from the United Kingdom.
Also, public health experts yesterday warned the Federal Government to immediately shut the nation’s airspace against the UK, South Africa and other countries currently witnessing mutant COVID-19 strains.
Meanwhile in Lagos, operatives of the state Police Command have arrested over 200 persons for defying safety measures recently announced by the state government to help contain the spread of COVID-19, which include ban on large gatherings and shut-down of event centres and clubs.
In a related development, the Senate yesterday took a swipe at the Federal Government, expressing lack of confidence in its preparedness to implement COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the country.
But the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, assured Nigerians that the network of airports across the country is fully prepared for the usual surge in passenger traffic during the Yuletide, despite the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel ban to, from other countries on the cards, says Lai Mohammed
Worried about the mutated strain of the virus manifesting itself in the United Kingdom, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the Federal Government may impose a travel ban to and from certain parts of the world.
Mohammed, a member of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, said while the government appreciates the negative economic impact of another lock-down, it would not rule out restriction on movement to and from certain parts of the world.
“We are more concerned about the new strain of COVID-19 which is manifesting itself in the UK; that is the mutated strain.
“It is difficult to detect, it spreads faster and people have been known to die of it within a very short period of its detection. This is a major concern to us as a country.
“While I do not want to pre-empt the PTF because we are meeting this afternoon, it is going to be top on the agenda of our discussions.
“I will not be surprised if that will be the recommendation of the committee which is meeting later today (yesterday).
“This season, many students are coming in from the UK in particular, to come and join their families in Nigeria. Besides, many of our people, because of the traditional links we have with the UK, may want to go there for business or family re-unions.
“It is a very testy time and it might be another dangerous period to transmit this new variant of COVID-19.”
The minister noted that many European countries had banned flights to and from the UK.
According to Mohammed, the Federal Government will not hesitate to give the directive if it was the only way Nigerians can be protected from the agony of the new variant of COVID-19.
Besides measures to prevent the importation of the new virus strain, the minister said government is worried about the spike in infections in the last couple of days.
He enjoined Nigerians to comply with the advisory being regularly issued by the PTF, including the use of face masks, compliance with social distancing protocols, and regular washing of hands with soap and water.
The minister also urged Nigerians to refrain from local or international travels except if absolutely necessary.
FG orders workers on GL12 and below to stay at home for 5 weeks
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, PTF on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha at a briefing yesterday, represented by Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said: “Particularly, Lagos, Kaduna and the FCT have emerged as the new epicentres during this period, with over 70 per cent of all confirmed cases.
“Two major indicators highlight the current increase in cases and transmission across Nigeria. These are:
“Notwithstanding the fact that our testing numbers were fast approaching the peak recorded in July 2020, the number of cases being reported are disproportionately higher. For example, in the FCT, despite recording an increase of 85 per cent in tests conducted over the last week, the number of confirmed cases increased by 285 percent during the same time period; and
“These trends point to a higher Test Positivity Rate (TPR- the number of positive cases detected as a proportion of all tests). The TPR was below five per cent through September and October and we recorded a low point of three per cent nationally in late October 2020. However, recent trends in cases have seen this number increase to 10 per cent in the second week of December.
“These high numbers are further reflected in the increase of admissions to COVID-19 treatment centres and fatalities, particularly in the three epicentre states,” he said.
According to the PTF, the result of the analysis it carried out indicated that the current pattern of spread, and the surge was likely to be driven by lack of compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions, particularly disregard for mask use in public, large gatherings as a result of events linked to the Yuletide season and recent civil demonstrations.
“Further disregard for other public health preventive measures, such as hand hygiene and physical distance requirements; the activities and assumptions of our youthful population which has resulted in an increase in the infection rate among young people, who are subsequently infecting older and more vulnerable family members.
“From our assessment, the current situation are clearly the consequences of certain occurrences and events of the last few weeks. These include: sudden increase in social gatherings involving large congregations from different parts of the country, and the world, at events such as weddings, religious activities, political rallies, conferences and end of year celebrations.
“These events, classified globally as ‘super-spreader events’, make the risk of a single infection causing a large outbreak among attendees significantly higher. Furthermore, as we reopened the economy, we experienced increased economic, social and religious gatherings and activities, all of which have combined to play a part in viral transmissions. These include:
- The opening of the international airspace in September 2020 – While the average number of daily imported infections into the country in the last 90 days is estimated to be about seven cases, compared to 100-150 reported new infections in the community since the beginning of community transmission, the test positivity rate in travellers arriving Lagos has recently doubled to 6.3 per cent;
- The resumption of schools – outbreaks have been reported in schools following the resumption of physical classes;
- The resumption of NYSC orientation camps – this risk has been mitigated by ensuring that all NYSC members were screened for COVID-19 prior to admission to camp, but confirmed cases have still been identified through tests carried out;
- The full opening of offices with the return to work of government workers from GL.12 and below – outbreaks have also been reported in public offices, most likely linked to over-crowding, poor ventilation and the lack of compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions; and
- The opening of the economy with progressive relaxation of restrictions in congregational areas such as places of worship, restaurants, bars, lounges, shopping and event centres,” he stated.
Fresh advisory o state govts
It also issued fresh advisory to state governments, urging them to close all bars, night clubs, pubs and event centres, and recreational venues.
Other advisories are “Close all restaurants except those providing services to hotel residents; takeaways, home deliveries and drive-ins shall remain closed; restrict all informal and formal festivity events including weddings, conferences, congresses, office parties, concerts, seminars, sporting activities, end of year events shall be restricted to not more than 50 persons;
- Limit all gatherings linked to religious events to less than 50 per cent capacity of the facility of use during which physical distancing, mandatory use of face masks shall be strictly enforced.
- Where more than 50 persons are attending, any such events, the gathering should be held outdoors only.
- Public transportation systems are to carry passengers not more than 50 per cent of their capacity in compliance with social distancing rules.
- Enforce compliance with NPI protocols, especially the advisory on wearing of face masks in public spaces.
What states are advised to do
“To reduce overcrowding in public spaces, markets, shopping centres, offices and schools, states are advised to implement the following:
- Encourage virtual meetings in government offices. The leadership of such offices are to ensure that all offices are well-ventilated offices, and encourage staff to work from home where possible;
- All government staff on GL.12 and below are to stay at home for the next five weeks; Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executives are to be held accountable for enforcing NPI rules in their domains with frequent spot checks;
- The PTF on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Education, expects that schools would have vacated from December 18, 2020, and remain closed till at least January 18, 2021, to enable the measures introduced to take effect.
- All persons above the age of 60yrs and/or with co-morbidities are to be encouraged to stay at home and avoid crowds;
- All non-essential travels – both domestic and international, during the holiday season are seriously discouraged;
- To strengthen risk communication and community engagement activities over the next five weeks, states are encouraged to:
—Engage community and religious leaders, arrange town hall meetings (ideally set outdoors) to address concerns;
—Intensify public messaging activities, leveraging on existing government and partner assets;
—Reach out to youths and younger adults with health promotion activities; and
—Invest in local face mask purchase and distribution to the general public to encourage use.”
The PTF added that a lot of discussion is still going on around the calls for the restriction of international travels due to the discovery of new strains of the virus in certain countries.
“The PTF, Aviation and health authorities including the WHO, are assessing the situation closely and would take a position as soon as cogent scientific basis are established. The protection of Nigerians remains our primary concern and we reassure Nigerians of our resolve not to relent.”
Restrict flights from UK now —Atiku
Former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in a statement, yesterday, blamed the first wave of the virus on the response of the Federal Government to the call to close borders.
He said: “The reason Nigeria took a harder than necessary hit during the first wave of the COVID-19 virus is that the Federal Government failed to heed the warnings of well-meaning Nigerians, like myself and others, to shut down our borders once the virus became a pandemic.
“Hindsight is 20/20. Nevertheless, we must learn from history, or we stand the risk of repeating it.
“The new strain of COVID-19 that has erupted in the United Kingdom, and specifically, London, can add to Nigeria’s health emergency if we do not act with an abundance of caution and temporarily halt all flights to and from the UK until this new strain is brought under control.
“Already, prudent nations are taking prompt action, and Nigeria must take necessary precautions due to the volume of air traffic between Nigerian airports and London, where this new strain has erupted.
“We must face the reality that our health sector is not sufficiently prepared to handle a sudden and unpredictable surge of this pandemic. We have already lost lives needlessly. We need not lose more. In the case of this virus, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Don’t compromise 200 million lives in favour of few – Experts
Also, public health experts insisted that the Federal Government should begin stringent enforcement of existing COVID-19 guidelines to prevent further upsurge of new infections in the country.
The experts, who spoke with Vanguard in separate interviews, recommended that government should enforce the compulsory use of face masks by all Nigerians, while all religious’ end-of-year programmes involving large crowds should be suspended immediately.
A public health analyst, Dr Ifeanyi Casmir, said:
“In February, before the country recorded the first case of COVID-19 virus, we shouted that our airspace should be shut down but the government refused because some high-profile persons were out of the country. So, over 200 million people in the country were held to compromise, we were made vulnerable and that could account for the figure of infection rate, morbidity and eventual mortality of COVID-19 we had.
“We have nothing to lose if we ban international flights to see when we can have a break in transmission of new variant of COVID-19 pandemic virus.
“We all know how backward we are as a nation, and we are a poor resource setting country. What is the quality of our laboratory infrastructure? What about human resources and materials that we will use in record time to validate the variant we have here and do a comparison with the one that was recently discovered which is ravaging people?
“Why didn’t we worry, that in less than 48 hours we lost 11 people? It has never happened before, so if we are noticing that COVID-19 patients are now dying faster than before it is something that is supposed to worry us.
“We need to enforce 50 per cent capacity in churches and mosques; we need to deploy Nigeria Civil Defence Corps to public places to enforce non-pharmaceutical guidelines while at the same time trigger the use of mobile courts, particularly, during the Yuletide.”
Study our situation seriously — Prof Tomori
Also, in a chat with Vanguard, a renowned virologist, Prof Oyewole Tomori said, “We should not run into action because everybody is taking the action. We should study our own situation before we make that decision. Actually, there is a series of meeting going on now, analysing Nigeria’s situation. There is also the likelihood that there will be a bigger meeting later today or tomorrow by the Africa CDC. The facts about the new strain of the virus are that it makes transmission easier and faster than before. But there is no new evidence that it causes severe disease.
“But for the fact that it is easier to transmit means that many more people will be infected and that could include people getting more severe disease. On that basis alone, we should consider it very seriously.
“This may be the reasons why we are having this upsurge but we don’t know. I think, soon, the laboratories will confirm whether it is already in Nigeria.”
200 persons arrested in Lagos
In Lagos state, over 200 arrested suspects were paraded, yesterday, at the State Police Command headquarters, Ikeja.
Speaking at the parade, Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu said: “It is now a crime to move around the state without face mask. I personally led the team that went on enforcement of the new rules laid down by the governor of the state. Just like he announced, all schools are to remain closed, concerts, street carnivals, night clubs are banned with immediate effect. The curfew that starts at 12 midnight and ends 4am, is still existing.
“The country cannot risk another lock-down and this plea is for the benefit of all. COVID-19 is real and it is spreading. Religious houses are also aware that they should not exceed 50 per cent capacity and face masks must be worn at all time. We will not tolerate the use of handkerchiefs because it is another way of spreading COVID-19. Anyone that fails to abide by these rules will have their places of worship, clubs, eateries and even supermarkets shut down.
“All those arrested were either found in clubs or moving around without face masks,” he added.
FG not prepared on implementation of COVID-19 vaccination — Senate
Speaking yesterday in Abuja when the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire paid him a courtesy visit, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, who assured that the National Assembly will support the funding required for the exercise, however, led other senators to express doubts with the presentations of officials from the Ministry of Health.
The Senate President also insisted that the minister should provide the list and location of all the infrastructure to be inspected.
Lawan said: “I have not been convinced with your presentation that we are ready. You have to do much more to convince me that we are ready. This is a matter of life and death. In fact, I am a doubting Ahmad.”
Also in his remarks, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who expressed worry that the Federal Government so far has made preparations for only four cold chains for the vaccines, in Abuja, Kano, Enugu and Lagos, asked why the entire South-South region was not included in the plan.
Omo- Agege, who expressed worry that vaccines may lose efficacy in transit to the South-South, charged the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, to be sure citizens especially from the zone, do not end up being inoculated with bad vaccines that may do more harm than good.
‘N400 bn needed to vaccinate 70% of Nigeria’s population’
Earlier, Dr Ehanire, disclosed that about N400 billion would be required to vaccinate 70 percent of Nigeria’s 211 million population, while N156 billion will be needed in 2021 and N200 billion in 2022. He assured the leadership of Senate that government is substantially ready for a successful COVID-19 vaccination of citizens.
The minister explained that the government of Nigeria is in high-level talks with multinational manufacturers and has trained staff as well as put the right cooling infrastructure in place to store the vaccines when they are acquired.
The insisted that the country which has successfully fought polio, was using same cold chains to store the COVID vaccines and urged the Senate to have confidence in the plan for COVID vaccine campaign.
Meanwhile, Director-General of NAFDAC, Mojisola Adeyeye, who apparently forced her way to join the conversation without clearance from the minister, said that the agency as the regulator of drugs consumed by citizens insist that the agency will make sure vaccines acquired by the Federal Government are safe.
Our airports are prepared – FAAN
Mrs Henrietta Yakubu, General Manager, Corporate Affairs of FAAN, in a statement, yesterday, in Lagos, said FAAN has heightened security in all its airports, especially the major international gateways in Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt and Kano.
She noted that necessary infrastructure have been put in place to aid compliance with stipulated protocols on COVID-19.
“At the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and Port-Harcourt International Airport, the new terminals are fully set to host our passengers in safe, secure and very comfortable settings,” Yakubu said.
She added that FAAN has put in place procedures, facilities and systems to ensure safety and security of airport users during the season and beyond.
Yakubu appealed to passengers to arrive at the airports early to conclude all check-in procedures in good time, especially with the added protocols occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and heavy traffic around this time.
This, she said, would be necessary to avoid the experience of missing flights.