COVID-19: Nigerian Government further relaxes lockdown measures

Nigerian Government on Thursday announced the adjustment to measures imposed on the country to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, who announced this during a press briefing at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, on Thursday Abuja said the adjustment which involves further relaxation of lockdown measures to control COVID-19 and opening of more social – economic sectors were approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.  

He, however, said  the country “is not ready for full-scale re-opening of the economy.”

The SGF expressed the belief that while Nigeria is not ready for a full re-opening of the economy, there has been sufficient progress to warrant further relaxation of restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the virus.

“Based on the foregoing, the PTF today submitted its 7th Interim Report to President Muhammadu Buhari for his consideration and approval.

“The main thrust of the recommendation is that Nigeria advances to the third phase of eased restrictions with further amendments, to address economic, socio-political, and health concerns.

“This will last till a time when the epidemic is sufficiently controlled in Nigeria,” he said.

Mustapha said that President Buhari had considered and approved transition into the third phase of the National Response to the pandemic for a period of four weeks, with effect from 12.01am on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020 in line with amendments to address economic, socio-political, and health considerations reflected in the implementation guidelines.

He said that the President had considered the fact that the six-month mandate of the PTF would expire in September and had extended it till the end of December.

Mustapha noted that the global response had continued to witness huge deployment of resources and collaborative efforts to combat the pandemic and that the global statistics depicted the virulent nature of the virus.

According to him, the globally confirmed cases of the virus have exceeded 25 million (25,917,000 as of Sept. 2, and that since hitting the 15 million mark, numbers have been increasing by one million cases every three to four days.

“The countries that top the global disease burden include: U.S. (6,257,9380), Brazil (3,952,790), India (3,769,523), and Russia (1,005,000).

“South Africa still has the highest case count in Africa but (this) has fallen from the fifth to the sixth position in the world.

“In Ethiopia, the numbers have been on the increase. Both South Africa and Ethiopia are of interest to Nigeria in view of the passenger traffic between Nigeria and the two countries and our plans to reopen the international air space,” the SGF said.

Speaking on global efforts on vaccine development and production, he said that the global community had made appreciable progress in that sphere and that as of Aug. 28, a total of 173 candidate vaccines had undergone evaluation.

He said that 33 candidate vaccines were under clinical evaluation (with eight in phase three trials), while 143 candidate vaccines were undergoing pre-clinical evaluation.

“The PTF continues to monitor developments so that the country can benefit from the emergence of an effective vaccine,” he said.

Speaking on testing for the virus in the country, Mustapha said, “The PTF is particularly disturbed by the low level of sample collection because of what it portends for the strategy of testing, detection, tracing, isolation, and treatment.

“For example, in July, seven states reported lower number of samples collected than in the preceding month.

“But in August this number rose to 32 states. This illustrates that in spite of the increased diagnostic capacity and improved access to testing, the demand remains low with not enough samples being collected.

“Therefore, the recent reduction in cases in some states can be attributed to low testing.”

According to him, the taskforce has  continued to assess developments in the country preparatory to the determination of the next steps to be taken.

He said that as of Sept. 2, the number of confirmed cases in Nigeria was 54,463, with 1,027 recorded deaths.

He also said that between August and September, the number of states with more than 1,000 confirmed cases had increased from 10 to 12, and the FCT.

He added that the Case Fatality Ratio (CFR) had consistently remained at 1.9 per cent, indicating improved case management, resulting in fewer COVID-19 deaths.

“Similarly, the cumulative Test Positivity Ratio (TPR) which shows how many per cent of our total tests are positive, has reduced from 15.2 per cent  at the end of July to 13.3 per cent  at the end of August,” he said.

According to Mustapha, Nigeria now has  68 laboratories in the COVID-19 network, spread across 34 states and the FCT,

He said that the remaining two states – Kebbi and Niger – were  in the pipeline for coverage in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the number of cumulative samples tested has exceeded 400,000.

Key among the new measures was the relaxation of the curfew imposed  from 12 midnight through 4a.m.

Giving further details on the relaxation of the curfew,  the National Coordinator, PTF on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu,  however, explained that people on essential service and travellers returning from abroad were exempted from the curfew.

“I will first of all start with general movement. We are modifying the curfew to commence from 12 midnight to 4a.m. nationwide effective from 12:00 tonight.

“This does not apply to people on essential services and international travellers that may be returning from abroad,” he said.

The News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) reports that the PTF, following the lifting of the lockdown occasioned by the pandemic, had on May 4, 2020, imposed a nationwide curfew from 6p.m. to 8a.m.

Also in June, the PTF reduced the nationwide curfew from 10p.m. to 4a.m. in a bid to limit social interactions and reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. 

Also speaking at the press conference, the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, said there is no going back on the Sept. 5, 2020 date for resumption of international flights as all preparations have been completed.

According to Sirika said all aviation preparations and COVID-19 protocols had been perfected and the airport was set for reopening.

The minister also revealed that Air France, Lufthansa, Ethihad airlines, Air Rwanda, Air Namibia, among others, were banned from coming into the country.

He, however,  said that  British Airways, Delta, Emirates, Qatar, Middle East, Turkish, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines, Virgin Atlantic were among the airlines approved for operations with appropriate COVID-19 protocols.

Sirika further noted that intending passengers must register online, pay for COVID-19 test fee and upload the COVID-19 negative result not older than 72 hours before boarding.

While warning against sharp practices, he said any airline caught with passengers without COVID-19 negative result would be fined $3500 for each passenger and the passenger returned if  he or she was a foreigner.

Giving more insights into the reasons for ban and the principle of reciprocity being applied to some countries, the minister said Nigeria was simply following what each country had done to the country.

The News Agency of Nigeria(NAN), reports that the principle means all countries that have banned flights from Nigeria, will also have planes from their countries banned from entry into Nigeria.

Some of the countries which have already banned flights from Nigeria are in the European Union (EU) as the EU included Nigeria on the banned countries on the first of July, 2020 when they opened their airspace.

NAN reports that an inspection of the airport showed that all areas had been adequately marked for social distancing, with necessary signals placed across the airport.

Also, hand sanitisers, water for hand washing and all necessary non pharmaceutical protocols had been installed at the airports in readiness for the resumption of flights.

Meanwhile, the Chairman, PTF on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha,  expressed worry over increasing cases of COVID-19 in Ethiopia and South Africa.

According to him, South Africa still has the highest case count in Africa but has fallen from the fifth to the sixth position in the world.

“In Ethiopia, the numbers have been on the increase.

“Both South Africa and Ethiopia are of interest to Nigeria in view of the passenger traffic between Nigeria and the two countries and our plans to reopen the international air space,” Mustapha said.

The SGF, the Minister of Aviation, Health Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed; and Minister of State for Health, Sen. Olorunnimbe Mamora, among other top government officials, took a tour of facilities put in place at the airport to assess the level of preparedness for Saturday’s reopening of the country’s to international air travels.