Stiffer measures were applied across states of the Federation on Saturday as panic over the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) grew.
The development resulted in the Federal Government and various states announcing stiffer measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease and halt its spread where it has already been recorded.
FCT moves three confirmed cases to isolation centre
There are indications that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) may have confirmed three cases of the virus.
According to unofficial sources, the three were part of other suspected cases. But they were just confirmed and moved to the isolation centre in Gwagwalada.
A medical source who pleaded not to be named, because he was not authorised to speak on the issue told Sunday Tribune that “I am just telling you in confidence that it is true; but I am sure those in charge will soon issue a statement.”
Health authorities within the FCT have commenced contact tracing and other protocols.
Sources at the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) told our correspondent that one of its staff who works in the Department of Finance and Administration had been told to self-quarantine, since his fiancé arrived from the United Kingdom on the same flight that the 30-year-old lady who was discovered to be down with the disease arrived.
“As of Thursday, all biometric sign-in devices at the FIRS headquarters in Abuja had been disabled,” a staff of the service told Sunday Tribune.
Of the three confirmed cases, the first was said to be a 53-year-old military officer who returned to Nigeria on March 14 from the United Kingdom through British Airways. He is in self-isolation.
The second case, according to records available to our reporter, is a 31-year-old male businessman who returned to the country on March 17 from visits to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Switzerland and France.
He returned through Emirates Airline, but did not go into isolation.
The third case involved a 20-year-old female student who arrived on March 18 from the United Kingdom through Lufthansa Airline and had also been freely associating before being discovered to have the disease.
Cases rise to 22
Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, confirmed 10 new cases of the virus, just as the NCDC said Lagos recorded 16 cases; Abuja, three; Ekiti, one; and Ogun, two. Two of the total cases have been discharged, while the remaining cases are clinically stable and receiving adequate care.
According to the minister, all are Nigerians, with nine of them returning from Canada, France, Netherlands, Spain, and UK; one close contact of a known case and all the new cases, however, have mild to moderate symptoms and are being managed at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital and Infectious Disease Hospital, Lagos.
He said that in the FCT, the cases were being treated at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, while those in Lagos were being treated at the Infectious Disease Hospital.
With this information, the country now has a total of 22 confirmed cases.
According to the minister, “nine out of 10 cases have travel history outside Nigeria in the last one week, while the 10th case is a close contact of a confirmed case.”
The minister also urged Nigerians to remain calm and adhere to social distancing and other measures put in place.
“If you have just returned from any country, please, stay in self-isolation for 14 days. Please do not put yourself and others at risk.
“We must strictly observe regular hand washing, non-contact greetings, avoid crowded gatherings and observe the rules of social distancing (two metres),” he said on Saturday on his Twitter handle.
FG to shut down Lagos, Abuja international airports Monday
Following the development, the Federal Government, on Saturday, also confirmed that it would shut down all inbound and outbound flight operations in the Lagos and Abuja international airports with effect from tomorrow.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, confirmed the development in a letter addressed to all airlines’ country managers, dated March 21.
Nuhu explained in a statement that, henceforth, all airports in Nigeria were closed to all incoming international flights with the exception of emergency and essential flights.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the subject of the letter was an “update on clarification on flight restriction into Nigeria, due to Covid-19 pandemic.”
He said: “Further to our earlier letter on restriction of international flights into Nigeria, we wish to inform you that effective March 23 at 23:00 to April 23 at 23:00, the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport Abuja will be closed to all international flights.
“Emergency and essential flight operations are, however, exempted from this restriction. This is in addition to the closure of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; and Port-Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, effective from March 21 at 23:00.”
Nuhu said domestic flights would continue normal operations at all the airports in the country, adding that all airlines were required to submit passenger manifest to Port Health Authorities, prior to arrival of flights into Nigeria.
He advised them to be guided accordingly.
Catholic bans wedding, shaking of hands during mass
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has directed all parishes to suspend the sign of peace (shaking of hands and hugging) during Masses.
The Bishops also said all schools owned by the church should suspend all academic activities, while wedding and social activities in the church remain suspended.
This is contained in a statement issued and signed by the president of CBCN, Most Reverend Augustine Akubueze.
The statement read that “the reality of the fast-spreading coronavirus undoubtedly calls for cooperation by everybody, in order to curtail the rampaging nature of the disease.
“As a church, we shall follow the directives of the state authorities in curbing the spread of the virus. This will inevitably affect the practice of our faith. Aware of the scared responsibilities of our faith and practices, we hasten to urge cooperation with the government concerning the welfare of the citizenry.
“Therefore, we urge all Catholics and people of goodwill to cooperate in the observance of the adjustment we shall make regarding our liturgies. We also recommend Local Ordinary to give directives in their jurisdiction in the context of their specific social experience.”
Church schools, social activities suspended
On the recommendations of the CBCN, the statement said “we recommend the closure of all Catholic schools, from the university to primary levels, until we gain some control over the spread of the disease.
“We encourage small unit congregation assemblies. The faithful are encouraged to continue with private devotions.
“We urge parishes to suspend the Sign of Peace which involves hand shaking and hugging.
“Reception of the Holy Communion should be in such a way as to prevent touching of the recipient. Pastoral care and Sacraments are to be administered with utmost precautions (use hand sanitizers before and after, and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water often).
“Communal holy water use at church entrances should be discouraged for now. Founts are preferable. Burial should be restricted to only the close family members of the deceased. Wedding and social celebrations should be suspended until situation comes under control.
“Prayers and spiritual exercises to be provided in line with Catholic pastoral guidelines. Chaplains are to be identified and communicated to the faithful where they live or work. Catholic hospitals, conference centres and pastoral homes to institute Emergency Response measures (committee, personal protective equipment, including hand sanitizers, face mask, hand washing fonts with liquid soap dispenser, temperature monitor etc).
“Diocesan Health Coordinators are to provide information on available local support systems (telephone numbers of state response centres, hotlines for persons in doubt or need, centre of care for identified cases, etc).
“Catholic health workers are to be engaged for accurate information and professional counseling.”
The Catholic Bishops, while encouraging members to respect the social distance initiative, added; “but we must stand together in heart, mind and spirit. These times call us to reach out to the deepest in store of human kindness. Good neighbourliness comes natural to us. Let us not lose this wonderful gift in these trying times.
“We appeal to all our priests to ensure that adequate care is taken to ensure that lines of communication are open to ensure that the poor and the vulnerable, who live alone, are not abandoned. Standing together, hand in hand, God will see us through all this.”
Lagos to teach English, Maths, others on Radio, TV, social media
In another development, the Lagos State government said it would organise tutorials in eight core subjects for students forced to stay at home over the pandemic.
Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo, disclosed this, during a meeting with private school owners.
The considered subjects are English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, Literature-in-English and Financial Accounting.
The teaching will be done through communication media like television and radio as well as various social media platforms.
‘Don’t go to private tutorial centres’
The Lagos State government also warned against the patronage of private tutorial centres, to avoid the spread of the virus.
A statement issued by the head, Public Affairs Unit of the ministry, Kayode Abayomi, stated that, “the Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Adefisayo, has advised parents against allowing their wards to patronise private tutorial centres during the period of schools closure. She stated this in her office at the Alausa Secretariat on Friday, during a meeting with some stakeholders.
“According to the commissioner, parents should ensure that their wards stay at home during this period and tune in to their radio or television sets to listen and watch sponsored teaching programmes by the state government.
“She said the teachings would be recorded and circulated on various social media platforms for easy accessibility, stressing that these media teachings were targeted at the students preparing for the West African Examination Council (WAEC), Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and other examinations.
“She added that this would prevent the spread of the Covid-19, which group gatherings and physical contact with infected persons could spread further.
“Adefisayo enjoined students to observe all the basic hygiene such as avoiding body contacts, avoiding large gatherings, close contacts with a sick person or persons, regular hand washing, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and leaving a gap of five meters from anyone coughing and sneezing.
Ondo advises residents to shun gatherings of over 10
Also rolling out directives, the Ondo State government, on Saturday, advised residents not to join gatherings of people that are over 10, as part of measures to prevent outbreak of the virus in the state.
This is as it said there was no case of the virus in the state, because the result of the test conducted on the suspected case earlier recorded came out negative.
This was disclosed by the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Wahab Adegbenro, who said the result of the blood sample of the suspect that was sent for screening came out negative Saturday evening.
He said there was no need to panic, assuring that the state government and other stakeholders had put necessary measures in place to forestall the outbreak of the virus in the state.
He appealed to the people of the state to maintain personal and environmental hygiene, enjoining them to wash hands regularly with soap and water, use hand sanitizers and avoid being in an environment where there are more than 10 people.
He also warned against unnecessary traveling, especially interstate, so as to prevent the outbreak of the disease in the state.
He said the state government had met with traditional rulers, community and religious leaders on how to prevent gathering for religious purposes, as a strategy to forestall the outbreak of the deadly virus and stem the tide, if there is outbreak eventually.
Adegbenro said social distancing should be encouraged, while gathering of more than 10 people, handshake, holding hands to pray, using the same Holy Communion Cup, among others should be avoided.
He said preventive measures, which he described as the antidote to the outbreak and spread of the coronavirus, is of utmost necessity, as “even nations that are referred to as world giants have shut down their countries both economically and socially, because of the coronavirus which is threatening to wipe out the entire human race.”
Special Adviser to the Governor on Health, Dr Jibayo Adeyeye, said it was not the will of government to make people inconvenient by restricting movement and gathering, but that it was a drastic measure that ought to be taken in the overall interest of all.
He promised that the state government would not rest on its oars to protect residents by preventing the outbreak in the state.
He called on the Federal Government to rise up to the challenge of preventing and stemming the spread of the disease, as the financial burden is beyond the state.
Police refuse to deploy personnel for PDP LG congress in Plateau
In Plateau State, he Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had to postpone its local government congresses scheduled for Saturday, citing refusal of the police to deploy personnel for the exercise.
It called on its members not to be discouraged by the sudden postponement attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
Members of the party in the 17 local government areas of the state had filed out for the congresses on Saturday, but were disappointed when news filtered through that the exercise had been postponed.
Sunday Tribune learnt that the postponement was due to the ban on public gathering by the state government and the directive that no gathering should be more than 50 persons in attendance.
The State Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. John Akans, who confirmed the postponement, said the congress was shifted following refusal of the state police command to deploy its men for the exercise across the 17 local government areas of the state on the premise of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had set machinery in motion for the exercise and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had deployed its staff to monitor the congress when the state commissioner of police sent his deputy to notify us that his men would not be available for the congress, based on the instructions from above on public gathering to prevent the spread of Corona virus.
“Immediately the message was delivered, an emergency stakeholders’ meeting was held with the congress national officers from Abuja who were in the state to conduct the exercise and it was unanimously agreed that it should be postponed,” he said.
Govt suspends anniversaries, cultural festivals, restricts gathering to 50 people
Meanwhile, the state government has restricted marriage and burial ceremonies attendees to not more than 50 members and suspended anniversary celebrations and cultural festivals.
Addressing journalists after a stakeholders’ meeting, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Professor Danladi Atu, directed all public and private schools and tertiary institutions in the state to shut down with immediate effect.
He directed that worshiping centres, churches and mosques ought to reduce congregation with a space of two meters interval and to provide running water, soap and hand sanitizers at their entrances.
According to him, motor parks, hotels, markets and supermarkets should maintain two meters spacing and provide running water, soap and sanitizers at their entrances, adding that marriage and burial ceremonies should be restricted to family members and crowd of not more than 50 persons with two metres spacing.
“All crowded social gatherings are to be avoided; and face mask usage is encouraged. All taxis, buses and tricycles must have hand sanitizers,” he said.
The SSG, who said the directive would be strictly monitored, said medical personnel would be placed at four designated entry points to check and test those coming into the state by road for the virus, adding that the state government was also planning additional isolation centres in both the central and southern parts of the state to complement the ones at Plateau State Specialist Hospital and Jos University Teaching Hospital.
He, therefore, appealed to the people of the state to adhere strictly to the directives as “coronavirus has become a serious pandemic and should not be treated with kid gloves.”
‘Govt should have imposed travel ban earlier’
Meanwhile, a virologist and former vice chancellor, Redeemer’s University, Ede, OSun State, Professor Oyewale Tomori, has said that the steps taken by the Federal Government by imposing travel ban on some countries with high risk of coronavirus came a little too late.
In an interview with Sunday Tribune, Tomori said tracing contact and coronavirus index cases may be a difficult job, because those concerned are not asked appropriate and detailed questions that would make tracing them very effective.
He stated that a serious country should have imposed the ban the moment the index case was discovered while making sure measures were taken to tighten security at the land borders.
“We should have done it a long time ago. The day the first case came, we should have closed our borders. Do you know the number of Nigerians who travel to Europe and all those countries? This means that it is a matter of time. We do know how strong our borders are; they will slip in,” he said.
Tomori, a former president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, stated: “Right now, what we are getting is little information which does not help us in tracing people. Take for instance the index case that was said to have stayed in Ibadan for two weeks; if you do not know where the man was, what part of the town he was in, which hotel he stayed in, how are you going to trace anybody?”
He said the different versions given on the index case that stayed in Ibadan for two weeks was an indication of poor information gathering, adding that: “We need specific and proper information and then, one will know who to follow in case anyone has it.
“All we need is commitment to do the right thing. The mechanism for tracking people has been there all along but we don’t do it.”
‘People should beware of self-medication’
He also spoke against self-medication, advising individuals to comply with social distancing, avoid crowded places, refrain from shaking of hands and keep to regular hand washing with soap and water.
Another expert who is with the Department of Virology, University of Ibadan, Professor David Olaleye, said using body temperature to detect people having COVID-19 was not enough, as it was possible for some infected persons to pass the body temperature scanners in airports and other places and go undetected.
He added that such people, though infected but without any symptoms, would continue to carry the virus and infect other people.
“But the virus continues to multiply and in the process, the individual continues to shed the virus. That is why in a large epidemic, we talk of this social distancing. Be careful how close you are to people, because if it is about a person that is not symptomatic, you will not know. If that person is coughing or sneezing, you will see and know.
“That means the typical way of monitoring people coming in and using body temperature may not be adequate and it has to be combined with a lot of other factors, such as data about individuals and where they are coming from. All these are very important,” he said.
He added that like every virus, only a portion of people exposed to COVID-19 would become infected; that is they go on to develop the moderate and severe form of the disease.
“For every particular virus circulating, you find a very large number of people that have antibody or show evidence of previous infection but they did not develop the disease.”
Professor Olaleye also raised the question of the possibility of people with COVID-19 being higher in number than the figure announced by National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), stating that even before China reported the incidence of the viral disease to the World Health Organisation, the infection had affected many people, and some of them would have moved with the virus to Africa.
“The problem had started long before WHO and CDC US prevailed on China to disclose what was going on. This had taken weeks. As of today, we have a little about four million Chinese in different African countries engaging in different activities.
“Wuhan is commercial nerve centre of China and there is no doubt we would have a lot of people travelling there on business; many of them we do not know.
“So, from all these factors and the pattern that is emerging, there is a probability that a lot of cases in different African countries have not been identified yet,” he stated.