COVID-19: Nigeria not ready for reopening ― PTF

• Restrictions to remain for two more weeks, Kano’s lockdown stays

The country’s economy is not ready to reopen fully at this time, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 pandemic has concluded, extending the present nationwide ease of lockdown by another two weeks to June 1, 2020.

The chairman of the task force and Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, made the declaration at its briefing in Abuja on Monday.

He noted that after a review of the phase one of the ease of lockdown, despite the progress that has been made in the containment effort of the disease, there is still a long way to go.

Therefore, he said, the country cannot yet move to the planned phase two of the ease of lockdown.

He said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the reality is that in spite of the modest progress made, Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority. Any relaxation will only portend grave danger for our populace.​

“Advisedly, the current phase of eased restriction will be maintained for another two weeks during which stricter enforcement and persuasion measures will be pursued.

“The two weeks extension of Phase one of the eased restriction is also to enable other segments of the economy prepare adequately for compliance with the guidelines, preparatory to reopening in the coming weeks.

“For the PTF, we share your pains but our future is in the hands of every Nigerian and future decisions will depend greatly on our compliance.”

He averred based on the recommendations of the PTF, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the measures including that exemptions, advisories and scope of entities allowed to reopen under phase one of the eased lockdown, shall be maintained across the federation for another two weeks effective from 12: 00 midnight today (May 18, 2020 to June 1, 2020).

Other measures approved by the president include intensifying efforts to ‘tell (communicate), trace (identify) and treat (manage)’ cases; elevating the level of community ownership of non-pharmaceutical interventions; maintain the existing lockdown order in Kano for an additional two weeks; and the imposition of precision lockdown in states, or in metropolitan/high-burden local government areas that are reporting a rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises.

According to Mustapha, this will be complemented with the provision of palliatives and continued re-evaluation of the impact of the interventions; and aggressive scale-up of efforts to ensure that communities are informed, engaged, and participating in the response with enhanced public awareness in high-risk states.

The SGF maintained that the inevitable conclusion of the PTF is that the fight against COVID-19 is long term as the virus is not likely to go away very soon.

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“This is further underscored by the fact that no vaccine is expected till around the end of 2021. Nigeria is not where we wish to be in terms of control, ownership, infrastructure, and change of behavior. We must do more,” he added.

The PTF boss pointed out that despite some of the objectives of the first phase of the eased lockdown being met, the outcomes have been mixed as its assessment showed that non-compliance was rampant.

He said the PTF has relied largely on science, statistics, lessons learnt from other parts of the world and an evaluation of the nation’s peculiar circumstances to draw its conclusions on the outcome of the last two weeks.

He stated: “For example, our surveillance, infection prevention, and control activities identified nine high burden local government areas in the federation reporting a high number of cases and accounting for 51% of the total number of infections in the country. All the nine are densely populated local government areas nationwide.

“We have also seen that though Nigeria’s caseload still lags behind several other countries, our large population and relatively high degree of mobility and urbanisation (50%) places us at an increased risk for high transmissibility.

“Therefore, our consideration of ease of restrictions has to balance lives and livelihoods and the slow and gradually phased approach should be science and data-driven.”

On how the PTF made its recommendations to the president for the latest measures, he said the task force “objectively and frankly interrogated certain critical factors.”

These, he said, include putting of measures in place to collectively slow down the transmission of the virus e.g. elongating the doubling time, which has changed from 7 to 11 days; health care system equipped to detect, test, isolate and treat every case, and trace every person who came into contact with a positive case with the increase in the number of laboratories from 15 to 26; and ramping up of testing to a cumulative total of 35,098.

He said though Nigeria has recorded infection of a number of medical personnel in its facilities, there has been increased training in their care management while they have been provided additional Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE).

The SGF explained that with the gradual reopening of workplaces, markets, schools, etc, prescriptions have been made for the prevention of infection and spread of the virus; the risks associated with importation has been seriously minimised with the ban flights, closure of borders and the mandatory 14 days quarantine for anyone arriving Nigeria; and engagement with communities and other stakeholders has now become the new focus of our strategy.

Speaking further on the gains of the first two weeks of easing of lockdown, Mustapha pointed to the increase in the number of laboratories in the COVID-19 network from 15 to 26; additional 15,558 tests were conducted in the country with a cumulative total of 35,098 tests and the number of tests per million increasing from 50 to 154, and increase in the number of trained personnel to 11,409 health workers thereby boosting capacity for case management.

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Other accomplishments within the periods he said are the procurement and distribution of additional PPEs and ventilators across the country; the doubling time of the virus has slowed down from 7 days to 11 days; the number of beds available for isolation and case management increased from 3500 to 5000 beds nationwide; the efficiency of the identification, testing, evacuation, and isolation process for confirmed cases has increased; and progressive improvement in capacity of the health system to respond to the outbreak.

The PTF chairman noted that the gradual re-opening of the economy has been sign-posted by the controlled opening, and increased access to markets and supermarkets, banks, and other income-yielding activities for the vulnerable population.

Similarly, he observed, corporations and government offices partially opened their operations and services so as to facilitate the activities of other sectors while some manufacturing, construction, and allied sectors also resumed.

“All these sectors ensured that adequate infection mitigation measures were put in place,” he stated.

The PTF National Coordinator, Dr. Sani Aliyu, in his remarks denied that there is no harmony between the task force and state governors’ response to the pandemic, saying that they are closely aligned in the fight against COVID-19.

He said they will continue to work through the community engagement teams already activated and community structures.

Dr. Aliyu hinted that going forward, the states will be allowed to take more responsibility in the containment effort of coronavirus.

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