The Federal Government and organisations intensified efforts yesterday to check the spread of the coronavirus. At the nation’s seat of power, the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari ordered the immediate shutdown of her office for two weeks and directed the staff of her office who recently returned from the United Kingdom to work from home.
She further disclosed on her Twitter handle, @aishambuhari, that her daughter who “returned from the U.K. being among the high-burden listed countries of COVID-19…is on self isolation, not because she displayed any symptoms.”
Also, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday directed churches in the country to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people as a precaution against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It also suggested the adoption of cell-based or online services, and shifts of not more than 50 individuals per session.
This came as Lagos State Government yesterday said four new persons had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the country’s recorded cases to 11.
Commissioner for Health Prof. Akin Abayomi, who disclosed this, said health officials were tracing over 1,300 persons in connection with the cases.
Nineteen people were tested for the virus on Wednesday, said Abayomi. Of these, four cases turned out positive and have since been isolated for treatment at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, Lagos.
One of the four new cases was a woman who had contact with another woman that had earlier arrived in Nigeria from the United Kingdom. Another was a female who returned from France March 14 on Turkish airline TK 1830. The third was a Nigerian male in his 50s, who had not travelled anywhere. The fourth, also a Nigerian male, had arrived in the country on March 13 from Frankfurt on a Lufthansa flight LH568.
Abayomi also revealed that the state executive council would soon issue a directive on social distancing. In a statement, CAN President Samson Ayokunle urged churches to, as they put their trust in God, adhere strictly to all guidelines for combating the plague.
He further called on faithful to observe Sunday, March 22 and Sunday, March 29 as days to pray for a divine intervention against the pandemic.
Similarly, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, issued a statement yesterday calling on Muslim organisations, mosque committees, Imams, scholars, Da’awah activists and the general Muslim Ummah to adhere strictly to all public health directives and regulations provided by the competent and authorised agencies such as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The statement urged “Business owners and traders” to “fear Allah and avoid hoarding essential products, creating artificial scarcity or unnecessary inflation of prices. Similarly, the populace should be considerate in their purchases and avoid reckless and extravagant purchases that prevent others from accessing essential commodities.”
Religious groups across the nation have already begun complying with government directives, while putting in place other measures to tackle the disease.
The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) yesterday urged all its parishes in Lagos and Ogun States to comply with the warning by both state governments no to have more than 50 persons per service.
A memo signed by Assistant General Overseer Pastor Folorunsho Odesola, notes that the church is taking steps to curb the spread of the virus. Members were also enjoined to tune in to the church’s Dove Television for live broadcasts by General Overseer Pastor Enoch Adeboye.
The Anglican Diocese of Lagos also directed all its vicars to comply with the Lagos State advice on the limit to the number of congregants. A statement by Synod Secretary Rt. Rev. Segun Ladeinde urged all worshippers to obey health guidelines and log on to online services.
The Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria also suspended mosque activities involving more than 50 people. “We acknowledge that many of our members and mosque users might find this unprecedented decision very uncomfortable, we should please be reassured that this is for the good of the community and it is in compliance with the Islamic response to a pandemic,” said the spokesman, Muhammed Hassan.
Other groups such as Nasrul-lahi-li Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT); Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State Area Unit; and Lekki Muslim Ummah (LEMU) instructed their members to pray at home.
“With effect from March 19, the focus of the society will now be only on programmes that can be done virtually or with less than 50 persons. All activities with the likelihood of attracting 50 or more people will be suspended till further notice,” NASFAT said in a statement.
It added: “All Jumuah service, Tafsir session and Tahajudd programme on Fridays at all our mosques/locations are hereby suspended immediately. Asalatu service at all our branch/group locations is also suspended immediately.”
LEMU President Dr. Kamoru Omotosho said all congregational prayers and activities had been suspended indefinitely at the Lekki Central Mosque in Lagos. He urged all worshippers to perform their obligatory and supererogatory prayers in their homes till further notice.
Disruptions by COVID-19 were also witnessed in the educational sector. In Ogun State, the government yesterday said schools, private and public, would “remain closed indefinitely after school hours on Friday, March 20, 2020.” In Benue State, Commissioner of Education Dennis Ityavyar disclosed that from March 27, all schools in the state would be closed indefinitely.
The Federal Government, on its part, directed all federal tertiary institutions and Unity Schools to shutdown. “We have directed all higher institutions to close this weekend. Unity Schools that have completed their exams are to close immediately. Others are to hurry and close latest March 26,” said Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono. A similar shutdown order by the Federal Capital Territory takes effect March 23.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed bye-elections in four senatorial districts indefinitely. Spokesman Festus Okoye, however, said the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States scheduled for September and October 2020 were not affected. The affected senatorial polls are for Bayelsa Central, Bayelsa West, Imo North, and Plateau South Senatorial Districts.
The National Assembly also, following a two-hour emergency meeting, announced the immediate suspension of all legislative hearings and the closure of its public gallery. The action, which takes effect next Tuesday, is expected to halt the process of lawmaking.
Meanwhile, the economic and labour crisis created by COVID-19 could increase global unemployment by almost 25 million, says a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The report however notes that if an internationally coordinated policy response is emplaced, as happened in the global financial crisis of 2008/9, then the impact on global unemployment could be significantly lower.
The assessment called for urgent, large-scale and coordinated measures across three pillars: protecting workers in the workplace, stimulating the economy and employment, and supporting jobs and incomes.
These measures include extending social protection, supporting employment retention (that is, short-time work, paid leave, other subsidies), and financial and tax relief, including for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.It also proposed fiscal and monetary policy measures, and lending and financial support for specific economic sectors.
ILO Director General Guy Ryder, who canvassed swift and coordinated policy responses, said the pandemic was no longer only a global health crisis, but also a major labour market and economic crisis having a huge impact on people.
“In 2008, the world presented a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis, and the worst was averted. We need that kind of leadership and resolve now,” he said.
But the presidency yesterday pleaded with Nigerians not to panic and also refrain from giving a political colouration to efforts by government to deal with the pandemic.
“We also plead with Nigerians not to see this most peculiar of times as one to be politicised or seen as an opportunity to regurgitate grudges against the government or the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). North, South, East, and West – all Nigerians must unite to fight this plague, irrespective of religious or ideological affiliation,” it said.
The presidency, in statement by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu, said Nigeria, like every other country around the world, was dealing with the unexpected challenge.
According to the statement, to prevent the spread of cases imported into Nigeria, the president has already ordered restriction of travel from 13 countries, each with more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Government has also suspended visas issued to nationals of these countries.
The statement reads: “The restriction will take effect from March 21 and will remain until further notice. While Nigeria delights in welcoming the world, the safety and protection of our citizens and land must take priority.
“The various agencies of government including media owned by the government have embarked on vigorous campaigns promoting hygiene measures. There are, currently, very stringent regimes of checks at the points of air and sea entry into the country. The effort Nigeria is making as is well known, has already received the commendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“The presidency wishes to assure Nigerians that government is on top of the situation. There is no cause for panic. So far, measures put in place are working efficiently. What this country is doing has been recommended as a template.
“The president trusts the relevant ministers in his cabinet and the officials of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), who are providing him with constant updates and professional counsel. These officials have a track record of competence.
“The president instructed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to reduce the pump price of fuel. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a crash in the global price of crude oil, and the president decided that every Nigerian should benefit from this. Subsequently, the NNPC announced a N20 deduction, and the pump price of fuel has now been reduced from N145 per litre to N125 per litre.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Monday announced a credit relief of N1.1trillion to businesses affected by the pandemic. The bank has also established a facility for household, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and announced a reduction of interest rates for loans from nine per cent to five per cent.
“We do not want to create panic. But we will continue to update the Nigerian public with relevant information. We plead with every Nigerian to cooperate with the government in the fight against COVID-19 and obey all instructions from the NCDC. We have a high-level Presidential Coordination Committee chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). This body should be allowed to carry out its duties.
“In this regard, populist advocacies such as the one accusing the president of ‘complacency’ simply because he has not made a television address by ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational. These are not the times for populism and cheap politics.
“President Buhari thanks all those at the forefront of the fight against the deadly disease.”
In what appears to be a ray of hope, the United States yesterday approved a malaria drug, chloroquine, for the treatment of COVID-19.
President Donald Trump said at a Coronavirus Task Force news conference that the drug could help with symptoms of COVID-19.According to him, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is fast-tracking approval of using the drug chloroquine to treat COVID-19.
“It is known as a malaria drug and it’s been around for a long time and it’s very powerful. The nice part is, it’s being around for a long time, and so we know that if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.”
Trump praised the FDA for fast-tracking the approval of the COVID-19 treatment.
“Normally the FDA would take a long time to approve something like that and it was approved very, very quickly,” Trump said.
“We’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately.”