COVID-19: FG Gets Tougher, Moves to Deploy Military to Curb Spread

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•Nigeria records first death as cases rise to 40, spread to Edo State
•Govt directs total closure of land borders, suspends FEC, Council of State meetings
•Recalls retired doctors, nurses, urges Lagos, Abuja residents to stay at home
•Presidency asks lawmakers to submit to medical checks
•CJN shuts courts nationwide

Our Correspondents

As the number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases rose to 40 yesterday with the discovery of 10 new incidences and Nigeria recording its first fatality since the virus seeped into the country last month, the federal government yesterday outlined tougher steps to curb the further spread of the disease.

The new measures include government’s preparedness to deploy the military in tracing and apprehending recalcitrant case contacts, the indefinite suspension of statutory meetings such as the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the Council of State, closure of the nation’s land borders to human traffic, and restriction of activities in Lagos, with the largest concentration of cases in the country, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with the directive that people on non-essential services should stay at home.
To boost the medical workforce to fight the virus, the federal government recalled doctors and nurses from retirement.

The presidency has also written to the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives, with an exhortation to them to prevail on lawmakers, who just returned from trips to countries with high cases of COVID-19, to submit themselves for medical checks.

Besides, to complement the efforts of the federal government to curb the spread of the disease, which has now spread to five states with the discovery of an incidence yesterday in Edo State, more states and the FCT Administration have ordered a large proportion of their workforce to stay at home while Niger State has clamped a 12-hour curfew on the state. Apart from Edo, the other states with cases of COVID-19 are Oyo, Ekiti, Ogun, and Lagos. The FCT is also infected.

However, amid the concerted efforts by local authorities in Nigeria to check the spread of the pandemic, the United Nations warned the global community to prepare for hard times ahead, saying the world was at war with the virus.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, announced the federal government’s decision yesterday in Abuja.
Mustapha said the Council of State meeting earlier scheduled for Thursday had been postponed.

In addition, the federal government also resolved that all land borders that had hitherto been under a partial closure would now be closed to human traffic for four weeks effective, from yesterday.

The SGF also added that a circular would soon be issued to the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folashade Yemi- Esan, for immediate action to be taken to protect federal civil and public servants from the pandemic.

“If and when the need arises, any national assets required for use in the response to COVID-19 shall be mobilised and deployed. The federal government is at the highest level, engaging with state governors in order to ensure a collaborative and effective response to COVID-19 pandemic,” he said, adding: “All Abuja and Lagos residents are strongly advised to stay at home, avoid mass congregation of any kind as well as non-essential outings, until further advice is given.”

He said the taskforce would continue to monitor the global and domestic developments, while it has isolated Lagos and Abuja for particular attention in view of their population, mobility, and number of cases already reported.

Mustapha added that advisories had been issued and measures taken, including “escalating the nation’s capacity for testing and detection through the acquisition of more testing kits and establishment of additional test centres, enhancing contact tracking, deepening awareness creation, closure of schools and tertiary institutions and the total ban on international travels, which commenced at 12.00 midnight tonight at all the nation’s airports.”

Last night, the Head of Service of the Federation gave effect to the federal government’s directive on the need to safeguard the welfare of its service personnel. She told all civil servants from level 12 and below to stay at home from today till further notice.

Former PPMC MD, Achimugu, Becomes First Fatality Figure

While giving an update on the epidemic yesterday, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reported the death of an infected case, but did not disclose the name of the deceased.

But THISDAY later identified the deceased as a former Managing Director of the Pipeline Products and Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Suleiman Achimugu.

Announcing the death yesterday, NCDC said: “The case was a 67-year-old male who returned to Nigeria following a medical procedure in the United Kingdom. He had underlying medical conditions, including multiple myeloma and diabetes, and was undergoing chemotherapy.”

Achimugu died in the early hours of Sunday. In confirming his death, his family said his remains had been buried according to Islamic injunctions.
The statement signed by Mr. Abubakar Achimugu on behalf of the family called for prayer for the repose of his soul and healing for all other COVID-19 patients undergoing treatment.

Cases Rise to 40

While announcing the number of the new cases yesterday, NCDC said of the 10 new cases, six were from Lagos, three from Abuja and one from Edo State. This brings the total number of cases in the country to 40.

Sharing the information on its Twitter handle, @NCDCgov, the agency said of the 40 confirmed cases, two had been discharged after successful treatment of the disease; one died while 37 others were still under isolation and undergoing treatment.
Shortly after the NCDC’s announcement, Lagos State Government provided further details on three of the six new cases from the state.

The Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, said one of the three patients came into Nigeria from Ukraine since March 15.
He said: “The other two had a travel history to the United Kingdom. They both came into Lagos on March 13 and March 20 respectively.”

FG Threatens to Use Army, Police for Contact Tracing

With the rapid spread and reports of case contacts refusing to report for testing and self isolate, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, yesterday advised Nigerians to prepare for tougher measures as part of government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mohammed told journalists in Abuja yesterday that the federal government would not hesitate to deploy the military and other security agents for contact tracing in cases where persons suspected to have contacted the virus do not voluntarily show up for testing.

He said: “We should be ready for tougher measures. The forms they will take will be out from the end of today or tomorrow. But Nigerians should be ready for tougher measures. If we don’t do proper contact tracing, the figure will multiply every five days. Nigerians must take ownership of this initiative.

“We will not hesitate to use any platform, including the military and the police, to enforce social distancing, and to ensure that proper tracing is done because we are talking of a situation where if we do not take time, there are several hundreds of thousands, who will be infected.

“Containment is very cheaper than cure. A few people have helped. If you know you travelled recently, give yourself up to relevant agencies.”

Presidency Asks Lawmakers to Submit to Medical Checks

As part of the containment strategy, the presidency has implored members of the National Assembly, who just returned from trips abroad, to subject themselves to COVID-19 test.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, in separate letters to the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, urged them to ensure that the lawmakers present themselves for screening at the airports.

In the two separate letters dated March 21, Kyari noted that senators and members of the House of Representatives were not presenting themselves for screening at the airports.
He said: “As you are aware, these airport screenings are our primary line of defence and refusal by any citizen to subject to these tests is a threat to our nation.

“Accordingly, you are kindly requested to direct all senators who returned to Nigeria from foreign trips to report themselves to the nearest NCDC test centre with immediate effect.”

CJN Orders Temporary Closure of Courts

Meanwhile, the impact of the ravaging pandemic has also hit the judiciary, following an order by the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, suspending all courts’ activities.
Justice Muhammad’s directive was contained in a fresh circular dated March 23 to all heads of courts.

The closure, which is for an initial two weeks, comes into effect from today.
However, the CJN said the judges could attend to pressing issues and or time-bound cases in their courts.

“In view of the reality of COVID-19 in the country and in order to take further preventive steps, all heads of courts are, from tomorrow (March 24) directed to suspend court sittings for an initial period of two weeks at the first instance, except in matters that are urgent, essential or time-bound according to our extant laws,” he said.

INEC Suspends Regular Activities

The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced the Independent National Electoral Commissions (INEC) to announce the suspension of its regular activities.
It, however, said the suspension did not affect preparations for the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Imo states.

In a statement issued by the National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, the commission said the directive was in line with the advisory on social distancing from WHO and the NCDC.
Okoye said the commission had taken the following additional measures to protect its staff, visitors and the general public.

According to him, “Effective from Tuesday 24th March 2020, all regular and non-essential activities will be suspended in its headquarters and offices nation-wide for 14 days in the first instance.”
He added that the regular quarterly meetings with stakeholders, namely: political parties, civil society organisations, the media, security agencies and all other meetings had been suspended until such a time when normalcy returns.

World is at War, Says UN Chief

Amid the various measures to tame the virus, the Secretary-General of United Nations, Antonio Guterres, yesterday raised the alarm over the spread and deaths from COVID-19, saying the world was certainly at war.

Guterres, in a video on the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak on the world, called for more commitment from governments to combat the effect the outbreak would have on economies.
“We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the UN — one that is spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives,” he said.

Guterres said labour organisations across the world could lose as much as $3.4 trillion in income by the end of the year.
He added that above the crisis, the effect on humans, especially the vulnerable would be disastrous if governments did not intervene by doing things differently.

The human crisis, he said, called for solidarity, as the human family was stressed and the social fabric was being torn.
“My central message is clear, we are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply.

“We cannot resort to the usual tools in such unusual times. The creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis and the magnitudes of the response must match its scale. Our world faces a common enemy. We are at war with a virus,” he stated.

Tomorrow, Guterres would launch a COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan. He would be joined by the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Mark Lowcock; WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; and UNICEF Executive Director, Ms. Henrietta Fore.