The Federal Government on Monday restricted gatherings at worship centres and banned night clubs as parts of measures aimed at preventing the spread of devastating strains of COVID-19 into the country.
Amid concern about the strains of the virus in India, South Africa, Turkey and Brazil, the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 at its press briefing in Abuja reintroduced some measures which were put in place during the second COVID-19 wave in the country.
Eminent virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Professor Oyewale Tomori, and a virologist at the University of Ibadan, Prof David Olaleye, in separate interviews with The PUNCH supported government’s actions.
They warned Nigerians that India’s COVID-19 crisis was an indication that there could be a resurgence of the virus in Nigeria.
Recall that the World Health Organisation Regional Virologist, Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, said B.1.351 variant of the coronavirus, first found in South Africa, was spreading in 23 African countries.
According to him, the African countries include Kenya, Cameroon, Cote D’ ívoire, Malawi, Mauritius, Togo, Botswana, Comoros, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Ghana, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles and Tanzania.
As of Sunday, Africa had recorded 4,673,466 cases. South Africa with 1.59 million cases has the highest number of infections in the continent.
Nigeria has so far recorded 165,419 cases of the virus out of which 2,065 have died while 156,300 have been discharged.
India, whose cases have attracted global attention following shortage of oxygen and hospital spaces, has recorded 22,991,927 infections.
To prevent a similar occurrence in Nigeria, the National Incident Manager, Mukhtar Mohammed, who rolled out preventive measures on Monday, said a nationwide curfew would be introduced from midnight of Monday.
He said the curfew would run from 12 midnight till 4am daily.
He also said gatherings for worship or weddings should not be more than 50 per cent capacity.
He said security agents had been saddled with the responsibility of enforcing all the non-pharmaceutical measures put in place by the government.
Mohammed said, “Further to these recommendations and effective from 0001hours of Tuesday, May 11, 2021, this Phase IV of the phased restriction of movement shall come into effect.
“We shall maintain restrictions of mass gatherings outside work settings with a maximum number of 50 people in an enclosed space.
“Approved gatherings must be held with physical distancing measures and other non-pharmaceutical interventions in place.”
He stated that there would be enforcement of a mandatory requirement of a seven-day quarantine for all international passengers.
Mohammed added that there would be “enforced temperature checks and no mask, no entry policy in all public settings; workplace buildings, businesses and places of worship. Access to government and commercial premises should be denied to persons without face masks.
“The nationwide curfew will be imposed tonight at midnight and it will run through till 4am. No formal restrictions on movement within the country even as citizens are encouraged to refrain from non-essential movements and comply with all non-pharmaceutical interventions and guidelines.
“People who are above 60 and or with co-morbidities are encouraged to stay at home. Only essential international travels are encouraged.”
According to him, hotels are to remain open while adhering to all non-pharmaceutical interventions, while schools are to deploy the use of antigen-based rapid tests as recommended in the guidelines by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
He added that indoor recreational facilities and gyms were to close until June 11 when the situation would be reviewed while non-contact outdoor sports such as gulf, Polo and tennis were not affected.
He added, “In terms of working arrangement, virtual meetings should be encouraged to take place as much as possible. We should avoid large meetings, decongest offices and ensure they are well ventilated.
“States have been asked to institute mobile courts to help enforce on the spot fines and close premises that violate these prohibitions.
“On communal services, markets and stores, they should ensure that there are spot checks of commercial premises and observed or mandatory non-pharmaceutical interventions. Facility owners and managers and store owners are to ensure that physical distancing is observed.
“All mass gatherings remain restricted to 50 persons except where explicit permission has been granted by the state governments. Hotels are to remain open, but they must observe or non-pharmaceutical interventions.
“Schools have already opened. However, they should consider the use of approved antigen based rapid diagnostics tests as recommended by the NCDC.
“All religious gatherings should be limited to less than 50% capacity to ensure physical distancing and use of face masks are mandatory.
“All recreational venues, gyms and indoor sports facilities are to close until June 11 when the situation will be reviewed. However, non-contact outdoor sports such as golf, polo and tennis are not affected by these.
“Gatherings in weddings, parties and meetings should also comply with 50 persons. Mass political gatherings, gatherings in the open, a large number of people are strictly to adhere this COVID-19 protocol.”
“Event centres, night clubs shall remain closed until further notice. Restaurants are to provide eat-in at 50% capacity and provide takeaways where available.”
Foreign passengers escaping from our facilities – PSC chair
The Chairman of the PSC, Boss Mustapha, lamented that some returning foreign passengers escaped from isolation facilities, violating the mandatory quarantine requirement under the advisory earlier issued.
He said the committee frowned on such act, adding that appropriate punishment would be meted out to anyone found culpable upon the completion of their investigation.
Mustapha said, “The PSC has received reports of some returning foreign passengers who violated the mandatory quarantine requirement under the advisory by escaping from the facilities.
“We deprecate such violation of the laws of our land and our hospitality. The PSC is awaiting the report of ongoing investigations and we wish to assure Nigerians that appropriate sanctions would be imposed on the violators.”
Mustapha disclosed that the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government had fixed the cost of COVID-19 testing, whether PCR or otherwise, at $50 at all Points of Entry with effect from May 17, 2021.
This, he said, was to ease travel and trade among citizens of ECOWAS States travelling within the region.
Also speaking at the briefing, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, stated that the experience of other countries such as India, Pakistan and Thailand showed the unpredictable nature of the virus, urging Nigerians not to lose their guard.
The minister urged Nigerians to take responsibility as they celebrated Sallah, adding that the experience of the third wave of the virus from India among others was fuelled by elections and religious gatherings.
He said, “It is important to remain aware of risks involved in traveling, gathering, celebrating and generally letting down our guards. I urge everyone to take responsibility for their personal and their family’s safety from COVID-19 infection.
“Experience from India and other countries showed us that the terrible third wave that has caused so much loss of human lives, was facilitated and fuelled by events immediately related to political campaigns, elections and religious gatherings.
“These contributed greatly to the explosion of cases that India is currently battling with today. As we celebrate the Sallah days ahead, let us remember this warning and ensure that we avoid all situations that tempt us to forget Covid-19 preventive measures and life-saving non-pharmaceutical measures. “
Meanwhile, experts who reacted to the measures urged Nigerians to comply.
A virologist at the University of Ibadan, Olaleye, in an interview with The PUNCH, said,
“Respiratory viruses spread like wild fire. Look at the situation in India and some South American countries, the rate of COVID-19 is very high and raging very rapidly. Here, as long as we are still detecting cases, the risk is still there.
“Any effort by government in public interest can be utilised to ensure that the disease is controlled will be in the right direction.”
Tomori backs FG, says sports festival shouldn’t have been held
Eminent virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Tomori, said he was in support of the new directive, adding that it was a targeted approach.
Tomori noted that Nigerians had thrown caution to the wind and were no longer adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines.
He said the National Sports Festival which took place in Edo State recently ought not to have taken place.
The virologist argued that COVID-19 threat was not yet over and the Indian experience was proof that there could be resurgence.
Tomori said, “I am in support of this new directive as long as it does not include total lockdown. This approach is a targeted one and I think it is welcome. People no longer adhere to guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing.
“In my opinion, the National Sports Festival shouldn’t have happened. This new approach which includes shutting of night clubs and others is welcome.”
FG approves administration of second dose of COVID-19
The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Faisal Shuaib, has said the Federal Government has directed states to begin administering the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to those who have taken the first dose.
Shuaib disclosed this at the briefing of the PSC in Abuja.
He urged those who had taken their first dose to check their vaccination cards for the date of their second dose.
He said, “The need to protect ourselves and put COVID-19 behind us, the way we have done to polio, so that we can return to our normal living, truly is a national effort.
“In addition to health workers, frontline workers aged 18 years and above and persons aged 50 years and above are advised to visit any designated vaccination site to receive the vaccine free of charge.
“We also advise that people who have received their first dose should check their vaccination cards for the date of their second dose, and ensure that they receive the second dose to gain full protection against COVID-19.
“I want to remind you that the eligibility period between the first and second doses of the vaccine has been expanded from 12 weeks to between 6 to 12 weeks, in line with the scientific recommendation provided by the World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE on immunisation).
“Already, the Presidential Steering Committee has approved the commencement of the second dose of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccination in all states of the federation, including the FCT.”