The federal government said thursday that it was tracing at least 4,370 people of interest suspected of having contacts with or being in close proximity to persons whose COVID-19 status had been confirmed to be positive.
The central government’s revelation preceded President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement last night that he had received briefings from appropriate agencies on the status of COVID-19 in the country, saying he had directed the immediate release of N10 billion grant to Lagos State and another N5 billion to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for tackling the raging pandemic.
Buhari said the grant would enable Lagos State increase its capacity to control and contain the outbreak, while also supporting other states with capacity building, adding that the money for NCDC would help it to equip, expand and provide personnel to its facilities and laboratories across the country.
The president stated: “The Nigerian Air Force is already making its fleet available to the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, to enable a better coordinated and more effective response across the country.
“To protect our homeland from external exposure, I directed the immediate closure of our International Airports and Land Borders for four weeks in the first instance, to enable us to put up the appropriate policies, processes, and infrastructure to cope with suspected and confirmed cases at home, without risking a compounding of the situation with more imported cases.”
Saying the inconvenience caused by the flight and travel restrictions to Nigerians abroad, who wanted to return home was regrettable, but necessary for the greater good of the country, the president thanked them for their understanding and cooperation.
He listed other measures he had taken: “I have also directed that only cargo vessels that have been at sea for more than 14 days be allowed to dock in our ports after the crew have been tested and confirmed disease-free by the Port Health Authorities. This 14-day restriction, however, does not apply to vessels carrying oil and gas products as by their nature, there is minimal human contact.
“We have also suspended the movement of commuter trains to limit the spread of the virus to other parts of the country.
“I have directed the NCDC to draft all its recent retirees back into service to beef up our manpower as we respond to the pandemic.
“Furthermore, all NCDC staff and experts who are away on training or international assignments are to return immediately. Already the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is conducting an evacuation mission to bring back some of our specialists in Central Africa, to enable them to support the national response.”
Buhari commended the monetary policy authorities for their financial intervention to support entrepreneurs and companies in a difficult time and stated that he looked forward to fiscal measures that would minimise the negative impact of the pandemic on the livelihood of millions of Nigerians.
He reminded Nigerians that he had begun the process of review of the 2020 Budget, stating that he directed the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment, to work with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, to ensure that all production of essential items such as food, medical and pharmaceutical products continued unhindered.
“We are engaging our international friends and partners to share knowledge and to seek their support in our response to the pandemic,” Buhari said, adding: “We are grateful for the show of support thus far – we have already started receiving goods and supplies intended to help us scale up our efforts.”
He commended the hard and heroic work being done by the nation’s medical personnel, the NCDC, Port Health Authorities, Security Agencies, State Governments, and all ad-hoc staff and volunteers.
“I urge all Nigerians to be mindful of those among us who seek to spread panic and misinformation, and sow confusion at this time. We must all pay attention only to the relevant government agencies working day and night to make accurate and useful information available to the public,” he said.
COVID-19 Cases Rise to 65
So far, 65 people have tested positive to the pandemic with 14 new cases recorded yesterday, the highest in a day since the spread of the disease to the country on February 27 by the Italian index case.
A breakdown of the 14 new cases, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), showed that 12 were confirmed in Lagos, bringing the tally to 44, while two were confirmed in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to make its count stands at 12.
“Of the 14 cases, six were detected on a vessel, three were returning travellers into Nigeria and one was a close contact of a confirmed case,” NCDC tweeted yesterday.
From the 65 total cases, Lagos has now recorded 44, FCT 12, Ogun three, Ekiti, Edo, Oyo, Bauchi, Osun and Rivers States all recorded one each.
While 62 cases are under isolation and receiving treatment, three had been discharged after their viral load regressed back to negative. One person had died.
THISDAY also gathered that the fumigation of the State House, including the office of the president commenced thursday.
Bauchi State also recorded a second case as the state government identified a patient described as a friend of the Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, who tested positive to COVID-19, as also testing positive to the virus.
However, the results of tests conducted on some governors, ministers and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, who took the COVID-19 test, having come into contact with the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, who tested positive, showed they tested negative for the virus.
The rising incidence of the pandemic has prompted the federal government and states to ramp up efforts to curb the spread. Some states have ordered the closure of their boundaries to interstate movements, an action which drew condemnations from lawyers who described the ban as illegal and unconstitutional.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed yesterday outlined fresh actions by the federal government to deal with the pandemic.
The minister, at a press briefing in Abuja where he gave the number of people being traced, urged those who have had contact with suspected cases to immediately report to the authorities.
He also raised the alarm that Nigeria is on the verge of reaching the level of community spreading of COVID-19 and called for collective efforts to stop it immediately else the country will record exponential cases in the days ahead.
Mohammed, however, said outside the “aggressive measures’’ being taken in containing the spread of COVID-19, the federal government was considering “tougher measures” to enforce compliance in order to stop the spread of the disease to states without incidence.
Reacting to the status of the president, Mohammed said: “Mr. President is well, kicking and in charge,” adding that “at the appropriate time, he will address the nation.”
He also confirmed THISDAY’s story yesterday that ministers and other top government officials were tested for the virus, adding that he was not at liberty to know the results.
“As for me, I tested thursday and the result came out negative. After the test, we were supposed to go on self- isolation. But giving the nature of the crisis we have at hand, we cannot disappear. But we are taking the necessary measures,” the minister said.
Mohammed identified some of the measures being considered by the federal government to contain the virus to include stopping inter-state/inter-town travels – except for essential services; closing all motor parks and inter-state rail stations, and using fire-fighting and other adaptable vehicles and personnel to fumigate cities and towns.
“We will be considering and announcing new measures from time to time, but rest assured that whatever decisions we take will be in the best interest of Nigerians,” he added.
The minister said while he did not intend to sound apocalyptic, time was running out, warning that if Nigerians did not urgently and more aggressively enforce the recommended measures, they would have a short window within which to stop the pandemic.
He confirmed that the federal government had received donated safety and test kits from the Jack Ma Foundation in China, which include: 100,000 face masks, 1,000 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and 20,000 test kits.
He said some of the supplies would be distributed to the frontline health workers, while the test kits would be shared among the five test laboratories in the country.
The minister added that the federal government was also taking measures to increase the number of bed spaces for the isolation of suspects.
“The facilities we have now include a 40-bed hotel, the 60-bed Medical Centre in Zuba and the 160-bed centre in Abuja. We are still looking at other facilities within the Federal Capital Territory.
“As we said during our last press conference, contact tracing is very critical to stopping the spread of the virus. Today, we have 51 cases covering eight states: Lagos – 32, FCT – 10, Ogun – three, Ekiti – one, Edo – one, Bauchi – one, Osun – one, Oyo – one and Rivers – one.
“We have 4,370 people of interest whom we are tracing. We urge those who have had contact with suspected cases to immediately report to the authorities. We urge Nigerians to support the authorities in this regard.”
While noting the decision of at least five domestic airlines, Air Peace, Aero, Azman, Dana and Arik, to suspend flight operations, the minister said the suspension would boost the efforts of the government to check the spread of the pandemic.
Relief as SGF, Akeredolu, Diri, Ehanire, Mamora, Others Test Negative
There was relief thursday as the SGF, Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu; Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri; Nasarawa State Governor, Mr. Abdullahi Sule; Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora; and Minister of State for FCT, Dr. Ramatu Aliyu, all tested negative to the virus.
Akeredolu shared the message that was sent to him by the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Wahab Adegbenro, indicating that the test was negative.
Diri’s acting Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Alabrah, said in Yenagoa thursday, that the test result of the governor was obtained at NCDC-accredited laboratory at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State.
“The result showed that Governor Douye Diri had ‘no evidence of COVID-19 infection,” Alabrah said.
Sule, his deputy, Dr. Emmanuel Akabe and a man suspected with symptoms of COVID-19 in isolation at the Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital (DASH) in Nasarawa State all tested negative for the virus.
The deputy governor of the state, who is chairman of the state Quick Response Committee, yesterday in Lafia, the state capital, said: “Governor Abdullahi Sule, I and the man in isolation at the DASH in Lafia have all given our samples in Lafia. It was taken for a test at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the results for all the three of us proved that we are negative.”
Mamora in a WhatsApp message said the test conducted on him on Wednesday came out negative.
The FCT junior minister confirmed her negative status on her personal Twitter handle yesterday, saying: “Dear compatriots, I am glad to inform you that my results came out this afternoon and tested negative to #COVID-19.”
Briefing journalists yesterday on the pandemic, Ehanire said the top presidency official who tested positive on Monday was being attended to at a secure government facility in an undisclosed location based on peculiarities of his case.
The minister, who declined further comments on the identity of the president’s aide and location of his treatment said the health condition of the patient could not be revealed except with his consent.
While explaining the handling of the case of the top aide, Ehanire said: “We have four categories, up to 80 per cent may have little or no symptoms; some will have mild, some moderate, and some severe symptoms and will require oxygen and ventilator and those with severe symptoms are the ones that will go to Gwagwalada. The others will be in facilities where they will be taken care of. The president’s aide, who tested positive, is receiving treatment in a secure facility in the country; he does not need category four treatments; he requires general treatment.”
He added that most of those who were known to have had contact with the presidential aide had undergone test with the NCDC and contact tracing for all casual contacts and close contacts had been done.
He said he had the permission of the SGF and that of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Mr. Abdulaziz Marshi, to reveal the results of their tests, which are negative.
The trio was among the contacts of the top presidential aide.
“I am one of those who tested and it came out negative. The permanent secretary and the Secretary to the Government of Federation also tested negative. Every other person that did the test has to reveal his status by himself,” he said.
Ehanire also opened up on the fears about the state of health of other top government functionaries who might have had close contacts with the top presidential aide, saying that they had been tested and were awaiting the results.
Speaking further on the condition of the president’s aide and Bauchi governor, the minister said at present they had not developed symptoms, adding that they were being kept in isolation in a secure government facility where they were being monitored and checked but that if they got to a critical level they would be moved to a higher facility.
Bauchi Confirms Second Case
The confirmed cases of the virus have increased to two in Bauchi State.
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Aliyu Maigoro, announced this during a press conference thursday.
According to him, the second case is a 62-year-old male and a close friend of the state governor.
Maigoro explained that 48 samples were taken for test and two had been confirmed positive.
He added that 37 others returned negative while the results of nine samples were still pending.
Six COVID-19 Patients to be Discharged in Lagos
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Lagos State Governor on Health, Dr. Tunde Ajayi, has said six of the patients at the Infectious Disease Hospital had recovered and would soon be discharged.
Ajayi via his twitter handle, @thetundeajai, said: “Six of our #COVID19 in-patients have recovered and will be discharged soon. There is something Lagos is doing right. Lagos takes the lead.”
The cheering news came just as the Lagos State House of Assembly passed an emergency bill yesterday empowering the governor with extensive powers to deal with the pandemic and stipulating punishments, including a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for anyone who violates the directives of the governor.
Lawyers Kick as States Close Boundaries to Interstate Movements
Two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Mr. Ebun-olu Adegboruwa and Mr. John Baiyeshea have said it is illegal for state governors to close borders over fear of COVID-19.
They spoke against the backdrop of some states such as Rivers, Kano, Kogi, and Osun banning interstate movements.
Adegboruwa stated that the right to freedom of movement is guaranteed to every citizen of Nigeria under section 41 of the 1999 Constitution and also under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
He noted that through this fundamental right, every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part of Nigeria and no citizen of Nigeria shall be refused entry to or exit from any part of Nigeria.
“Consequently, no state governor is allowed to deny any citizen of Nigeria the right of movement into or exit from any state in Nigeria, even under emergency situations such as coronavirus. There has to be a law backing up such policy or declaration,” he said in a statement.
Adegboruwa argued that most states in Nigeria share boundaries with other states such that denial of access to one state may lead to denial of access to other states.
Baiyeshea also told newsmen that the states lacked powers to shut borders.
According to him, the constitution makes the closure of sky, sea and land borders the responsibility of the federal government.
He, however, said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a serious crisis, including a constitutional crisis in the country, stressing that whatever action was taken by state governors should not be an issue at this stage.
He blamed the action of the governors on the failure of the federal government to take prompt initiative against the spread of the disease.