The federal government yesterday restated the restriction imposed on aides of state governors, judges, senior military officers and members of the National Assembly from accessing the VIP zone at the nation’s airports as domestic flights resume tomorrow.
On resumption, airlines will also not serve food during flights.
Besides, the federal government rolled out new guidelines on how to conduct elections in COVID-19 era, banning political rallies to canvass for votes.
The federal government also announced that the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) examination will hold from August 4 to September 5.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, at the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19’s press conference yesterday in Abuja, said the ban on aides of governors, ministers and others from accessing VIP zone in airports and the decision to suspend in-flight food service were parts of efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 on flights.
He explained: “For this domestic operation, there will be no food. No food will be given to reduce contamination level and we will allow you to come with your mask.
“Like the MD of FAAN had said the other day, we see it as your private thing. So it is you bring your mask, they don’t have to be the fancy ones.”
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) unveiled specific health protocols to be observed by the Independent Natural Electoral Commission (INEC) and other stakeholders in any election to be conducted during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
The federal government has also announced that the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) examination will hold from August 4 to September 5, adding that food will no longer be served on domestic flights when operations resume.
Speaking at the media briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 in Abuja yesterday, the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu said that instead of the usual gathering of supporters of political parties to canvass for votes, politicians are expected to use mass media such as television, radio, posters, mobile vans, social media and other forms of communication to solicit support.
“There is a challenge we have in the way we have conducted our elections starting from the pre-election, during election and post-election.
“Unfortunately, the virus doesn’t recognise whether we are conducting elections or whether we are on business settings, it just thrives wherever people come together,” he said.
Ihekweazu said that the guidelines will support everyone involved in the elections at all levels particularly the political parties, INEC, and Nigerians that will be going to vote in these difficult times.
“Voting still remains a civic responsibility and though we are in the middle of a pandemic, we have to devise a way to conduct the elections a safe manner. There is a challenge we have in the way we have conducted our elections starting from the pre-election, during the election, and post-election. We strongly encourage the use of TV, radio, posters, mobile vans, social media and other forms of communication as politicians solicits for votes.
“We advise adherence to guidelines on mass gatherings. Unfortunately, the virus doesn’t recognize whether we are conducting elections or whether we are in business settings, it just thrives wherever people come together.
“We urge politicians to take responsibility and lead by example, think of the lives of the electorates first as their lives are more important than any vote they can get,” he said.
The federal government announced that the WAEC examination will hold from August 4 to September 5.
The Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said at the PTF’s briefing that the federal government’s representatives in WAEC confirmed the date at a meeting held yesterday.
Nwajiuba added that as soon the WAEC examination is concluded, the NABTEB and NECO examinations will also follow suit.
He said states willing to have the examinations should make their schools available for revision classes.
The minister added that local timing would be published while today there will be a concluding stakeholders meeting with NCDC and the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) on the examination processes and confirmation of the new date.
He said: “Last week, the chairman of the PTF announced that school facilities would be available for those who want to go into revision classes. As soon as we conclude WAEC, we’ll take up the NABTEB and NECO examinations.
“The idea here is that we have a whole month from now till then. Those who can and those who are willing — the states who are willing — should make their schools available for their children to revise.
“We’ve done the most we can with our representative at WAEC and we have this afternoon confirmed that the dates allotted for the exams will be from the 4th of August through to the 5th of September. Local timings will be published.”
In his speech, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of the PTF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said the task force would not shy from advising President Muhammadu Buhari to lock down the country once again should the country require such a measure.
Mustapha noted that while a lockdown might not be a necessary course of action, its imposition will be determined by the increase in COVID-19 infections across the country in the preceding weeks.
He said the PTF would on Thursday hold a review of the national response to the pandemic having crossed the three months threshold of its lifespan.
The body will also prepare its mid-term report.
The SGF noted that the government decided to relax the lockdown in order to restart the economy and balance life in the light of the projection by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the economy will shrink by 5.4 per cent by the end of the year as a result of the effect of the pandemic on global economy.
He noted that Madagascar, in spite of the much-touted potency of its herbal mixture for the cure of COVID-19 has imposed a lockdown likewise the 39 states in the United States, which have begun to see an explosion in infections after they rushed to reopen their economies after the first wave of infection.
He also cited the Galicia region, a province of 70,000 people in Catalonia, Spain, which locked down and isolated after a spike in COVID- 19 cases and in 11 local government areas in Nigeria.
” Whether I will advise the president on another lockdown will depend on the experience of what is happening globally where the fatalities have shown that the virus is not relaxing. We should not allow the experience of 1918 to repeat itself.
“During the Spanish Flu, which lasted for two years, 500 million people were infected with about 50 million fatalities. The danger of the flu came about in the second phase when the government relaxed quarantine and the people jumped onto the streets. The recklessness led to more deaths until a vaccine was discovered.
”We are yet to peak and will not peak until September. We are in the thick of war and COVID-19 has not relaxed; it is still virulent and dangerous,” Mustapha said.
He added that it is not within the powers of the task force to enforce at the national level the use of face masks in the public or criminalise the failure of members of the public to use it.
However, the members of the PTF held a meeting yesterday with the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to discuss the enforcement as well as the public apathy to the use of face masks as a precaution for the spread of the virus.
Mustapha, however, conceded that it is the duty of the state governments and the FCT to enforce the use of face masks having set up mobile courts to prosecute violators as well as being signatories to the quarantine law.
Meanwhile the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Ms. Sadiya Farouk Umar, has flayed the report by the UN Habitat on the flight of internally displaced persons in North-east.
Umar described the report as quite alarming and worrisome as the federal government had made the provision of monthly food ration to the IDPs a priority in order to mitigate the condition they have found themselves.
The Head of Service of the Federation (HoS), Mrs. Folashade Yemi- Esan, has expressed displeasure with the non-compliance with directives on COVID-19 preventive protocols, particularly with measures limiting the number of staff and visitors to offices
The HoS in a circular dated July 2, said only officers on GL 14 and above and those performing essential services are to report for duty, adding that as much as possible, other categories of workers should be encouraged to work from home.
She said security officers manning the gates to the federal secretariat should be advised to demand the identity card of staff coming to the office and ensure that they are on GL 14 and above; while the list of those performing essential services but are below GL 14 should be sent to the security gates for clearance.
She also charged permanent secretaries to reduce the number of physical meetings in the MDAs to the barest minimum by in the interim hold virtual meetings.
On his part, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the Federal Ministry of Health was working on a plan to convert all eligible public and private hospitals in the country into collection sites for samples for COVID-19 testing.
He explained that measure will require working with state governments and NPHCDA to identify the facilities and the space within them, to conduct training for the personnel selected and supply both PPEs and sample collection kits, as well as the logistics to go around to recover test samples.
He said the move would ensure better utilisation of available laboratory assets in the country, which as at now are capable of handling far more cases than they presently do.
“If logistics around sample collection and delivery to test sites are better organised, a lot more will be achieved,” he said.
The minister said federal government, through the NCDC, had launched an e-learning platform on Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) for healthcare workers.
Ehanire also delved into the looming crisis in the health sector in Cross River state where the doctors have gone on strike to protest the state government’s posture towards testing persons for the virus.
He said a 17-man team of the Federal Ministry of Health, led by the Executive Director of National Primary Health Development Agency (NPHDA), had left Abuja for Calabar, the Cross River State capital, to engage with the Cross River State Government in setting up their COVID-19 response and aligning it with the national response.
The minister said he had also called on the Cross River State chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) to suspend its strike and receive the ministry’s delegation.
With regard to Kogi State, the minister said arrangements were underway to beef up security at the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja for protection of staff and patients.