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Buhari extends easing of lockdown by two weeks

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• FG spends N1tr on firms to save economy
• Suspends loan repayment by states
• ‘Doubling time of virus has slowed down’

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday approved the extension of measures, exemptions, advisories and scope of entities allowed to reopen under phase one of the eased lockdown for another two weeks across the country effective from 12:00 midnight today (18th May, 2020 to 1st June, 2020). He also directed the extension of the existing lockdown order in Kano for an additional two weeks as well as the imposition of precision lockdown in states, or in metropolitan/high-burden local government areas, that are reporting a rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises.

The president said that these steps were necessitated by the recommendations of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 (PTF). Meanwhile, the president has approved N1 trillion facility to agricultural and manufacturing companies to expand and set up new factories, just as he directed the suspension of repayment of all state government loans for one year to give the second tier of government ample financing room to pay salaries.

The Chairman of PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha who disclosed this at the daily briefing in Abuja, noted that the precision lockdown in states, or in metropolitan/high-burden local government areas would be complemented with the provision of palliatives and continued re-evaluation of the impact of the interventions while aggressive scale-up of efforts would be embarked upon to ensure that communities were informed, engaged and made to participate in the response with enhanced public awareness in high risk states.

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Mustapha explained that the level of compliance had been reviewed and a specific directive had been issued to the security agencies to carry out a strict enforcement of all measures, including the nationwide curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., ban on interstate travels and the wearing of face masks/coverings in public.

“The security agents are, however, urged to be mindful of the human rights of citizens, while citizens are equally urged to recognize the dangers posed to self, their loved ones and the entire community if they fail to take responsibility. The exemptions allowed under the phase one are still in place. Particularly, government remains conscious of the fact that we are in the rainy season and farming activities are critical to food and national security. They should, therefore, not be hindered.”

He said that these steps would help consolidate the gains made so far, and position the country to effectively overcome the pandemic, pointing out that in the interest of the nation, the role of the states and local governments remained critical to achieving success. He said the PTF would engage with the states on the effective implementation of the guidelines.

For the sustainability of the gains recorded, Mustapha said the PTF would support states by developing guidelines to shape decision-making for future steps in the response and aggressively scale up efforts to ensure effective community information. Mustapha reminded the governors that as contained in the address of the president on April 27, 2020, they were to align their states’ specific measures with the guidelines issued by the PTF.​

The SGF disclosed that within the two weeks of the phase one of the eased lockdown, the following accomplishments were also recorded:
•increase in the number of laboratories in the COVID-19 network from 15 to 26; •conduct of additional 15,558 tests in the country (with a cumulative total of 35,098 tests and the number of tests per million increasing from 50 to 154;
•increase in the number of trained personnel to 11,409 health workers thereby boosting the capacity for case management; and
• procurement and distribution of additional personal protective equipment and ventilators across the country.

According to him, the doubling time of the virus has slowed down from seven days to 11 days while the number of beds available for isolation and case management increased from 3500 to 5000 beds nationwide;

“While maintaining a delicate balance between safety and economic survival in a precarious situation, President Buhari focused on ensuring that socio-economic difficulties experienced during the total lockdown were alleviated without compromising safety and allowing the healthcare sector to continue preparing the identified metrics needed to manage the response and any potential future outbreak nationwide.

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“We are pleased to inform you that measures put in place yielded sufficient progress that requires consolidation to ensure that the health system and economy are in a position to adequately respond to any potential outcomes in the future – including a secondary outbreak. ​

“In recognition of the global impact of COVID-19 on economies and the need to stimulate and positively turn around our economy, the Federal Government has been implementing various stimulus packages offered to businesses and state governments through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). These include: reduction of interest rates from 9 percent to 5 percent for all CBN intervention facilities; restructuring of loans to longer tenors for all companies whose businesses are adversely impacted by COVID-19; giving N50billion facilities to household and businesses adversely impacted by COVID-19 through NIRSAL Micro Finance Bank; and giving N100billion facility to pharmaceutical and health sectors companies to retool their businesses,” Mustapha said.

He observed that the PTF relied largely on science, statistics, lessons learnt from other parts of the world and an evaluation of nation’s peculiar circumstances to draw its conclusions on the outcome of the last two weeks.

“For example, our surveillance, infection prevention and control activities identified nine high burden local government areas in the federation reporting high number of cases and accounting for 51per cent of the total number of infections in the country. All the nine are densely populated local government areas nationwide.We have also seen that though Nigeria’s caseload still lags behind several other countries’, our large population and relatively high degree of mobility and urbanisation (50%) place us at an increased risk for high transmissibility. Therefore, our consideration of ease of restrictions has to balance lives and livelihoods and the slow and gradually phased approach should be science- and data-driven”.

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The SGF explained that”To arrive at our final recommendations to Mr. President, we objectively and frankly interrogated certain critical factors and wish to inform you as follows:
• Is the transmission of the virus under control?:–Measures put in place have collectively slowed down the transmission of the virus e.g. elongating the doubling time which has changed from 7 to 11 days; • Is the health care system equipped to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every person who came in contact with a positive case? The health care system has been better equipped to detect, test, isolate and treat every case, and trace every person who came into contact with a positive case with the increase in the number of laboratories from 15 to 26 and ramping up of testing to a cumulative total of 35,098;
•Are outbreaks minimized in special settings like health facilities and nursing homes? Though we have recorded an infection of a number of medical personnel in our facilities, which is not peculiar to Nigeria, we have increased their training in care management and provided additional Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE);
•Are there measures in workplaces and schools to prevent the spread of the virus? With the gradual reopening of workplaces, markets, schools, among others, prescriptions have been made for the prevention of infection and spread of the virus;
•Are the risks of importing more cases from outside the country being managed? The risks associated with importation have been seriously minimised with the ban on flights, closure of borders and the mandatory 14 days quarantine for anyone arriving in Nigeria.”

Also yesterday, President Buhari urged the PTF on COVID-19 to work closely with state governors to engender better harmony in checking the prevailing pandemic in the country.

The president who spoke during an online meeting with the Governors’ Forum, disclosed that the Mustapha-led PTF had briefed him on the next steps in the national response to the pandemic, “and I have directed that they work very closely with the governors.”

Buhari said the pandemic was “beyond technology, power, and resources,” noting that countries that had all those, were recording the highest casualties round the world.

“We have to be very careful. We need to continue to educate and persuade the people to accept the reality of the situation, and do all that is necessary to stay safe,” the president said.

A statement made available to newsmen by Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, yesterday explained that at the meeting, Buhari also discussed economic and security issues, among others, with the governors commending the president on the “leadership and direction” he had given the country in combating COVID-19.

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There were indications at the weekend that President Buhari might address the nation yesterday on new procedures in the national response to the ravaging coronavirus, having received a progress report presented by the PTF.

Mustapha gave the hint on Sunday after the PTF briefed President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. But the presidency, via Adesina, yesterday disclosed that the PTF on COVID-19 was poised to bring citizens up to speed on the Federal Government’s direction concerning the progress so far made by the country in the campaign against the ravaging virus.

Adesina, on his twitter handle @FemAdesina, posted 1:11p.m., on Monday, explained that there would be no need for President Buhari’s broadcast as there was no arrangement to that effect.He said: “No presidential broadcast on COVID-19 updates today. None was planned. Rather, the PTF will during its usual media briefings bring the nation up to speed on the next steps.”

Besides, a former director general of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN), has served a notice of class action against the National Health Commission of the Peoples Republic of China, demanding the immediate payment of $200billion (N80 trillion) as the compensation for the spread of COVID-19 to Nigerians.

The professor of law, in a letter addressed to the minister, Chinese Health Commission in Beijng and dated May 18, 2020, said the demand was on behalf of Nigerians who were injured and adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic that broke out in Wuhan, China.

According to the senior advocate, the commission has within the next 14 days to effect the payment, adding that failure to so do by June 1, 2020, his firm would an commence appropriate legal action against them in Nigeria without further notice.

“Our clients and the peoples of Nigeria and elsewhere have, in consequence of the situation, been forced to commit scarce resources in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. With the completely paralysed economic situation in the country, Nigeria has been losing $2.7billion worth of business daily with no sign of possible recovery, affecting the ports, oil and gas, markets, transportation (land sea and air), stock trading, services, ports, among others. Our clients and the citizens of Nigeria have suffered greatly.

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“Various palliative measures are being undertaken through cash transfers, food supplies, and so on, funded through further external borrowings and more. All these have adversely affected the welfare of our clients.

“Be informed, therefore, that this letter serves as a notice to bring to your attention, that as a result of the stated injuries suffered by our clients, we demand the payment of the said $200 billion within the next 14 days from the receipt of this letter by you/your office and through the embassy of China in Nigeria,” Azinge declared.

According to the lawyer, the Wuhan Institute of Virology is administered by the Chinese Academy of Science and also accountable to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention; all of which are subordinate agencies to the National Health Commission. In consequence, he said, the conduct of the institute is attributable to the government of China.

His words: “China owes other nations a duty of care not to cause injuries to their interest or embark on acts likely to cause them harm like the COVID-19.

“Also, China is a signatory of several international protocols and conventions prohibiting wrongful acts likely to cause harm, disaster or loss of lives. The conduct of the institute and consequently China demonstrates gross negligence and wrongful conduct. The instrument binding states, which is the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts 2001 provides in article one ‘that every international wrongful act of a state entails the inter-national responsibility of the state’”, he said.

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