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FG issues guidelines for reopening of schools

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• CAN, NSCIA submit rules for resumed worship
• Churches may hold services first Sunday of June

Schools will remain closed until the Federal Government is sure pupils could attend classes without the risk of contracting COVID-19. Minister of State for Education Emeka Nwajiuba, who disclosed this at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF), said: “Until we are sure that our children can go to school and return safely without taking COVID-19 home, we are not ready to take the risk of opening schools.”

Clarifying that an announcement suggesting schools would reopen June 8, 2020 did not emanate from government, he said the administrationwould work in tandem with experts and the World Health Organisation (WHO) before schools can resume.

The Federal Ministry of Education will publish post-COVID-19 guidelines for school, he said. According to him, the government is working on a model to ensure that all children do not return at the same time, with a view to facilitating physical distancing and sanitation.

In his words: “We want all our children to go to school by the time the schools would have been able to achieve physical distancing. The plan entails adopting a two-shift system and allowing those who will write exams to return earlier than others.Use this period to upgrade skills and think of how to make their teachings impactful. We are looking at sanitary conditions of all the schools.

“SUBEB (State Universal Basic Education Board) should use some of the money we give them to upgrade sanitary conditions in schools. We are also looking at having sanitatisation booths, working with NASENI (National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure). It is a forewarning to private and state governments to ensure that these things are put in place before schools can reopen,” the minister said.

Nwajiuba explained that for tertiary institutions, there would be the need to have a semester within a semester for the students. He explained that some courses would run in a semester first while others would follow suit in order to maintain physical distancing.

He urged lecturers in tertiary institutions to use the period to upgrade themselves. “A period like this should not be wasted and tertiary institutions must be functioning,” he said.

For secondary schools, the minister said students in senior classes might resume before their junior counterparts. The plan, according to him, is that children should resume by the time schools have achieved physical distancing measures.

“We may have classes in the morning and afternoon at the moment, for the purpose of physical distancing, and all the infrastructure within the school will be used to achieve this,” he explained.

Schools must be ready to display hand sanitiser machines, he said, adding that a key condition for reopening would be the availability of all the materials needed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha observed that the 2020 Children’s Day highlights the need to build a legacy that would guarantee a safe and secure future for children. He noted that prior to COVID-19, the nation was faced with the challenge of out-of-school children, regretting that this had been compounded by the compelling need to close schools to contain the spread of the virus.

“The PTF has been deliberating on this situation and wishes to inform Nigerians that the Federal Ministry of Education will roll out measures for safe reopening of our schools. The PTF wishes to use the occasion of this celebration to congratulate our children and assure them, their parents, and all stakeholders alike, that all hands are on deck to reopen the schools at a safe time,” he said.

In a related development, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) yesterday submitted to the PTF their guidelines for the reopening of worship centres.

Part of the recommendations by CAN, which was led by Chairman, North Central Rev Dr Israel Akanji and the FCT CAN Chairman Rev Dr Jonah Samson, was that churches should disinfect their premises before reopening while physical distancing should be observed in sitting arrangements with a one-metre space between two worshippers.

The association provided that, for a start, churches should hold one-hour services and that all Sunday services should end by 5:30p.m. Also, to avoid crowding, there should be a 10-minute lapse between multiple services.

Others are: churches should provide alcoholic sanitisers, temperature readers, soap and water on their premises to be supervised by medical professionals in the church; every worshipper must use soap to wash his/her hands or apply sanitisers; the temperature of worshippers must be screened before they are admitted and people with the high recordings should be advised to see a doctor.

Every worshipper must wear a face mask; churches may use classrooms and multipurpose halls for services, where available, to accommodate more worshippers at once, and TV circuit and speakers can be used for those who are not inside the main auditorium.

Handshaking and hugging should be avoided before, during and after the service; children should worship with their parents; prayers should be offered to God for a speedy end of COVID-19 and quick recovery of patients; CAN would constitute a committee alongside law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance.

The NSCIA wanted worship to be held at the same hour in accordance with Qur’anic injunctions while children should be exempted. The PTFpromised to prepare its own recommendations, which would be presented to President Muhammadu Buhari. The president would, in turn, peruse the document and deliver his resolution at a national broadcast expected on Monday.

Meanwhile, in a statement yesterday, CAN President Rev. Supo Ayokunle said: “As a law-abiding institution, the church in Nigeria and the Christian association that binds all of us together complied, hitherto, with government’s directive suspending churches services for the past eight weeks now.

“The church is well prepared for resumption of worship. We are in discussions with the agents of the Federal Government and are drawing the guidelines that churches would follow in order not to endanger the life of any worshipper and equally prevent COVID-19 infection.

“We are sure of compliance if the government allows our compliance team to work hand-in-hand with their law enforcement agents to monitor compliance. If the government didn’t entertain any fear in opening markets and banks, which are not as organised as the church, why should government entertain fear about the compliance of the church?

“We are hopeful that latest, by the first Sunday in June, all our churches would open again for congregational worship under COVID-19 prevention regulations. As I said before, we are consulting with the government on this.”


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