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Government searches for contacts of five new coronavirus suspects

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, John Akubo (Abuja), Gbenga Salau, Ibe Wada, Olumide Ologbosere (Lagos), Murtala Adewale (Kano) and Danjuma Michael (Katsina)
19 March 2020   |   4:47 am
Nigeria took sweeping measures yesterday to check the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as the country and the rest of the world continued to face last-minute disruptions

Restricts travel from U.S, U.K, France, others cancels visas
• Reps, NYSC, airline, varsity, others impose curbs
• Lagos bans religious gathering of more than 50 people

Nigeria took sweeping measures yesterday to check the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as the country and the rest of the world continued to face last-minute disruptions to schedules and restrictions on social activities.

This followed the announcement by the Federal Ministry of Health yesterday of five new cases of the disease, bringing the total number in the country to eight.

Confirming the development at a news conference in Abuja, Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire said that of the five new positive cases, three arrived from the United States, while two came in from the United Kingdom.

“We are still collating information on the travellers; two of the three from the U.S. are Nigerians, a mother and child, making the six-week-old baby the youngest COVID-19 patient. The third is an American who crossed the land border and becomes the first COVID-19 case not arriving by air. The two cases from the U.K. are Nigerians,” he said.

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According to the minister, detailed travel history of each person is being compiled and contacts currently being traced to identify persons who have recently been in contact with anyone of them.

The Senate noted that an address would go a long way in making Nigerians adhere to preventive measures, even as it asked the Federal Government to take more drastic measures in curbing the spread of the virus.

Adopting a motion sponsored by Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe State), the Senate called for restrictions on large gatherings, tighter border control and stringent screening of persons entering the country.

The Red Chamber also asked the Federal Government to restrict airlines from high-risk countries, close down all international airports (except Abuja and Lagos), suspend the issuance of visa on arrival and establish an intervention fund to combat the disease.

“If we feel we are safe, it will lead us to complacency,” warned Senate President Ahmad Lawan.

Also, social media platforms were awash yesterday with comments suggesting that President Muhammadu Buhari needs to take a cue from other world leaders, who have formally addressed their citizens on the deadly disease, disclosed precautionary operations and allayed fears.

“Is national broadcast now a very difficult thing to do? What is really happening? Please, why are the president’s handlers finding this simple task very difficult to accomplish?” said one Blez@blez_heji via Twitter.

Another, Arthur Francis@ArthurF09559924, asked: “Are we supposed to be begging this man to do what other presidents of their respective countries have done?”

Already, the Federal Government has placed a restriction on travellers from 13 countries affected by the pandemic.

Making the disclosure at a news conference in Abuja yesterday, Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha said the countries are: China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The four-week restriction takes effect Saturday, March 21 and would be subject to a review.

Mustapha added: “You will also recall that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 at the end of a meeting announced the ban on all forms of travels by public officers and civil servants until further notice.

“This morning, we have found it necessary to brief Nigerians on further measures being taken after an assessment of the global situation.

“All persons arriving in Nigeria who might have visited these countries 15 days prior to such arrival, will be subjected to supervised self-isolation and testing for 14 days.”

Following the Federal Executive Council meeting yesterday, Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola said further that visas issued to travellers from the listed countries have been cancelled.

Similarly, the director-general of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim announced the nationwide suspension of the scheme’s 37 orientations camps.

During an official visit to Katsina State yesterday, Ibrahim was also quoted as saying: “Corps members would be posted to commence their primary assignments forthwith, while they shall be invited back to the orientation camps when the situation improves.”

Kano State NYSC coordinator, Hajiya Aisha Tata, who confirmed the development to The Guardian on the telephone, said the suspension of activities at the state’s camp in Karaye was in strict compliance with a directive from the corps’ headquarters in Abuja.

In another disruption, Arik Air announced the temporary suspension of its flights to all West Coast destinations from March 23.

Arik Chief Executive Officer, Capt. Roy Ilegbodu, disclosed this in a statement in Lagos, stating: “The safety and well-being of our personnel and valued customers are paramount at this critical time. We do not want to take chances and this is why we have taken this decision.”

He apologised to customers whose travel plans might have been affected by the suspension of flights and promised to mitigate the effects by ensuring a prompt refund for tickets.

At the House of Representatives, there would no longer be receipt of visitors till the disease abates. The resolve followed the unanimous adoption of a motion of Matter of Urgent Public Importance by Chawai Mouktar (APC, Kaduna).

On its part, the National Open University of Nigeria postponed its 2020 convocation ceremonies, citing “risk to health.”

“We have people coming from all over the country and we do not want to risk anything happening to anyone. We have decided that the best thing to do is to postpone the convocation until things get better,” Vice-Chancellor Prof. Abdalla Adamu told the News Agency of Nigeria in an interview in Lagos.

Lagos State Commissioner for Health Akin Abayomi also announced the cancellation of the ministry’s engagement with media and civil society organisations on COVID-19.

According to Abayomi, the event planned for today, to engage stakeholders on how to fight COVID-19 and other pathogens was put off in adherence to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s advice on social distance.

Also, the Lagos State government has placed a four-week suspension on religious activities attended by more than 50 persons.

It arrived at the decision following a meeting with representatives of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigeria Interreligious Council at Alausa, Ikeja, yesterday. A fifteen-member monitoring committee was also set up to ensure compliance.

Commissioner for Home Affairs Prince Olanrewaju Elegushi appealed to religious leaders to abide by all preventive measures.