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COVID-19 cases rise to 30, spreads to four states, FCT

By Chukwuma Muanya, Wole Oyebade, Bertram Nwannekanma (Lagos), Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Kanayo Umeh (Abuja), Bukky Olajide (Abeokuta), Danjuma Michael (Katsina), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Ahmadu Baba Idris (Birnin Kebbi)
23 March 2020   |   4:19 am
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) yesterday disclosed eight new cases of COVID-19 in the country, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 30, with two persons discharged and no recorded case of death.

• IGP orders nationwide enforcement of social restriction
• Airspace shutdown costs 4000 jobs, N180b revenue
• Pharmacists warn against indiscriminate use of chloroquine
• PDP, rights body demand transparency on funds

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) yesterday disclosed eight new cases of COVID-19 in the country, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 30, with two persons discharged and no recorded case of death. Of the new cases, it said six were in Lagos State, one in Oyo State, and one in the Federal Capital Territory.

This came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was considering “airborne precautions” for medical staff after a new study showed the coronavirus could survive in the air in some settings.

WHO officials said the coronavirus could be airborne, staying suspended in the air depending on factors such as heat and humidity.Head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, told reporters during a virtual news conference: “The virus is transmitted through droplets, or little bits of liquid, mostly through sneezing or coughing.”

The new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus that causes COVID-19 remains for several hours to days on surfaces and in aerosols.

A new preliminary study has also found a correlation between blood type and the likelihood of being hospitalised with COVID-19. According to the authors, people with type A blood might be more at risk than others.

Meanwhile, Inspector General of Police Abubakar Adamu yesterday directed all Zonal Assistant Inspectors General of Police and Commissioners of Police nationwide to ensure all legitimate orders given for the containment of COVID-19 are enforced.

Making the disclosure, Force Public Relations Officer Frank Mba also revealed moves by the police to protect its officers from the pandemic.He said: “The IGP enjoins citizens to avoid social visits to police stations and other police offices and minimise official visits, except where absolutely necessary.

“The IGP has ordered Command CPs to immediately publicise the phone numbers of their Command Control Rooms, Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) and other Tactical Commanders using conventional and non-conventional media in order to facilitate alternative interacting and reporting options between the public and the police.

“In compliance with the Federal Government’s directive that all tertiary institutions be shut, the IGP has ordered the immediate closure of the Nigeria Police Academy as well as all Police Primary and Secondary Schools nationwide.”

Also, amid the partial airspace shutdown, which has already cost the aviation industry N180 billion, some 4000 travel agents will wake up this morning with nowhere to go, having been laid off at the weekend.

Although the Federal Government’s latest closure of both Lagos and Abuja international airports to foreign carriers will take effect midnight today, the drastic loss of traffic has forced almost all operating airlines to cancel scheduled flights.

Travel agencies yesterday confirmed the market crash to The Guardian, saying they have been forced to lay off their workers, to cut the huge loss.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had warned that Nigeria could lose 2.2 million overseas-bound passengers, $434 million in revenue, and about 22,200 jobs, if the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) escalates.

The association, which represents some 290 airlines, said the gloomy outlook was not peculiar to Nigeria but cuts across the region and warrants emergency support for the airlines.

President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said the international air travel sector is almost grounded.

He noted that the local sector is not exempted. With about 50 per cent loss in traffic already, “it is just a matter of time before they start shutting down too.”

He said the industry risks a total collapse, except the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) gives bailouts to travel agencies, to avoid a default in the remittance of funds to IATA.

“Even those that have paid are putting in for refund. Yet, no foreign airline is doing cash refund. This disruption has already cost the industry half of the $1 billion (N360 billion) sales made in 2019.

“That explains why members are laying off their staff or placing them on half salary. When the staff come to the office and they are not issuing tickets, it means there is no need keeping them and there is no support coming from anywhere to augment your cost.

“We need a bailout from the government. It will enable us to access interest-free loans to augment our liabilities at this period. We are not asking anybody to come and dash us money.

“The circumstance has created a cash flow shortage whereby we cannot fulfill our obligations to the airlines through IATA when due. This puts everyone under a lot of pressure,” Bankole said.

Travel professional, Lola Adewole, disclosed that with an average of five staff to each of the 800 registered travel agencies, “that is 4000 jobs lost already, without counting the unregistered ones that are much more.”

Adewole said further: “We need a bailout. We need banks or CBN to give us an interest-free overdraft to meet our obligations. What we signed with IATA is sell the products of the airlines on behalf of the airlines and remit at an agreed date. Based on that, IATA is expecting payment, which we have not received from clients.”

In a related development, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asked the Federal Government to display transparency in the handling of the N1.3 trillion set aside to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on the economy.

At a press conference addressed by National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan in Abuja, the party charged the Federal Government to “come clean on the source of the intervention, the specific intervention projects where the fund will apply, the level of involvement of other tiers of government and private stakeholders, as well as the mode of disbursements and monitoring.”

It advised President Buhari to “immediately end all tactless economic policies, accept failure, seek help and get more competent hands to work on the economy, develop strategies to strengthen the naira as well as paddle our nation out of the current economic quandary.”

Urging the government to “shelve every plan of increasing the already excruciating taxes including the Value Added Tax (VAT), which it increased from 5% to 7.5%, with attendant high costs on essential goods and services,” the party, also called on the Buhari administration to “immediately cut down the size of its over-bloated government and plug waste by clipping the luxury expenditure of the presidency, cabinet ministers and other executive appointees.”

Similarly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), in an open letter to Buhari, asked him to “urgently instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission to jointly track and monitor spending by federal agencies and state governors on the COVID-19 scourge.”

The Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) also cautioned people against the indiscriminate use of chloroquine and related drugs in the treatment of (COVID-19).

ACPN National Chairman Samuel Adekola advised potential consumers of chloroquine to seek professional counsel from registered pharmacists so that appropriate doses could be dispensed, with possible side effects, adverse reactions and other dosage regimen communicated competently.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt various aspects of socio-economic life across the country, Katsina State, Emir of Daura Alhaji Farouk Umar yesterday suspended the wedding of his daughter. This came as Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma directed the closure of all educational institutions in the state. Kebbi State followed suit with the immediate closure of all public and private schools.

Also, with the crash in crude oil prices and an imminent reduction in monthly allocations from the federation account, Ogun State, Governor Dapo Abiodun announced fiscal measures to keep the state afloat. Some of these include budget review, restructuring and refinancing of existing loan obligations, and processing of new credit facilities to improve the state’s cash flow and take advantage of the more favourable interest rate regime in the country.