What next after 14-day lockdown?



Buhari

As Nigeria approaches the end of the 14-day lockdown imposed on Lagos and Ogun states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) by President Muhammadu Buhari to curb the spread of Covid-19, SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report asks what the federal government’s next line of action would be.

President Muhamamdu Buhari addressed the nation on 29 March in a national broadcast. The President in the address mapped out the plans of his administration to curb the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria. With over one million reported cases and more than 50,000 deaths worldwide, measures must surely be taken by every government to curb the spread of the infection, and the President’s decision to lockdown Lagos, Ogun state and the Federal capital Territory (FCT) for an initial period of 14 days did not come as a surprise.

He said all citizens in the affected areas were to stay at home, adding that the containment period would be used to identify, trace and isolate individuals that had come in contact with confirmed cases.

However, as we approach the end of the 14-day lockdown, the question on the minds of Nigerians is what will happen after the lockdown especially as it concerns strategies to tame the spread of the virus and palliatives to cushion the effects of the pandemic on individuals, households, companies and the economy at large.

FG moots extension

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on the Control of Covid – 19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said the President will review the 14 days lockdown before the end of the week after assessment report of the coronavirus situation.

He stated this at the daily national briefing in Lagos on Tuesday.

The SGF, who commended Lagos for its response mechanism, said other states had a lot to learn from the organisational structure and preparedness of the state.

According to him, the Covid-19 pandemic is the most significant public health emergency of international concern, having recorded over one million cases and causing over 50, 000 deaths worldwide, as well as significant disruption to healthcare system particularly in low and middle – income countries.

Responding to a question on possible extension of the lockdown, the SGF said, “This is part of the consultation. We are looking at the objectives set when the lockdown or quarantine declaration was signed by the president and other states.

“Before the end of the week, we will do an evaluation to see how the set objectives are being met. At the end of the evaluation, the second stage of implementation and advice will go to Mr. President.

“He, only, will take the decision on whether lockdown will be extended or it will stop at the expiration of the 14 days. He will consider if we have achieved successes in the direction we have chosen. I can assure you he will take the decision in the best interest of the nation. ”

 State of Emergency

Similarly, the national coordinator of All Workers Convergence (AWC), Comrade Andrew Emelieze, has advised the federal government to declare a state of emergency across the federation in order to effectively curtail the spread of coronavirus.

Comrade Emelieze in a statement released in Ibadan, the Oyo stae capital, said “this can be done by extending the lockdown period to include all states of the federation.”

He also advised the government to put in place measures to support the masses in the face of the hardship arising from the Covid-19.

He said, “As we had stated before now, we still maintain our position that government should put in place measures to support poor income families and the vulnerable in the society. It is our view that government declares a state of emergency across the federation by extending the lockdown period which will include all states of the federation.

“We, therefore, call on government to take responsibility and make provisions for masses’ wellbeing while the lockdown lasts.”

Testing capacity

Dr. Chijioke Njoku, a medical microbiologist and consultant in infectious disease at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, told Blueprint Weekend that whether government decides to end or relax the lockdown, effective quarantine is essential for tackling the pandemic, but this cannot happen without extensive testing for Covid-19.

“Effective quarantine is essential for tackling the coronavirus after the lockdown and this cannot happen without extensive testing for covid-19. To stop the virus, China had to do rapid testing of any suspect case, immediate isolation of anyone who was a confirmed or suspected case, and then quarantine the close contacts for 14 days so that they could figure out if any of them were infected.

“Those were the measures that stopped transmission in China, not the big travel restrictions and lockdowns,” he said.

Second wave of infections

In his reaction, while speaking with Blueprint Weekend, an infectious disease epidemiologist and a consultant in public health medicine, Dr. Istifanus Maikori, advised government to be wary of second wave of infection.

He said, “After the lockdown, government needs to be alert for a potential second wave of infections. Social distancing measures, including school and university closures, might be needed for a long period to keep the proportion of people with infections in hospital at manageable levels.

‘Social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ are phrases you might have heard more of recently and are two critical interventions that must be put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus after the lockdown. These measures slow the spread of the virus, and when appropriately practiced, can slow the rate of infection in a town, community or even the entire country.

“Nigerians too must take responsibility, do what they are requested to do to stay safe and stop blaming others. For those who would continue to willfully flout the directives aimed at checking the spread of this disease, government must introduce stringent measures to stop them. This is a national health emergency; we must as a nation tackle it with tough measures.”

He said further that, “However, if China can show that it can lift its lockdown without a significant re-appearance of positive cases, it might be possible that such protracted restrictions won’t be necessary.

“Government must act aggressively, using social-distancing measures to slow down the spread and extensive testing and isolating of infected people to stamp out potential transmission sources. This strategy helped the country contain the outbreak. This is was what the Chinese did to slow rate of infection.”

National masks policy

Also, the federal government is considering compulsory use of face masks by all Nigerians to stop the spread of the virus. It’s also reviewing the protocols for implementing the 14-day lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Other measures to combat the pandemic include opening more testing centres so that Nigeria would be able to test 1,500 people daily in a bid to fast-track the detection rate.

Speaking in Abuja at a press briefing by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, the director-general of Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the agency was considering compulsory use of face masks to mitigate against the spread of the virus.

Ihekweazu noted that though the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recommended that face mask should only be used by health workers, NCDC might recommend a national strategy around its use for the public to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

He said the centre was considering that approach in the light of new emerging evidence, adding that for the mask to be effective on a population basis, they might recommend its use for everyone.

“This is a strategy we need to think about before we implement it. Before we implement a national strategy around mask wearing, we have to be sure we can provide it or at least enable access to it. We will allow for the risk assessment and as the evidence comes together, we will make a decision based on the evidence and ability to provide every Nigerian with access to mask,” he said.

An expert’s advice

Both federal and state governments have been asked to consider the consequences of extending lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states as well as Abuja without putting in place better palliative plans.

This warning came from a group known as the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) through a statement signed by its secretary-general, Mr. Willy Ezugwu.

In the statement, the group drew the attention of the federal government to the need to support local production of medical equipment and drugs to manage the Coronavirus pandemic rather than depending on the Chinese government for equipment and personal protective gears.

He said, “When the federal government announced a 14-day lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states as part of measures aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, we were fully in support of the efforts.

“We supported the initiative by President Muhammadu Buhari after his broadcast to the nation because the government had a palliative plan for citizens during the period.

“However, the events of last few days have clearly shown that the governments at both the federal and state levels were totally as unprepared to mitigate the pains of the lockdown as Nigerians themselves.

“Having closely monitored the distribution of palliative packages, including federal government’s conditional cash transfer, we are totally disappointed that the citizens have continued to endure pains and hardships, including severe hunger, in hope that the pandemic will be contained within the 14 days of lockdown.”

Continuing, he said, “But we are shocked by insinuations from the federal and state governments of possible extension of the lockdown and we warn that any extension of the Covid-19 lockdown may meet a brick wall if the shoddy soothing of the pains of citizens occasioned by hunger was not addressed.

“We are afraid that from the fillers we are getting, the masses may resort to civil disobedience in event of extension of the lockdown, which may make enforcement of the order very difficult. As they say, a hungry man is an angry man.

“More are more Nigerians have exhausted their little provisions and food stuff and keeping them at home longer than 14 days in the manner many citizens have endured in the last one week will be extremely difficult, particularly with most members of the population depending on daily incomes to survive.”

Pat Utomi’s take

Also, the founder of the Centre for Values and Leadership (CVL), Prof. Pat Utomi, in a chat with journalists warned that the lockdown of the country without palliatives for the people, especially the poor, can lead to breakdown of the society.

He said, “We have a situation where we are asked for a lockdown, so many people cannot do any work; they have to be at home. Many of these people live from hand to mouth, and if they don’t go out within 24 hours, they won’t find anything to eat.

 “As broke as I’m, I’m not joking, I have dozens of text messages from all kinds of people that I don’t know; desperation kind of text messages; in a situation like this, you send five thousand naira to each of them, then the next batch comes, you want to go crazy; you ask yourself what’s going on.

 “We better look at the situation from how you deal with those challenges. Look at India, how it has responded to lockdown; the kind of money, about $37 billion to support its people, feeding them, etc, but Nigeria, it cannot. I don’t know what is in its treasury.

“We are in a moment where we have to make some dramatic decisions. I can’t accept that people who go on hand to mouth could be on lockdown for two weeks, three weeks with nothing happening to alleviate their condition. If this continues, breakdown will take place and states would explode.”

FG’s interventions

Meanwhile, alarmed by the rapid spread of Covid-19 pandemic, the federal and state governments are looking for funds from many quarters, both local and foreign, to fight the scourge as the central government announced a N500 billion stimulus package.

On the international scene, the federal government is seeking a $3.4 billion facility from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and concessionary loans from the Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Also, state governments are in talks with the World Bank for support to mitigate the socio-economic costs of the plague.

At home, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the withdrawal of $150 million from the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Stabilisation Fund to support the June 2020 Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), disbursement to the three tiers of government.

Aside from providing N102.5 billion for direct interventions in the healthcare sector, the federal government announced fiscal relief for state governments, including a moratorium on some Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), loans, which repayment could be suspended when allocations fall below certain thresholds.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, disclosed these at a briefing on the fiscal stimulus measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and oil prices fiscal shock in Abuja.

$3.4bn IMF facility

Mrs. Ahmed explained that the facility being sought by government was from the Drawing Rights, meaning it would come from Nigeria’s contribution to the IMF and so would come without IMF conditions, adding that the country is not entering into any formal programme with the body.

She said, “We have also applied for funding from the International Monetary Fund’s Covid-19 Rapid Credit Facility to draw from our existing holdings with the World Bank Group/International Monetary Fund. This loan will not be tied to any conditionality. Let me just state here and clarify that Nigeria does not intend to negotiate or enter into a formal programme with IMF at this time or in the foreseeable future.

“The Covid-19 Rapid Credit Facility is a right for every member country to draw up to limit of the amount it has contributed and Nigeria has expressed interest in that regard. We have about $3.4 billion with the IMF and we intend to withdraw the entire amount. The IMF has a provision that we can withdraw between 50-100 per cent. We are aware that 80 other countries have asked for similar facilities.”

In addition, Mrs. Ahmed said the federal government is in talks with other multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank, for concessionary loans to effectively fight the pandemic.

On the N500 billion stimulus package, Mrs. Ahmed said, “Mr. President has approved the establishment of a N500 billion Covid-19 Crisis Intervention Fund. The establishment of this Covid-19 crisis Intervention Fund will involve drawing much-needed cash resources from various Special Funds and Accounts, in consultation with, and the approval of the National Assembly.

“The N500 billion is proposed to be utilised to: Upgrade healthcare facilities as earlier identified by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and approved by Mr. President; finance the federal government’s interventions to support states in improving health care facilities; and finance the creation of a Special Public Works Programme; and fund any additional interventions that may be approved by Mr. President.”

She disclosed further that the federal government had provided N102.5 billion for direct interventions in the healthcare sector.

“Of this sum, N6.5 billion has already been made available to the NCDC for critical expenditure. The federal government remains committed to supporting the states in these difficult times, particularly those states that are currently battling with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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