- US prepares to evacuate citizens, releases $274m to Nigeria, others
- 8 new cases as El-Rufai tests positive, total now 97
- Commuters, vehicles stranded as Rivers border closure bites amid fears of virus spread
- Ogun shuts borders
The federal government through NAFDAC and the Ministry of Health has granted Lagos State permission to commence clinical trials of a combination of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and Azithromycin for the treatment of the dreaded coronavirus that is currently burning through human populations around the world.
Given the success the state has recorded so far in the treatment of patients, having treated and discharged six and 10 others due to be discharged in the coming days should they record two negative tests following treatment, THISDAY reported.
A presidency source told THISDAY yesterday that the federal government was impressed with the state government and consequently decided to grant the approval for clinical trials of the drugs for treatment of the virus.
This is seen as a major step forward towards the usage of the drugs. It is not certain yet how the trials would pan out. But French researchers had announced last week that a combination of both drugs was effective 100 per cent cure in treating Covid-19 patients.
In a related development, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control yesterday said it has expanded the number of labs with the capacity to test for #COVID19 to 6 with the inclusion of the Virology Laboratory of University College Hospital, Ibadan
The centre in its twitter handle said: “Tomorrow, we will be in Abakaliki to set up another lab as we quickly ramp up #COVID19 testing capacity in Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, the report by French research study, which allegedly confirmed a combination of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and Azithromycin as effective in treating Covid-19 patients, was published by TECHSTARTUPS, a fast growing online technology media destination, dedicated to promoting new technology startup companies.
TECHSTARTUP had earlier published a story about a new study published by NIH, which showed that Hydroxychloroquine has been found to be more effective and potent than chloroquine in vitro treatment of coronavirus.
Rivers Border Closure Bites, Impact Felt Far and Wide
Also yesterday, fears mounted over the closure of Rivers State border with Bayelsa town of Mbiama by the Rivers State government in an attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus. However, there are fears that the closure may turnout to be counter productive as hundreds of vehicles are stranded in Mbiama waiting to be allowed into Rivers state. The massive crowd has raised fears of a possible epidemic as no one is observing social distancing guidelines.
According to a source, those who can bribe security operatives enforcing the closure bribed their way and were allowed into Rivers State while others who couldn’t waited and mingling with one another hoping that the closure would be lifted.
As the closure bites, the newspaper industry is hard hit the most as most circulation vans could not take newspapers in or out of the state.
The fate of the newspapers was so alarming that the Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the umbrella body of correspondents of national newspapers in the state, had to write to Governor Nyesom Wike, who is also the chairman of the Task Force for the enforcement of restrictions, for special waivers for newspaper distribution vans.
Ogun Shuts Down Borders
Ogun State Government has announced the closure of its borders with the neighbouring states and the international border with the Republic of Benin.
The closure will be enforced at midnight on Sunday, March 29, 2020 and will be in force for two weeks in the first instance.
A statement by Kunle Somorin, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Dapo Abiodun, claimed the state was constrained to effect border closure in order to stem and flatten the curve of the spread of the dreaded coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, not only in the state but in the country and in the West African sub-region.
“The position of Ogun State is peculiar. It not only shares an international border with the Republic of Benin, it does so with all other states in the Southwest (except Ekiti), including Lagos State, which has understandably recorded the highest number of infections in the country largely, because it hosts the busiest air and sea ports and it’s the nation’s economic capital.
“The border closure will not only be beneficial to Ogun State but the national efforts to curtail and contain the virus. Lessons from other climes strongly indicate that closure of borders has the potential to drastically flatten the curve of spread whilst unrestricted movement portends grave dangers,” Governor Abidoun further explained.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)
Worried that the economic effect of the coronavirus outbreak may endure longer than envisaged, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has asked the G-20 to give Nigeria and other African countries $100 billion in emergency grants to stimulate their economies and cushion the effects of the pandemic that has claimed over 30,847 lives and infected 662,852 across the globe. The United States death toll so far reached a grim milestone, According to CNN, over 2,000 persons has lost their lives as at late yesterday. Nevertheless, the US at the weekend announced an initial investment of nearly $274 million in emergency health and humanitarian assistance to help countries in need to fight the raging coronavirus and other related health issues. Nigeria is billed to get more than $7 million from the fund, according a statement by the US Department of State
In the meantime, as the virus continues to take its toll on the physical and economic health of nations, eight new persons in Nigeria, including Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-rufai, tested positive on Saturday, bringing the total cases in the country to 97. Nigeria recorded new cases in Benue State, which had its first infection, and Edo State.
Fearing imminent explosion of the virus in the country, the US and some European countries have concluded plans to evacuate their citizens from Nigeria in the wake of the rising COVID 19 cases. The warning came from some European diplomats, who projected that the infection rate might rise to 10,000 in the coming weeks, because, according to them, about 5,000 persons had already had contact with infected persons across the country.
Consequently, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development said it would focus on the poor and vulnerable, including the elderly, refugees, IDPs, persons living with disabilities, trafficked persons, and petty traders in its response to COVID-19 in the country. Taking a cue from private sector operators and the state national oil company, NNPC, the 43 ministers in the federal cabinet announced the donation of 50 per cent of their salaries for March 2020 to support government’s effort to combat the pandemic.
This is just as state governments across the country announced tough measures, including shutting their borders, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. Many of the states were already considering economic stimulus packages to help majority of their residents cope with the stay-at-home order by government.
UNECA, one of the five regional commissions created by the United Nations to promote the economic and social development of its member states, predicted that the global health crisis would hit Nigeria and other African countries harder, with a heavy and durable and economic toll. The commission, which proposed $100 billion economic stimulus package to the G-20 on behalf of its African member states, in a statement THISDAY obtained from its Communication Office Friday, predicted that post-COVID-19 challenges would complicate Africa’s economic challenges.
G-20 is an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 19 countries and the EU, comprising economies that account for about 90 per cent of the gross world product, 80 per cent of world trade, two-thirds of the world population, and half of the global land area.
In its statement, UNECA observed that COVID-19 would leave Nigeria and other African countries with durable economic consequences, which it predicted, would threaten progress and prospects, widen inequalities between and within countries, and worsen current fragilities.
Specifically, for Nigeria, the commission forecast that there might be potential loss of 1.6 per cent growth rate, which according to its report, might be worse with COVID-19 forcing Africa’s biggest economy to shut down its strategic sectors.
The commission explained that the growth rate for Nigeria could fall from 2.9 per cent to 1.3 per cent in 2020, noting that with Nigeria accounting for 74 per cent of ECOWAS, the region might follow a similar trend.
In the light of the short-term and long-term effects of the virus, the commission pleaded with the G-20 leaders “to announce a US$100 billion (in addition to the $50bn already committed) to fund the immediate health response, social safety nets for the most vulnerable, feeding for out-of-school children, and to protect jobs.
“As a proportion of GDP, this is consistent with measures taken in other regions. To ensure immediate fiscal space and liquidity, this package should include a waiver of all interest payments, estimated at US$44 billion for 2020.”
Besides the $100 billion economic stimulus package, UNECA urged the G-20 leaders “to support a waiver on principal and interest for African Fragile States such as the Sahel, Central African Republic and others that are already struggling with the burden of debt and have limited fiscal space.”
The commission challenged the G-20 leaders to make provision for enhanced predictability, transparency and accountability of financial flows so that African finance ministers could plan effectively and civil society stakeholders could help track flows to ensure they reach those most in need.
UNECA predicted the likely loss of 30 million jobs on the continent in the post-COVID-19 era, thus proposing that the G-20 leaders should implement emergency measures to protect 30 million jobs immediately at risk across African economies, particularly in the tourism and airline sectors.
It added that the G-20 leaders should take measures “to support agricultural imports and exports, the pharmaceutical sector and the banking sector. An extended credit facility, refinancing schemes and guarantee facilities should be used to waive, restructure and provide additional liquidity in 2020.”
It equally emphasised the need for the G20 leaders “to support a liquidity line available to the private sector operating in Africa to ensure essential purchases can continue and all SMEs dependent on trade can continue to function.
“G20 leaders should ensure that national and regional stimulus packages covering private and financial systems include measures to support African businesses through allowing for the suspension of leasing, debt and other repayments to global businesses.”
UNECA proposed that the G-20 leaders should support and encourage open trade corridors, especially, for pharmaceuticals and other health supplies, as well as support the upgrade of health infrastructure and provide direct support to existing facilities. It said this would enable countries “to focus on prevention as much as possible and start building curative facilities. Support should be provided to WHO and CDC Africa with funds channelled through the Global Fund, GAVI and others.
“G-20 leaders should support public health campaigns and access to information including through an expedited private sector partnership for internet connectivity to enable economic activity to continue during social distancing measures and to support the effective sharing of information about the pandemic.”
The commission argued that the G-20 leaders should take these measures “to support Nigeria and African countries to cushion the effects of COVID-19. This is a global crisis affecting the whole world.
“Africa, however, will be hit harder with a heavy and durable economic toll, which will threaten progress and prospects, widen inequalities between and within countries, and worsen current fragilities. African countries need support in preparing for the health crisis, and for the economic fallout.
“The measures being taken in Asia, Europe and North America such as physical (social) distancing and regular handwashing will be a particular challenge for countries with limited internet connectivity, dense populations, unequal access to water and limited social safety nets.”
UNECA said African countries “are preparing for the worst effects of COVID-19,” a pandemic that has put the global economy to a halt.
US Preparing to Evacuate Citizens
Fearing an escalation in the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, the United States prepared emergency flights to evacuate its citizens in the country. The US Embassy and Consulate in Nigeria had advised nationals, who were not in Abuja and Lagos, to work with local airlines to make travel arrangements while flights were still available. The Embassy, in a notice titled, “Health Alert: US Mission in Nigeria”, urged American citizens to be in Abuja and Lagos as soon as possible to join the arranged flights back to the US.
The notice read, “At present, there are no scheduled flights to the United States. However, we are actively exploring options and attempting to secure flights despite global airport closures and travel restrictions.
“We will email US citizens immediately once we have flight details, routes, and costs. US citizens, who are considering returning to the United States, are urged to travel to Abuja or Lagos as soon as possible.
“The Embassy and Consulate are unable to assist with lodging, food, or transportation costs, and some hotels have closed or are closing.
“To disseminate important information and alerts for US Citizens including possible evacuation flights, the State Department uses the Smart Traveller Enrolment Programme as its primary messaging system. US Citizens in Nigeria, who want to be informed about emergency flights and receive other alerts should enrol in STEP immediately.”
Diplomats Warn of Virus Explosion
Some Western diplomats, last week, warned that the number of persons infected with the virus could witness a significant rise in the coming weeks on account of the poor handling of the situation by government. Nigeria currently has over 81 confirmed cases and one death from the pandemic.
The diplomatic community contended that infections could rise to over 10,000 in the coming weeks, as there were at least 5,000 persons, who had come in contact with infected persons in the country. This category of persons, it was believed, had mingled with thousands of others in the society without realising they had the virus, which is largely asymptomatic in this part of the world.
“This is the real danger. A lot of people, who have had contacts with original carriers of the virus don’t even know they have the ailment and have in fact gone ahead to mingle with hundreds and thousands of others in the society, spreading the virus further,” said a senior diplomat attached to one European high commission in the country.
The diplomat, who spoke to an online newspaper on Friday, explained, “From information we have in the diplomatic community, there could be an explosion of confirmed infections in the coming weeks. It is going to disrupt a lot of things.”
Another diplomat, whose country was reported as having provided technical support to African nations battling the spread of the virus, also echoed the same sentiment, when he said the situation in Nigeria was dire, because the number of untested infections far outweighed those examined by the government agencies.
It is alleged that so far only about 200 persons have been tested for coronavirus in Nigeria due to the unavailability of testing kits. But this figure is being disputed because Lagos alone is said to test between 120 and 150 daily.
Although in the week, a Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma, donated testing kits and protective items to Nigeria and other African countries to help combat the virus, hundreds of potentially infected persons are yet to be examined in Nigeria, therefore increasing the risk of an epidemic in the West African state.
“We could be having tens of thousands of confirmed cases across Nigeria in a few days from now. There are thousands of people with the virus already on the loose in the country and many of these people cannot be traced. They have taken this pandemic into every nook and cranny of this country,” the diplomat stated.
He advised Nigeria to act fast to avert a full-blown war, adding, however, that Western countries would continue to provide technical support to help Africa and the rest of the world conquer the virus.
Nonetheless, some Western countries are said to have begun to evacuate their citizens from Nigeria and other African countries. An example was an Air France flight, which Thursday moved 260 Europeans from Nigeria to France to prevent them from being infected with the virus. This followed a one-week permission to Air France and KLM by the federal government to evacuate Europeans from the country as a result of the spread of the pandemic.
Similarly, on same Thursday, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ms. Catriona Laing CB, said the mission was exploring available options to send staff and their families back to the United Kingdom.
The World Health Organisation said Nigeria and other African countries battling COVID 19 must conduct more tests to show the true picture of things and avert a major crisis.
8 New Cases as El-Rufai Tests Positive
Nigeria recorded eight new cases of COVID 19 carriers, including El-rufai, who personally announced the results of his test, bringing the total number of infected persons in the country to 97.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced this yesterday, saying of the total 97 cases, Lagos has 59, FCT 16, Ogun three, Enugu two, Ekiti one, Oyo seven, Edo two, Bauchi two, Osun two, Rivers one, Benue one and Kaduna one.
Announcing his test result Saturday evening, El-Rufai said, “Earlier this week, I submitted a sample for COVID-19 test. The result came in this evening and I regret to say to say it is positive.
“According to the protocol managing the COVID -19, I am in self isolation as requested by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control – that is for someone that is showing no symptoms.”
He called on the people of the state to continue to observe preventive measures announced by the state government.
“It is important that everyone should stay home and stay alive”, El-Rufai said, adding that his deputy, who is in charge of the task force on coronavirus, would continue to issue statements from time to time.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, who broke the news of the state’s index case to journalists in Makurdi after a meeting of the State Action Committee on COVID-19, said the infected person, one Susan Okpe, had returned from the United Kingdom a few days earlier. The governor stated that the blood sample of the affected lady was taken to Abuja alongside others and tested for the virus at the NCDC, stressing that the others tested negative.
Advising against stigmatisation, he noted that about eight contacts were being observed and pointed out that staff of the facility where the patient went for medical attention would also be isolated and monitored for the required number of days.
Ortom said as part of proactive measures to prevent the spread of the disease, major markets would be closed from Monday, 30th March 2020, and hinted the possibility of closing roads linking Benue and other states in the days to come.
He, however, said shops and medical stores would be open to the public with hand sanitisers placed at strategic entry points to the shops for use by customers.
He reiterated the ban on social gatherings such as funerals, weddings, Church as well as Mosque activities, urging Christians and Muslims to worship at home until the situation improves.
Humanitarian Ministry Targets Vulnerable Groups
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, announced the decision to target the vulnerable in the society after a meeting of the COVID-19 response committee, comprising all the agencies under her supervision. Farouq said work must commence immediately.
“We are in an emergency and work must start immediately. Given the current global crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must work together and deploy all of our resources in unison to support the national efforts for maximum impact,” she said.
The National Emergency Management Agency will anchor the delivery of services and relief to people most especially, the vulnerable groups, along with the other agencies, including National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the North East Development Commission (NEDC) and the four components of the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs); namely N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) and the National Homegrown School Feeding Programme (NHSFP).
The minister said the ministry-led intervention would prioritise prevention and community engagement and increase sensitisation to curtail spread of coronavirus particularly, among the person of concern in the implementation of the initiative to drive the overall national strategy adopted by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
The ministry also directed all its agencies to make available both human and material resources to NEMA and the PTF for use in the response to the pandemic.
Ministers Donate Half of Salaries to COVID-19 Cause
The 43 ministers in the federal cabinet have announced the donation of 50 per cent of their salaries for the month of March 2020 to support government’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
A statement issued in Abuja on Saturday by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, quoted the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, who coordinated the donation, as saying it was a gesture of solidarity and support for the federal government’s efforts to tackle the disease, which at the last count has afflicted over 92 persons in the country.
”This global virus outbreak will require nations, continents and smaller communities to pull together to contribute their resources and support one another. This will facilitate an early resolution of the problem,” Mohammed further quoted Senator Saraki as saying.
Plateau Takes Tougher Measures, Shuts Down Borders
The Plateau State Government has taken tougher measures to prevent any case of the virus in the state, appealing to citizens to endure and comply with the orders in the interest of all.
Addressing the press in Jos on Saturday, the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Professor Danladi Atu said, “In order to ensure that we prevent any case from coming into the State, government has rolled out measures including shutting of markets; ban on festivals; restriction of gatherings to not more than 50 people; ban on weekly Sunday markets at Ahmadu Bello Way, Bukuru and environs; closure of night clubs and drinking joints.
“As of yesterday Friday 27th March 2020, there is substantial compliance and the government commends the good and peace loving citizens of Plateau State who have adhered to the directives.
“However, the government takes exception to the non-challance and flagrant disregard of the directives by some individuals and groups who have remained recalcitrant. They have also mobilised their followers to disobey the orders of government, which is meant to protect the lives of the people.
“Let me categorically make it clear that nobody is above the law and government is taking necessary action. In line with the directive of Government for full implementation of compliance, the Governor has asked Security agencies to take the necessary measures on such persons.”
Also, Atu said the state has decided that tricycles would no longer take more than 1 passenger, while Saloon cars will only take 4 passengers including the driver.
On border restriction, Atu said, “Effective Sunday 29th March 2020, there will be prohibition of vehicular movement into Plateau State from all border entry routes from 6pm to 7am. All people coming into Plateau State should note and take note of this and prepare their trips to avoid unnecessary inconveniences.
Oyo Imposes Curfew, Considers Palliatives For Residents As Governor Goes Into Isolation
With cases in Oyo State now three, the state government has taken additional measures to contain a further spread of the virus by introducing a dusk-to-dawn curfew between 7 pm and 6 am, while at the same time closing some markets in the state to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is just as the governor, Seyi Makinde has gone into isolation to observe if he has been infected or not, even as the state is monitoring 84 other people suspected of contracting the virus.
The state COVID-19 Task Force, which made the disclosure in a statement issued in Ibadan, the state capital, stated: “The COVID-19 confirmation test for two suspected cases have come back POSITIVE. The isolation process has been initiated. 84 Persons of Interest have been identified, and contact tracing and collection of samples have commenced.
“The state’s diagnostic centre set up in collaboration with the University College Hospital is now ready. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) certification is still pending but the Director-General of NCDC has made a pre-statement about the molecular laboratory in Oyo State.
“The index case remains stable and is still under observation in the isolation unit at Agbami Chest Centre, Jericho. The number of confirmed cases in Oyo State is now three.
“As a result of this, I have directed that the following additional measures be put in place: a dusk to dawn curfew (7 PM to 6 AM); no gatherings of more than ten people should be held anywhere in Oyo State. From Sunday night, March 29, 2020, all markets will be closed except those selling perishable food items
Also, Makinde made the disclosure of his isolation while speaking on phone to a live private radio programme monitored in Ibadan, saying the Coronavirus was no respecter of anyone and that he took the decision to be on self-isolation based on the advice given by the NCDC.
“I am now in self isolation, yes, I have been advised by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to isolate myself, because I had contacts with some people. All the governors, who had contacts with some of the people who have it have been advised to isolate themselves. The governors’ forum advised us to do so.
“This disease is no respecter of anyone, whether you are rich or poor. I am currently on isolation. It is unfortunate that some people, rather than assist themselves or the people, are criticizing. When they want to criticise, we are not saying that they should not criticise, but I care for the people of Oyo state.”
Meanwhile, Makinde, on Saturday informed residents of the state that his government was already working on palliatives to ease the pressure on residents of the state following the partial shutdown of activities as part of the precautionary measures put in place by the government to curtail the spread of Covid-19.
He, however, stated that the state would need to work on accurate data and design to ensure that the palliatives get into the hands of residents with genuine needs for them and not get cornered by middlemen.
Uzodinma Locks Down Imo State
Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, has ordered a complete lockdown of the state, effective from yesterday as part of the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
In a State broadcast, the governor ordered that all markets be closed indefinitely and prohibited all forms of marriage ceremonies. He also announced the ban of all forms of burial and funeral ceremonies and declared that all forms of religious worships in churches and mosques, including crusades and open evangelism were prohibited.
Uzodinma further directed that all borders into the state be barricaded with road blocks and that those coming into the state must be given a clean bill of health by the health officials attached to the check points, before they are allowed entry. He equally directed all civil and public servants in the state, except those on approved essential duties, to stop work immediately.
He said a combined team of military, police and other security agencies would be deployed to the streets to ensure strict compliance with the directives.
US Releases $274m to Nigeria, Others
At the weekend, the United States of America announced an initial investment of nearly $274 million in emergency health and humanitarian assistance to help countries in need to fight the raging coronavirus and other related health issues.
A statement by the US Department of State said US’ government agencies were working together to prioritize foreign assistance based on coordination and the potential for impact. The statement read: “The U.S. government is leading the world’s humanitarian and health assistance response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are mobilizing all necessary resources to respond rapidly, both at home and abroad. As part of this comprehensive and generous U.S. response, the State Department and USAID are providing an initial investment of nearly $274 million in emergency health and humanitarian assistance to help countries in need, on top of the funding we already provide to multilateral organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
The funds will be shared out to different countries across the world.
Out of the funds, US is committing “more than $7 million in health and humanitarian funding to Nigeria.
US State Department said the find “will go toward risk communication, water and sanitation activities, infection prevention, and coordination.
“This assistance joins more than $5.2 billion in U.S. health assistance and more than $8.1 billion in total assistance for Nigeria over the past 20 years.”
Rivers Considers Palliatives to Residents
The Rivers State Government has said it was considering palliatives to residents to ease their pains as a result of the closure of markets and other restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19.
This is as Governor Nyesom Wike expressed satisfaction with the level of compliance in respect of the government’s directive on the closure of markets, saying the state government was committed to checking the spread of the virus in the state.
Speaking yesterday after leading the state Task Force on enforcement of the ban on public and religious gatherings to monitor compliance with the directive of the state government, Wike said government would consider palliatives in the next phase of intervention, noting that the focus for now was to check the spread.
“When you talk of palliative, you are aware that the federal government gave Lagos State N10 billion as support. And so many people in Lagos have also made various donations. But in this state, we have not received a dime from any person. For the time being, people should make the sacrifice. The issue of palliative will be in the second phase.”