•288 new cases take tally to 5445 with 171 deaths
•NCDC clears the air on Malaria and Coronavirus•Nine LGs account for 51% of national infections•Five states participating in WHO- coordinated solidarity drug trial•Sadiya Farouq: FG not spending N679m daily on school feeding•Ebonyi lifts ban on religious gathering•Medical researchers protest alleged sidelining by government•NNPC donates 70-bed hospital to FCT•Canadian High Commission delaying evacuation of Nigerians
Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan, Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja and Chinedu Eze in Lagos
The federal government yesterday pleaded with COVID-19 survivors to stop giving details of the drugs used for their treatment to discourage self-medication.
The Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, made the plea at a press briefing in Abuja, following recent video testimonies of some high profile survivors, talking about the drugs administered on them at the treatment centres.
On the same day, 288 fresh COVID-19 cases were confirmed nationwide, taking the tally to 5445, with 171 deaths and 1320 discharged.
Also, it was disclosed that nine local governments alone accounted for 51 per cent of national infections of the Coronavirus, and that five states were participating in WHO- coordinated solidarity drug trial, as fresh strategy is being worked out to address community transmission in states like Lagos and Kano.
Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, expressed concern that some of the testimonies disclosing the prescription for treatment of the virus could encourage patients to indulge in self-medication instead of seeking help from health authorities.
He urged all Nigerians that have symptoms of COVID-19 to test for the virus and if positive, go into the isolation centres for care by experts.
“The PTF congratulates and appreciates the testimonies of Nigerians who have recovered from COVID-19, which has given us more insights and further strengthens the need to adhere strictly to guidelines issued. However, an emerging issue from all these testimonies is the issue of prescription for treatments. We should always remember that the symptoms of COVID-19 mimic some illnesses we already know but treating the symptoms is not the same as treating the virus. For this reason, we strongly discourage self-medication,” Mustapha said.
He also said that five states in Nigeria were currently participating in the on-going World Health Organization (WHO)-coordinated solidarity trial to find a cure for the pandemic, saying that at the end of this trial, relevant health authorities would make statements on acceptable drugs for treating COVID-19.
Mustapha also raised the alarm that 51 per cent of the country’s COVID-19 cases are concentrated in nine local government areas across the country. However, he did not name them.
He said the affected nine local government areas were all densely populated, indicating that the crowded communities were at the risk of spreading the virus.
“Let me say that our preliminary analysis has narrowed down the over 51 per cent of the total number of infected persons to nine Local Government Areas across the country and all of them are densely populated. This indicates that a critical element of our taming this pandemic is to reduce opportunities for large gathering, sustaining the ban on inter-state movement, the nationwide curfew and complying with the measures prescribed- wash your hands as frequently as necessary; use hand sanitisers; maintain social distancing, use a face mask or covering in public places,” he said.
Mustapha also stated the opposition of the federal government to reports that some state governors were lifting restrictions on large congregation of people.
He warned that while President Muhammadu Buhari had encouraged state governments to adapt national guidelines that are suitable to their state, such adaptation should be informed by empirical evidence of progress made.
The PTF chairman warned the governors that lifting restrictions on large congregation of people had consequences and was an opportunity for more seeding of the virus thereby negating gains already made.
Ehanire: Fresh Strategy to Address Community Transmission Coming
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire said the federal government was developing a new strategy that would help in addressing community transmission of COVID-19, especially in high density areas like Lagos and Kano.
The minister, who spoke yesterday at the media briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on Control of covid19 in Abuja, said when implemented, the new strategy could go a long way in addressing many looming challenges.
Ehanire said: “A strategy document of National Primary Healthcare Development Agency is being developed and repurposed for application in Kano; but also in similar high density, high burden metropoles like Lagos to respond more specifically to the challenges of COVID-19 tracing, tracking, testing, isolation and treatment in congested communities.”
He said the situation in Kano State had largely stabilised, “thanks to the good relationship between the visiting federal task team and Kano State Task force on COVID-19.”
Ehanire said that the high number of new cases recorded in Kano state was an indication that all laboratories in Kano were now functioning and clearing backlog of samples, with over 350 new tests done daily.
Ehanire, however, regretted that the yet to be explained deaths that occurred in Kano and a few other states in the northern part of the country may be linked to low hospital attendance due to Covid19 scare.
The minister said another team from the Federal Ministry of Health had been assembled to proceed to Sokoto and Borno states on fact finding mission and to engage with state authorities to determine their material and technical needs.
He also said that part of the mission in Kano was to assist state pathologists and scientists unravel the mysteries around unexplained deaths in the state.
According to the minister, the tools for forensic investigation have been jointly developed for a uniform approach and balanced results.
Also, Ehanire said the ministry was able to persuade Mrs Susan Idoko-Okpe, a woman who earlier refused to take COVID-19 test, to allow her blood sample to be taken to the NCDC laboratory for testing yesterday.
He said the result was being awaited and that any time from now the result would be given to her in person.
Ebonyi Lifts Ban on Religious Gathering
Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi has lifted the ban on religious centres in the state.
In April, the governor had banned gathering at religious centres to curb the spread of COVID-19.
But in a statement yesterday, the Commissioner for Information, Uchenna Orji, said the ban had been lifted with immediate effect.
He said the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state had appealed for the opening of churches, while he urged the religious centres not to permit more than 500 worshippers.
“Religious centres in the state are to re-open for worship once a week, effective from 15th May, 2020 under attendant conditions,” the commissioner said.
“That Seventh Day Adventist and Muslim faithful are to observe their service on Saturdays and Fridays respectively from 9 am – 11 am.
“No Religious Centre shall permit more than 500 people and worshipers shall observe a minimum of two meters social distancing from one another.
“Wearing of face masks, washing of hands with running water and use of hand sanitisers must be strictly observed in all religious centres. No religious service is allowed to hold any other day, other than the days specified herein and which must be in strict observance of all COVID-19 Laws and regulations.
“Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has a duty to close down any religious gathering and arrest the principal of the worship centre that violates this order.”
This is the fourth state to lift the ban on religious gatherings in 48 hours. Borno, Gombe and Adamawa took a similar step earlier.
As Businesses Confront Disruptions, FG Unveils Palliatives for MSMEs
The federal government has issued a set of palliatives to help Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) wade through the current economic fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) conducted a virtual launch of palliatives for MSMEs in Abuja yesterday.
According to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the palliatives reflected the Buhari administration’s determination to support MSMEs and the priority the federal government placed on small businesses.
The palliatives are: E-Registration of MSMEs/products at 80% discounted rate over a period of six months; Zero tariffs for the first 200 micro and small businesses to register on the E-platform and waiver on administrative charges for overdue late renewal of expired licenses of micro/small businesses products for a period of 90 days.
According to the VP, as businesses across the world confront the disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, the federal government would continue to adopt and implement practical measures to ensure that the projected growth in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) sector is not seriously affected by the development.
Canadian High Commission Delaying Evacuation of Nigerians
The Canada High Commission has allegedly caused a delay in the evacuation of Nigerians from the North American country by deferring Air Peace flight right and positioning Ethiopia Airlines to operate the airlift, even at a higher fare.
The federal government last week designated the Nigerian carrier, Air Peace to conduct evacuation flight to bring Nigerians who are stranded in Canada, with a flight plan to airlift evacuees from Toronto and Cagliari back to the country.
But informed sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed that the Canada High Commission opened talks with Ethiopia Airlines, which has been airlifting Canadian citizens from different parts of Africa to Canada to deny a Nigerian carrier the opportunity to airlift its own citizens.
But the Federal Government through the Ministry of Aviation and Foreign Affairs has waded into the matter, insisting that the Nigerian carrier has to operate the flight in tandem with its new position that all evacuation flights must be conducted by Nigerian carriers.
The flight was scheduled to airlift some Canadian citizens in Nigeria to Canada and bring back Nigerians from that country.
A document sourced from the Canada High Commission directed that passengers should pay $2,500 to Ethiopian Airlines for the flight; while Air Peace charged $1,134 and 319 passengers had already paid to the Nigerian airline, which has concluded plans to operate full flight to the North American country.
The directive from the Canada High Commission asked the would-be evacuees to pay for Flight ET3900 from Lagos to Addis-Ababa that would depart from Lagos by 1:00 pm Nigerian time on May 18, 2020.
The delay in allowing Air Peace, an indigenous airline to conduct the evacuation flight has upset officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other Nigerians who have been monitoring the proceedings since last week.
Some of the Nigerians who have booked and paid Air Peace for the flight were already complaining about the insistence of the Canada High Commission to choose a foreign airline when a Nigerian carrier could carry out the evacuation exercise successfully, as it had done in the past.
Shocked at the decision of Canada High Commission, an official of the Nigerian carrier said that Air Peace had successfully flown to 40 countries, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, noting that it was the airline that evacuated Israeli citizens from Nigeria late March.
“We have done many international flights, including landing in Canada. We have made 19 flights to the United States of America since 2014. We have flown to Tel-Aviv several times and in March we evacuated over 200 Israelis from Nigeria back during this COVID-19 lockdown. We have scheduled flight operations to United Arab Emirates. We have also flown to UK, Ireland, China, Turkey, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland and other countries.
“We have IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification and we are member of IATA. We also evacuated Nigerians from South Africa during the Xenophobia attack of Africans there. We are grateful to the Federal Government and the Ministry of Aviation for all the support they are giving Air Peace and other ingenious carriers,” the Air Peace official said.
Reacting to the incident, former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Benedict Adeyileka described the action of the Canada High Commission as political and urged the Federal Government to stand firmly on its position that a Nigerian carrier should conduct the airlift.
“I am a nationalist to the core. Anything Nigerian is good enough as long as it is qualified to carry out the operation and Air Peace has international operation experience. I insist that the Nigerian government should put its foot down on this. Nigerian carriers should not be stopped from conducting international operations,” he said.
FG Sidelining Us, Allege Medical Researchers
The leadership of medical researchers in the country has alleged that its members were being blatantly ignored in the federal government’s effort to find a home-grown solution to the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria.
The national body of researchers, in a letter to the government, said that, as it currently stands, there was a ‘disconnect’ between the Presidential Task Force (PTF), which it described as the political managers of the pandemic and the body of Nigerian researchers.
In a letter signed by the Secretary General of the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions (ASURI), Dr. Theophilus Ndubuaku, in Abuja, the association stressed that despite its capacity, the government was looking for answers outside the country.
It called on the federal government, as well as the state governments to recognise the relevance of the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), among others, to the nation’s immediate need for testing, certification of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), treatment and research on Coronavirus.
“As the engine room and indeed the brain box of Nigeria’s medical research, NIMR has both the manpower and facility to coordinate all Coronavirus-related cure and therapeutic research, geared towards acceptable medical processes and procedures.
“This is also in line with global practices as medical and academic research institutes have been at the forefront in combating COVID-19 globally. For Nigeria to systematically approach the cure for COVID-19, it is germane to harness all leading research for a possible cure of the virus.
“This has become imminent, given the non-engagement and the seeming sidelining of NIMR despite its capacity to provide adequate mitigation programmes in the fight against Coronavirus,” the organisation said.
ASURI insisted that as a research and scientific-driven organisation, if the Nigerian government is to make any strategic and tangible contribution in the mitigation, prevention and treatment of Coronavirus, there was urgent need to advance home-grown research.
It said that the body was of the firm belief that as the mandate research agency for medical solutions, NIMR had the requisite capacity and research acumen to collaborate with the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), leading in the research component on the fight against COVID-19.
“It is our view that NIMR, as a research-based institute, has the full capacity to carry out expanded tests for Coronavirus, which both federal and state governments will tap into to ensure adequate mitigation and treatment for Covid-19.
“We make bold to state that NIMR is capable of conducting more than 1000 Covid-19 tests and provision of test kits.
“The institute is also poised to coordinate an amalgam of indigenous Nigerian researchers in the medical, pharmaceutical and herbal-pharmacology health field to spearhead a reliable and dependable treatment and therapy for coronavirus.”
NNPC Donates 70-Bed Hospital to FCT
The Federal Capital Territory’s fight against the coronavirus crisis has received a boost in form of the 70 bed Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) hospital at Utako District of the City, currently under renovation and to be put to use when completed.
This was made known yesterday when the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello led a delegation from the FCTA on a courtesy visit to the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Malam Mele Kyari at the Corporation’s headquarters in Abuja.
Bello thanked the NNPC and the entire oil and gas industry for their support to the FCT in the fight against the pandemic.
Mele Kyari who led the FCT delegation on a tour of the 70 bed hospital, which includes 10 Intensive Care Units, commended the FCT Administration for its efforts in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in the territory.
NCDC Clears the Air on Malaria and Coronavirus
The Director-General of the NCDC, Chikwe Iheakweazu, yesterday spoke on the differences between the ravaging viral disease, COVID-19 and Malaria.
This comes after the chairman of DAAR communications, Raymond Dokpesi who was discharged from an Isolation center in Abuja on Thursday, asked what the differences were because according to him, all the drugs given to him at the Isolation center were anti-malaria drugs.
Dokpesi said: ”I still have doubts in my mind. I still want to be properly educated. What is the difference between COVID-19 which is a virus and Malaria which is caused by mosquitos because every medication we were given was Malaria medication. Some people, before they were told they were COVID-19 positive, they were tested in reputable laboratories and hospitals in Abuja and what they found was that they had a lot of malaria parasites in their bloodstream. So when did malaria become synonymous to COVID-19?”
A reporter at the daily briefing of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, threw this question to the NCDC boss and he said: ”I think we all know COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a virus, Malaria is caused by a parasite. They are completely different diseases.
“However, many diseases present exactly the same way in the beginning, Yellow fever presents the same way with fever at the beginning, Lassa the same way, malaria the same way. So, the initial presentation of a febrille illness is similar across diseases. There is no specific treatment for COVID-19 so what clinicians do is to manage your symtoms so that your body recovers as quickly as possible.
“You can have Malaria and COVID-19. That you have COVID-19 doesn’t prevent you from having Malaria and if you are in a hospital for one month, you could definitely be co-infected by both of them. So, there are many reasons why people receive similar treatments but they are two completely different diseases with different pathogenesis.”
Sadiya Umar Farouq: FG Not Spending N679m Daily on School Feeding
The federal government has refuted claims suggesting that it was spending N679 million daily on the national school feeding programme.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq made the denial while speaking yesterday at the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 briefing in Abuja.
The minister insisted that programme, which is funded by the federal government, was being implemented by the state governments and facilitated by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.
She said the modified programme was targeted at heads of the households, the guardians and the caregivers, of the children in primary school one to three.
Farouq said government was not spending N679 million per day as alluded to by the report.
She put the take-home ration which each household was to receive at N4,200 and planned as a monthly COVID-19 intervention for 3, 131,971 households in the participating states of the Federation.
“When the federal government ordered the closure of schools across the country in order to help flatten the curve on the COVID-19, it interrupted the school feeding programme, which is one of our cardinal projects as a government and which preceded the COVID-19 outbreak, “she said.
She added that because the programme was already ongoing food vendors had already been contacted and mobilised for the project.
“We’re also mindful of the fact that most vendors having mobilised had made purchases preparatory to the project as official. It was not just possible to ask them for a refund. This had been done before the schools calendar was disrupted.
In light of this the, dimension demanding a refund will be cumbersome and unrealistic.
So the ministry went into consultation with Nigeria Governors’ Forum in line with the directive of Mr. President, who talked about modalities on how to continue with the programme despite that that the schools are closed and especially because of the expatiating challenges posed by this COVID-19.
“That was how we arrived at the modified school feeding programme of taking food rations into the households of these children,” Farouq said.
On how government got its data on children at home, she said: “When children are enrolled in schools, the registration process has a detailed register which contains the address of parents and guardians of every people and is kept with the school as well as the class teachers. We also obtained those from SUBEB and other sources.
“Also in the community where these are children live, every child’s home can be easily identified by members of that community and management of these schools. So, to ensure full transparency so that the programme is not compromised, we are submitting a full list of all the vendors to the EFFC and let me also state here that these vendors have been in the system since 2016. So we are using existing structure is not a whole new program that were enrolling now.
“We have also invited other agencies of government including the DSS, EFFC, ICPC code of conduct and a host of NGOs and CSOs to help us monitor. I’m sure you agree with me yesterday, you must have noticed a large number of people participating in the process or in the flag off because we engage as many stakeholders as possible to be part of that being very mindful of the social distance guideline.
“I’m going into some light in order to disapprove some misinformation and misunderstanding around modified programme and to ask Nigerians to support this for active intervention designed to keep our children fed during this pandemic, So that objective of this National home work school feeding programme is not compromised.”