President Muhammadu Buhari has authorised the return of most of the initial restrictions imposed earlier in the year for the prevention of the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Among the re-introduced restrictions and regulations are closure of most public places and social events, including religious, occupational and recreational activities.
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, disclosed these during the task force’s media briefing in Abuja on Monday.
Mustapha explained that President Buhari had directed state governments, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to immediately assume responsibility for the enforcement of the re-introduced restrictions and measures.
As part of the efforts to curtail further spread of the disease and prevention of the new strain surfacing in other parts of the world into Nigeria, the SGF said international travels, both into and from the country, are being considered.
Giving specific actions that President Buhari had authorised in the fight to keep the spread of the second wave down, he said the restrictions, which would affect travelling, holding social events like parties and religious events and many more, would past for five weeks in the first instance.
“The PTF has surveyed developments and actions taken by governments around the world, assessed our domestic environment and has accordingly submitted its recommendations to Mr. President on immediate measures to be taken.
“Accordingly, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has authorised the PTF to engage with the States and the FCT to assume full ownership of this stage of the response by deploying legal structures and resources, including enforcement to manage the pandemic within their jurisdictions:
“In line with the authorisation, the PTF wishes to issue the following advisories to sub-national entities for implementation over the next five weeks because these activities are considered super spreader events:
“Close All bars, night clubs, pubs and event centres, and recreational venues;
Close all restaurants except those providing services to hotel residents; takeaways, home deliveries and drive-ins shall remain closed; Restrict all informal and formal festivity events including weddings, conferences, congresses, office parties, concerts, seminars, sporting activities, end of year events shall be restricted to not more than 50 persons;
“Limit All gatherings linked to religious events to less than 50% capacity of the facility of use during which physical distancing; mandatory use of face masks shall be strictly enforced; Where more than 50 persons are attending, any such events, the gathering should be held outdoors only;
“Public transportation systems are to carry passengers not more than 50% of their capacity in compliance with social distancing rules. Enforce compliance with NPI protocols especially the advisory on wearing of face masks in public spaces;
“To reduce overcrowding in public spaces, markets, shopping centres, offices and schools States are advised to implement the following: Encourage virtual meetings in government Offices. The leadership of such offices are to ensure that all offices are well-ventilated offices, and encourage staff to work from home where possible;
“All government staff on GL.12 and below are to stay at home for the next 5 weeks; Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executives are to be held accountable for enforcing NPI rules in their domains with frequent spot checks;
“The PTF on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Education, expects that schools would have vacated from the 18th December 2020 and remain closed till at least the 18th of January, 2021 to enable the measures introduced to take effect;
“All persons above the age of 60yrs and/or with comorbidities are to be encouraged to stay at home and avoid crowds; All non-essential travels – both domestic and international during the holiday season are seriously discouraged;
“To strengthen risk communication and community engagement activities over the next 5 weeks, States are encouraged to; Engage community and religious leaders, arrange town hall meetings (ideally set outdoors) to address concerns;
“Intensify public messaging activities, leveraging on existing government and partner assets; Reach out to youths and younger adults with health promotion activities; Invest in local face mask purchase and distribution to the general public to encourage use,” he said.
He said further that besides the enforcement instruction issued to the states and the FCT by the President, the PTF would also, in necessary circumstances, play roles to ensure the measures are complied with.
“Where applicable, the PTF shall also implement these authorisations. For example, it shall work with the Nigeria Immigration Service to impose sanctions on all in-bound travellers who violated the travel protocols and endangered the lives of their loved ones and other citizens by refusing to take the post-arrival test.
“The PTF will similarly work with the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to implement aspects related to the Public Service,” he added.
Speaking specifically to the issue of international travels, he said “a lot of discussion is still going on around the calls for the restriction of international travels due to the discovery of new strains of the virus in certain countries.
“The PTF, Aviation and health authorities including the WHO are assessing the situation closely and would take a position as soon as cogent scientific basis are established. The protection of Nigerians remains our primary concern and we reassure Nigerians of our resolve not to relent.
“Tomorrow, Tuesday 22nd December, 2020 at 3.00pm, the PTF shall be submitting its end of year (2020) Report to Mr. President and Nigerians shall be kept abreast of developments in this regard,” he said.
Observing the recent developments around the COVID-19 phenomenon in the country and the continued response efforts attending it, Mustapha pointed out that, among other reasons, the refusal of Nigerians to heed instructions issued by the PTF, especially the non-pharmaceutical interventions had given vent to the rise and spread of the second wave of the virus.
“The result of the analysis carried out by the PTF further indicate that the current pattern of spread, and the surge is likely to be driven by the following factors:
The lack of compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions – particularly the disregard for mask use in public, large gatherings as a result of events linked to the yuletide season and recent civil demonstrations.
“Further disregard for other public health preventive measures, such as hand hygiene and physical distance requirements; The activities and assumptions of our youthful population which has resulted in an increase in the infection rate among young people, who are subsequently infecting older and more vulnerable family members.
“From our assessment, the current situation are clearly the consequences of certain occurrences and events of the last few weeks. These include sudden increase in social gatherings involving large congregations from different parts of the country, and the world, at events such as weddings, religious activities, political rallies, conferences and end of year celebrations;
“These events, classified globally as ‘supers-spreader events’, make the risk of a single infection causing a large outbreak among attendees significantly higher;
“Furthermore, as we reopened the economy, we experienced increased economic, social and religious gatherings and activities all of which have combined to play a part in viral transmissions. These include:
a) The opening of the international airspace in September 2020 – While the average number of daily imported infections into the country in the last 90 days is estimated to be about 7 cases, compared to 100-150 reported new infections in the community since the beginning of community transmission, the test positivity rate in travellers arriving Lagos has recently doubled to 6.3%;
“The resumption of schools – outbreaks have been reported in schools following the resumption of physical classes; The resumption of NYSC orientation camps – this risk has been mitigated by ensuring that all NYSC members were screened for COVID-19 prior to admission to camp, but confirmed cases have still been identified through tests carried out;
“The full opening of offices with the return to work of government workers from GL. 12 and below – outbreaks have also been reported in public offices, most likely linked to overcrowding, poor ventilation and the lack of compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions; and the opening of the economy with progressive relaxation of restrictions in congregational areas such as places of worship, restaurants, bars, lounges, shopping and event centres,” he said.