Nigeria wednesday stepped up efforts to check further spread of COVID-19 as it slammed a travel ban on 13 nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom and China.
The travel restriction, which also affected COVID-19 high-risk nations like Japan, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Spain, France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, was announced just as five fresh cases of the pandemic were recorded in the country.
With the five new cases, Nigeria now has eight incidents of the pandemic since the index case occurred in February.
Another suspected case of COVID-19, it was learnt, was also being looked into yesterday in Katsina State.
Following the travel ban, announced by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, the federal government also temporarily suspended the issuance of visa on arrival policy, which came into effect in January 2020. The suspension is part of measures to curb the further spread of COVID-19 into the country.
In addition, it ordered the immediate closure of ongoing National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) camps nationwide.
To complement the federal government’s efforts in battling the pandemic, the North-west Governors’ Forum has directed that schools within the region should be closed for 30 days.
Mustapha said the restrictions, which will last for four weekends, subject to review, will come into effect from Saturday.
He said the latest measure, which followed Tuesday’s ban by the presidential task force on public officials and civil servants from overseas travels was taken after an assessment of the global situation.
According to him, the listed countries are those with over 1,000 cases domestically.
Under the new containment scheme, all persons arriving in Nigeria, who might have visited these countries, 15 days prior to such arrival, will be subjected to supervised self-isolation and testing for 14 days.
The SGF urged public health authorities of countries with a high burden to conduct diligent departure screening of passengers and also endorse these travel advisories to their nationals to postpone travels to Nigeria.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already declared COVID-19 a pandemic disease.
FG Confirms Five New Cases of Pandemic
Giving details of the five new cases in a statement yesterday in Abuja, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said they were uncovered within the last 36 hours.
Out of the five new cases, three arrived from the United States while two came in from the United Kingdom.
He said: “We are still collating information on the travellers; two of the three from the US are Nigerians, a mother, and a six-week-old baby. The third patient is an American national, who crossed the land border and becomes the first COVID-19 case not arriving by air. The two cases from the UK are Nigerians.
“A detailed travel history of each person is being compiled and contacts are currently being traced to identify persons who have recently been in contact with anyone.
“The National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC), led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and supported by partners, is supporting response in the state. The federal government, through the Federal Ministry of Health, is conducting a risk assessment to help guide decision making.”
FG Shuts NYSC Camps Nationwide
Earlier wednesday, the federal government ordered the immediate closure of the ongoing NYSC orientation camps nationwide over COVID-19 fears.
The 2020 Batch ‘A’ Stream One NYSC members arrived in camp on March 10 and were expected to leave three weeks after.
However, the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, yesterday said the NYSC members would be released to resume at their places of primary assignment.
He tweeted that the closure was a precautionary measure on COVID-19.
The Director-General of NYSC, Brig-Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, who also confirmed the development in Katsina yesterday, said the closure became necessary following the outbreak of the disease in the country.
He confirmed that no corps member, staff or camp official had contracted the virus, urging corps members to ensure personal hygiene in their places of primary assignment.
Katsina Announces First Suspected Case
Also wednesday, the Katsina State Government said a first suspected case of COVID-19 had been recorded in the state.
The Permanent Secretary, in the state Ministry of Health, Dr. Kabir Mustapha, told journalists in Katsina that the patient, who returned from Malaysia, developed some symptoms that warranted further investigations.
According to him, the patient is currently in self-isolation.
Mustapha said his samples had been taken and results expected by today, adding that contact tracing would commence as soon as the results were out.
He said the ministry had taken all precautionary measures and was closely working with the NCDC on the matter.
According to him, the patient’s history of travel is a high index and the symptoms reported at the clinic prompted actions.
He said since his arrival in the state, the patient had resulted in personal protection of using a face mask and was in self-isolation.
Mustapha urged people in the host community of Dutsinma Town to be cautious of their movements and gatherings.
Brief Nigerians Now, Senate Tells Buhari
Worried by the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, the Senate yesterday, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to address Nigerians on the federal government’s preparations and efforts aimed at addressing the pandemic as well as its effects and implications.
It also urged the federal government to take more pro-active steps like travel ban, tighter border control, restrictions on large gatherings and banning of some citizens of other countries from entering Nigeria.
It called on all related government agencies to keep Nigerians abreast of all cases of the scourge worldwide while banning flight operations from all international airports except Lagos and Abuja.
Other drastic measures the Senate canvassed included the banning of flights from countries with intense cases of the virus.
The resolutions were sequel to the adoption of a motion moved by Senator Danjuma Goje, who came under Senate Rule 43 to stress that though the Senate discussed the effects of the scourge on Tuesday, emerging details showed that the effects of the disease would have a catastrophic effect on Nigerians and Nigeria if drastic action is not taken.
Supporting the motion, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, called on Nigerians to be more careful on how Nigerians relate to each other, pleading that more care should be taken as in the case of Ebola outbreak in Lagos.
Also, Senator Ajayi Borofice noted that Nigeria borders are porous and urged the federal government to ban those travelling to the US through Nigeria as well as ban people coming from epicenters of infection from coming to Nigeria, till when the situation improves
The President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, in his concluding remarks, called for improved measures to be taken so as prevent the uncontrollable outbreak of the disease in Nigeria.
“Even if our environment is hostile to COVID-19, we need to be extremely careful. We won’t know when it adjusts to the environment and become very potent,” he stated.
The Senate in its prayers urged the National Assembly to support the federal government to fight COVID-19’s spread and called for a Special Intervention Fund to combat the disease.
House Urges FG to Ban Open Religious Gathering
As part of the measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic, the House of Representatives has called on the federal government to ban open congregation of worshippers for the time being following the recording of five new cases of coronavirus in the country.
It also resolved to shut out visitors from coming into the House indefinitely, while calling on the National Assembly management to immediately make provision for testing of any entrant into the legislative House.
The decision of the House was a sequel to the adoption of a motion of urgent national importance moved by Hon. Zakare Chawai on the need to ban foreign airlines from coming into the country.
In his lead debate, Chawai said if the foreign airlines are banned, especially from COVID-19 ravaged countries, there was a need for the federal government to put in place all necessary protocols and palliative measures.
In his submission, the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, said open religious gathering should be banned for now as it was done in countries like the Vatican City, Iran and Saudi Arabia to curtail the spread of the virus.
The House, however, resolved that Nigeria should sign an agreement with Singapore for the supply of test kits for the virus, while public institutions should have the temperature testing kits.
The House also resolved that Ehanire should brief the House every week, but it, however, rejected the idea of shutting down all schools nationwide for 14 days.
Dangote’s Contractor’s Staff Tests Negative
Meanwhile, an Indian staff of Onshore Construction Company, an instrumentation contracting firm with Dangote Fertilizer Limited, who had shown symptoms associated with COVID-19 and subsequently isolated, has been confirmed negative.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, in his Twitter handle said: “An Indian national that was admitted in our facility yesterday (Monday) night with symptoms suggestive of #COVID19 has tested negative to #COVID19.
“He is doing perfectly well in our isolation unit. His case will be reviewed in the morning (Wednesday).”
Arik Air Suspends Flights to West Coast
Arik Air has temporarily suspended flights to all its West Coast destinations effective Monday.
The airline said it took the decision after a careful analysis of the spread of COVID-19.
The Chief Executive Officer of Arik Air, Captain Roy Ilegbodu, said: “The safety and well-being of our personnel and valued customers are paramount at this critical time. We do not want to take chances and this is why we have taken this decision”.
North-west Govs Close Schools
The North-west Governors’ Forum has directed that schools within the region should be closed for 30 days.
Rising from their meeting wednesday in Kaduna, the governors said the decision was to prevent citizens from contacting the COVID-19.
The Chairman of the forum and Katsina State Governor, Hon. Bello Masari, announced the decision of the governors in a communiqué he read at the end of the closed-door meeting.
He said: “Measures shall be taken in each of the states in consultation with examination bodies to close schools for a period of 30 days starting from Monday, 23 of March, 2020.
“In addition, all the states in the region shall carry out sensitisation campaigns to discourage large gatherings and to encourage citizens to uphold personal environmental hygiene.”
Meanwhile, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) have commended the federal government’s travel ban on 13 countries.
LCCI said Nigeria should prioritise health and safety over the economy and business.
The Director-General of LCCI, Dr. Muda Yusuf, told THISDAY that it is only the living that can do business.
Yusuf also noted that the ban would cause momentary disruptions in business and economy because of some Nigerian industries that required skills that are not readily available in the country.
He said: “There are international business meetings, conferences, exhibitions that need to take place which would have to be postponed or canceled. All of these have cost implications. But at a time like this, health and safety are paramount.”
NECA also applauded the steps taken by the federal government to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 by restricting travel ban for countries with over 1,000 cases to Nigeria.
This decision, according to NECA, will help Nigeria to cope in the management of the pandemic and ensure a COVID-19-free Nigeria.
However, the Director-General of NECA, Mr. Timothy Olawale, said the ban came a bit late from the date, the first index case was confirmed in Nigeria.
General Manager, Public Relations, at the NCAA, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, stated that NCAA would not authorise airlines from the shortlisted countries to come into the country by not allowing them have flight clearance to access any of the country’s entry points.
He added that NCAA would issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) immediately it received circular on the ban.