President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday extended the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States by 14 more days and called for perseverance and more understanding from Nigerians in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president, in a nationwide broadcast, the second since the onset of the pandemic on February 27 heralded by an index case from a visiting Italian, said after reviewing efforts so far to combat the virus, his administration was left with no choice than to extend the initial lockdown which expired last night.
The broadcast was made after the task force he set up to tackle the pandemic said, earlier in the day, that the rate of the spread of the virus, whose number of confirmed cases in the country rose by 20 yesterday to 343, had slowed down.
The Presidential Task Force, headed by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, also warned against the disclosure of patients’ identities, saying their confidentiality must be respected and protected.
However, in Lagos, the epicentre of the pandemic, another batch of six patients was discharged yesterday, bringing to 61 the total number of those treated for the virus.
Buhari, in his first broadcast over the incidence on March 30, had directed restriction of movements in FCT, Lagos and Ogun States to enable authorities trace more contacts of infected patients and to curb the spread of the virus.
He explained that reports from officials overseeing the anti-COVID-19 battle showed that while the federal government had achieved targets of imposing the initial lockdown on FCT, Lagos and Ogun States, it could not afford to drop the ball at this stage by relaxing the restrictions if Nigeria was to defeat the virus.
He said: “The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has informed me that, a large proportion of new infections are now occurring in our communities, through person-to-person contacts. So we must pay attention to the danger of close contact between person to person.
“At this point, I will remind all Nigerians to continue to take responsibility for the recommended measures to prevent transmission, including maintaining physical distancing, good personal hygiene and staying at home.
“In addition, I have signed the Quarantine Order in this regard and additional regulations to provide clarity in respect of the control measures for the COVID-19 pandemic which will be released soon,” the president said.
He stated that the public health response to COVID-19 was built on the authorities’ ability to detect, test and admit cases as well as trace all their contacts.
Buhari said while he noted some appreciable progress, he contended that a lot more could be achieved.
He made the case for the extension: “Today, the cessation of movement, physical distancing measures and the prohibition of mass gatherings remain the most efficient and effective way of reducing the transmission of the virus. By sustaining these measures, combined with extensive testing and contact tracing, we can take control and limit the spread of the disease.”
The president ssaid his government’s approach to the virus remained in two steps: First, to protect the lives of Nigerians and residents in the country; and second, to preserve the livelihoods of workers and business owners.
“With this in mind and having carefully considered the briefings and report from the presidential task force and the various options offered, it has become necessary to extend the current restriction of movement in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT for another fourteen days effective from 11:59 pm on Monday, 13th of April, 2020. I am therefore once again asking you all to work with government in this fight,” Buhari said.
He emphasised the seriousness of the situation: “This is not a joke. It is a matter of life and death.
Mosques in Makkah and Medina have been closed. The Pope celebrated Mass on an empty St. Peter’s Square. The famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris held Easter Mass with less than 10 people. India, Italy, and France are in complete lockdown. Other countries are in the process of following suit. We cannot be lax.”
He adopted the previously issued guidelines on exempted services.
Buhari expressed regret for the harsh days ahead but said it was the sacrifice required to defeat the virus.
According to him, “This is a difficult decision to take, but I am convinced that this is the right decision. The evidence is clear.
“The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.
“We must not lose the gains achieved thus far. We must not allow a rapid increase in community transmission. We must endure a little longer.”
The president also gave details of what was achieved during the first 14-day lockdown, saying it enabled the federal government to implement measures that bolstered case identification, testing, isolation and contact tracing capabilities.
He said: “To date, we have identified 92% of all identified contacts while doubling the number of testing laboratories in the country and raising our testing capacity to 1,500 tests per day.
“We also trained over 7,000 healthcare workers on infection prevention and control while deploying NCDC teams to 19 states of the federation.
“Lagos and Abuja today have the capacity to admit some 1,000 patients each across several treatment centres.
“Many state governments have also made provisions for isolation wards and treatment centres. We will also build similar centres near our airports and land borders.
“Using our resources and those provided through donations, we will adequately equip and man these centres in the coming weeks. Already, health care workers across all the treatment centres have been provided with the personal protective equipment that they need to safely carry out the care they provide.
“Our hope and prayers are that we do not have to use all these centres. But we will be ready for all eventualities.”
Stating that he realised the excruciating impact of the lockdown, he reeled out his relief package, saying his administration would sustain the current palliative measures and unfold fresh steps to address the people’s plight, while security agencies had been mandated to double up efforts at safeguarding lives and property.
“No country can afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement on its economy. I am fully aware of the great difficulties experienced, especially by those who earn a daily wage such as traders, day workers, artisans, and manual workers,” Buhari said, adding: “For this group, their sustenance depends on their ability to go out. Their livelihoods depend on them mingling with others and about seeking work. But despite these realities, we must not change the restrictions.”
Saying existing palliatives would be maintained, he stated: “I have also directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. This means we will support an additional one million homes with our social investment programmes. A technical committee is working on this and will submit a report to me by the end of this week.”
Buhari said the pandemic was certain to change the world, explaining that after it socio-economic interactions in terms of the conduct of businesses and trade, travel, and education would be different.
“To ensure our economy adapts to this new reality, I am directing the Ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Communication and Digital Economy, Science and Technology, Transportation, Aviation, Interior, Health, Works and Housing, Labour and Employment and Education to jointly develop a comprehensive policy for a “Nigerian economy functioning with COVID-19,” he said, adding: “The Ministers will be supported by the Presidential Economic Advisory Council and Economic Sustainability Committee in executing this mandate.”
The president added: “I am also directing the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice-Chairman, National Food Security Council, and the Chairman, Presidential Fertiliser Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure the impact of this pandemic on our 2020 farming season is minimised
The president thanked religious leaders, the media, individuals, the business community as well as international partners and friends for their support and contributions to assist Nigeria to face the battle.