As the lockdown in Abuja, the nation’s capital, Lagos and the Ogun States ends today, Nigerians are apprehensive about the next line of action to be taken by President Muhammadu Buhari to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
All eyes and ears will be glued to national television and radio stations by 7:00 pm today as the president announces his decision on whether or not to extend the lockdown order again in a nationwide broadcast.
When Buhari issued the restriction order on March 29 this year, the country had only 111 COVID-19 cases, and by the time he extended it two weeks ago by another 14 days, the number of confirmed cases was officially pegged at 318.
With about 1273 confirmed cases in the country as of yesterday, there are palpable fears that the president may opt for another extension.
Amid prevalent hunger and hardship due to lack of access to essential services and commodities during the lockdown period in the last 28 days, most Nigerians in the affected areas have battled to sustain themselves in the face of the economic downturn.
With increasing crime rate and prices of essential commodities going up, most of the citizens are calling on the president to lift the lockdown.
Our sister publication, LEADERSHIP Sunday had reported yesterday that in view of the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country, President Buhari would today extend the lockdown.
The president, it was reported, may relax some of the restrictions on essential business activities by enabling movements to open up the economy, while religious and social gatherings would remain banned to curb the spread of the diseases, as the government makes wearing of face masks compulsory in public.
State governors had on Saturday asked the president to consider a partial relaxation of the lockdown but continue the restriction on flight operations in the country.
In a letter signed by the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi of, the governors said subject to Buhari’s approval, they want inter-state lockdown “excluding movement of essential supplies — foods, beverages, medical and pharmaceuticals, petroleum supplies and agricultural products, internal free movement but with restrictions on large gatherings and assemblies, overnight curfews, and compulsory use of face masks/coverings in the public”.
Preparatory to today’s review of the lockdown, President Buhari yesterday received a briefing from Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, and director-general of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, on the latest development over Coronavirus and the reported strange disease in Kano.
Ehanire, who spoke to State House correspondents on the outcome of the closed-door meeting in Abuja, said they briefed the president on the activities and overall positions of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
The briefing of President Buhari by the minister and the DG of the NCDC came barely 24 hours to the expiration of the 14-day extension to the lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun.
The minister said the PTF presented to the president its advice and recommendations on the way forward as regards the ongoing fight against the spread of the deadly virus in the country.
Ehinare stated: “We also brought the overall summary apposition of the Presidential Task Force which as you know comprises of not only the health ministry but other ministries.
“We have aggregated the opinions that we have, weighing the health and the socio-economic factors and everything, to present our own opinion and recommendations to Mr President”.
The minister assured that the nation was winning the fight against the pandemic as all relevant health institutions had agreed to work together to achieve the desired goal of defeating the novel Coronavirus.
He continued: “The fight is going on very well. As I said, all countries have continued with the struggle against Coronavirus, using the strategies that they have developed for their own countries.
“We have developed a strong strategy as we are working with other experts groups like the NCDC and relevant health organisations.
“So, we are also working with the states and the governors.’’
The minister, who also spoke on the reported Kano strange disease, said his ministry had been communicating with relevant agencies, including Kano State government with a view to addressing the health problem.
The DG of the NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, who also spoke to the correspondents, advised Nigerians against wasting their meagre resources on the procurement of what he described as uncertified Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits.
He said, “We will continue to build up our testing strategies. At the moment 14 testing centres have been activated across the country. We want to bring the test closer to every state. Everybody is working very hard to solve this problem.
“I can see that some people are already procuring Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits. They don’t work as far as we know. So, I will really recommend that we all stick to the National Strategy, build on it, support its expansion and together we will get on top of the pandemic.’’