As FG bans travel from 14 countries, suspends visas •NYSC shuts orientation camps, says no corps member, official infected •5 new cases, including 6-week old baby confirmed; total cases now 8 •Address Nigerians on efforts to combat coronavirus, Senate urges Buhari •Lagos bans gathering above 50 persons, in churches, mosques By Henry Umoru, Chioma Obinna, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Omeiza Ajayi, Joseph Erunke, Luminous Jannamike & Shehu Danjuma
The two arms of the National Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives, yesterday mandated the Federal Government to immediately ban open worship in religious houses and other public gatherings, following confirmation of five fresh cases of coronavirus in the country. The Senate also asked President Muhammadu Buhari to address Nigerians on the issue to reduce anxiety among Nigerians.
This is even as Lagos State said banned public gatherings above 50 persons, churches and mosques inclusive. The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, had earlier announced confirmation of five new cases of the disease, also known as COVID-19, bringing the total cases in Nigeria to eight. At the National Assembly, the House also directed airport authorities across the country to put in place mechanisms to discourage crowd gatherings. It also took a decision mandating compulsory laboratory tests on all staff and members of the National Assembly to ascertain their status. The parliament equally banned visitors from accessing the National Assembly complex, while urging government to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with the Singaporean government to produce testing kits for Nigeria. It added that all public institutions in Nigeria should be equipped with temperature gauges, and called for a one-day national prayer. The House also asked the Federal Government to ensure that quarantined victims are well taken care of and segregated against. How resolutions came up The avalanche of resolutions emanated from a motion by Zakari Isa Chawe, (APC, Kaduna) under “Matters of Urgent Public Importance” at yesterday’s plenary. Chawe had earlier in his motion, called for a ban on all foreign flights from high-risk countries but midway into the debate, the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, announced that his attention had been drawn to resolutions of the House on flight ban reached on Tuesday. The speaker added that information at his disposal was that the Federal Government had a few minutes ago, imposed travel ban on 13 high profile countries, including Italy, China United Kingdom, UK and the United States of American, USA. The development then prompted a different dimension to the debate, necessitating a series of amendments and inputs to the motion by members. For instance, Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, who cited recent developments in countries like the Vatican City, Iran and Saudi Arabia, said that open worship had been banned to curtail the spread of the virus. On his part, Rotimi Agunsoye said it was not sufficient to ban foreign flights and leave land borders open. He said there was the possibility of some foreigners coming into Nigeria by bus through neighbouring countries such as Ghana which has already recorded six cases of coronavirus. Similarly, Musa Dachung from Plateau State stated that visitors should be restricted from accessing the National Assembly complex at this time, while Nkiruka Onyejiocha from Abia State said victims and those quarantined should not be deserted as was the case in Enugu State. But Nicholas Ossai from Delta State opposed the restriction of visitors, arguing that the National Assembly was the peoples’ house. Reacting to that, the speaker said the matter was a serious one to attract such measure, adding, however that their rules had a window for reversals of resolutions through fresh motions. Midway into the debate, a member suggested that public schools be closed for 30 days. Again, the speaker recalled that there had been an earlier suggestion on the same amendment which called for closure of public schools for 14 days. He said it was rejected, adding that the House could not turn around to accept the amendment on 30 days closure. He added that the House would resort to that if it became extremely necessary. Collating all the amendments and voting in their favor, the House finally resolved that the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, should brief the leadership every week on the development and measures taken by the government to contain it. Brief Nigerians now, Senate tells Buhari Beyond making a case for a ban on open worship and public gathering, the Senate also yesterday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately brief Nigerians on efforts by the government to address the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country. The call on the President was contained in resolutions reached sequel to the consideration of a motion brought to the floor by Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central). Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central), in her contribution to the motion, said the outbreak of the disease is a wake-up call for Nigerians to take personal hygiene seriously, adding that Nigerians should not go about in fear. Ajayi Boroffice (APC, Ondo North), said because Nigeria’s borders were porous, foreign nationals now use the land borders as entry and exit routes to and from the country. He, therefore, urged the Ministry of Health to immediately place a ban on citizens of countries already affected by the disease. Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano North) advised authorities of churches and hotels to introduce the use of testers in identifying infected persons so as to control the spread of the dreaded disease. Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North) said, “the issue at stake is one that calls for caution and proactive measures.” “There are people who are having the virus and the symptoms are not there. For us to deal with this matter, individual contribution is key. Those who have travelled to the epicentres of the disease are supposed to isolate themselves. Are they keeping to this? “If you look at our health facilities, it is not in the best of state. Countries with good health facilities are on lock-down,” the lawmaker added. Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba South) said “we (Nigeria) are the largest black nation in the world, and our borders are very porous.” “The dangers that this virus will bring upon us because of our policy will be very dangerous. “Once you’re not a Nigerian, we should stop them at the border and ask them to return to where they are coming from,” Bwacha added. Senator George Thompson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East) said “even those that have the technology to solve the problem, the virus is still spreading without respecting any person. “Let the Ministry of Health come with real standards on how to behave now. Our airports and seaports are still open, and you don’t have the equipment to fight it. “Let no one from this chamber travel out of here. Let us quarantine those coming from outside. Let us be more careful because we don’t have the resources to fight it,” he appealed. Sam Egwu (PDP, Ebonyi North), urged senators who travel out of the country to quarantine themselves before coming to the chamber to attend plenary proceedings. Senator Yahaya Ibrahim Oloriegbe (APC, Kwara Central) advocated more resources to enable Nigeria establish test centres across states. He stressed that the availability of funds will ensure effective tracking, testing and quarantining of anyone who comes in contact with persons identified to be infected with the disease. President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, in his concluding remarks, called for improved measures to be taken to prevent uncontrollable outbreak of the disease in Nigeria. He cautioned that “even if our environment is hostile to coronavirus, we need to be extremely careful. We won’t know when it adjusts to the environment and become very potent.” The Senate in its prayers, accordingly, urged the Federal Government and Nigerians to keep abreast of all measures and developments related to Coronavirus globally. Similarly, the Upper Chamber while urging the National Assembly to give the Federal Government full support to fight Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread, called for a Special Intervention Fund to combat the deadly disease. New Coronavirus cases The Federal Government had earlier yesterday, announced five new cases of Coronavirus infection in the country, in addition to the existing three cases. Minister of Health,Osagie Ehanire, told newsmen at a briefing in Abuja that all the five new cases had a travel history to and from the United Kingdom and the United States of America . Of the five new positive cases, he explained that three arrived from the United States, while two came in from the United Kingdom. “A detailed travel history of each person is being compiled and contacts currently being traced, to identify persons who have recently been in contact with anyone,” he said. According to the minister, four of the new cases are in Lagos, while one is in Ekiti State. While urging Nigerians to remain calm as public health response activities intensify across the country, the minister said: “The Federal Government through Federal Ministry of Health is conducting risk assessment to help guide decision making.” Why noting that government is still collating information on the travelers, Ehanire explained that “two of the three from the US are Nigerian, a mother and child, making the six-week old baby the youngest COVID-19 patient we have. “The third is an American national who crossed the land border and becomes the first COVID-19 case not arriving by air. “The Federal Ministry of Health unfortunately confirms five new cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria within the last 36 hours, bringing total number of confirmed cases in Nigeria to eight. “Of the five new positive cases three arrived from the United States, while two came in from the United Kingdom,” he disclosed at the press conference. “We are still collating information on the travelers; two of the three from the US are Nigerian, a mother and child, making the six week old baby the youngest COVID-19 patient we have, and the third 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 currently being traced, to identify persons who have recently been in contact with them. “The National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, and supported by partners, is supporting response in the states. “The Federal Government, through Federal Ministry of Health, is conducting risk assessment to help guide decision making. “We urge citizens not to panic, but allow experts in public health to guide response in a calculated, scientific manner. False information and rumours to cause fear and panic must be avoided at such times. The COVID-19 cases so far appear to have mild symptoms and are in recovery.” Travel restrictions As part of measures to checkmate spread of the disease, the Federal Government yesterday announced the restriction of entry for travellers from 13 countries that have recorded at least 1,000 domestic cases of the pandemic. Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, announced this at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday. According to him, government has also temporarily suspended its visa on arrival policy. The SGF said: “This morning (yesterday), we have found it necessary to brief Nigerians on further measures being taken after an assessment of the global situation. They are as follows:
“The Federal Government of Nigeria is restricting entry into the country for travellers from the following 13 countries, including China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Switzerland. These are all countries with over 1,000 case domestically; “All persons arriving in Nigeria who might have visited these countries, fifteen days prior to such arrival, will be subjected to supervised self-isolation and testing for 14 days; “The Federal Government is temporarily suspending the issuance of all visas on arrival; it is also counseling all Nigerians to cancel or postpone all non-essential travels to these countries. “The Federal Government urges public health authorities of countries with high burden to conduct diligent departure screening of passengers and also endorses these travel advisories to their nationals to postpone travels to Nigeria. “These restrictions will come into effect from Saturday, March 21, 2020, for four weeks, subject to review.’” Lagos bans gatherings above 50 Also yesterday, Lagos State government banned gatherings above 50 persons, including in Churches and Mosques, according to Information Commissioner, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho. This is even as the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, explained that of the eight confirmed cases in the country, six were being managed at the state’s Infectious Disease Hospital, IDH, Yaba. Speaking at a briefing in Lagos, Omotosho said the state government will advise religious leaders to stop Fridays and Sundays services. He said religious leaders would be advised to shut down services in the interest of the public. “We are all aware that the Federal Government asked NYSC to shut down camps; yesterday the Commissioner for Home Affairs said today (Wednesday) there will be a meeting with religious leaders where they will be counselled on how to handle this matter and it is going to be suggested to them to maybe stop Friday and Sunday services wherever we have large gatherings. “Going by the new development, I am sure they will be advised to shut down services in the interest of the public and all of us. I am sure they are going to comply,” Omotosho said. On his part, the Health Commissioner, Abayomi said the four samples received Monday in Lagos tested positive to the disease. According to him, the state has in admission a 30-year-old that travelled from the UK to Nigeria and tested positive. Noting that state officials had been directed to continue to monitor members of the patient’s family, Abayomi said: “Her family who stayed with her all tested negative, they have been discharged. They have returned home with clear instruction to embark on self-isolation and we are monitoring them. :We have confidence in that family because prior to now, they have complied with all our instructions. On Monday, we received four samples that tested positive. The first two samples belong to a Nigerian mother and her six-week old baby. “They had been in the United States of America and returned to Lagos on March 8 via Virgin Atlantic flight, VS 411. The mother developed the symptoms; mother and child were tested and were positive. They are on admission at Yaba Mainland Hospital. “We have an American citizen who crossed into Nigeria on March 13 via Nigeria/Benin Republic land border, he also was tested yesterday and result shows that he is positive. He will be admitted at the Mainland Hospital. “We also have a Nigeria male that returned from the United Kingdom on the March 13 via Virgin Atlantic VS 411, he tested positive too. We are in the process of admitting him at the Mainland Hospital, Yaba.” Abayomi further disclosed that contact tracing was ongoing, adding that it would be extended to those who might have had contact with the patients that tested positive. He said: “Each of these categories has initiated what we call line listing or contact tracing and that process is ongoing. We are first starting with members of their families and extending it to any possible person they may have come in contact with. “This includes identifying the airline manifests of those airline travellers so that we can initiate contact with passengers on that flight and ask them to exercise self-isolation and report to us if there are any symptoms.” Indian tests negative Meanwhile, an Indian national who was quarantined at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Lagos State on Tuesday has tested negative for coronavirus. Akin Abayomi, Commissioner of Health in the state, disclosed this in a tweet on Tuesday night. “An Indian national that was admitted in our facility yesterday night with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 has tested negative. He is doing perfectly well in our isolation unit. His case will be reviewed in the morning,” he said. Katsina lists first case Similarly, Katsina State has recorded a first suspected case of corona virus, according to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Kabir Mustapha.. Briefing news men yesterday, Mustapha, said the patient who is currently on self-isolation, returned from Malaysia and developed symptoms that warranted further investigations. He said already, the blood samples of the patient had been taken, adding that the result was expected today. The PermSec said the people the patient had contact with would be traced as soon as the result of the test was out. He said the ministry was taking all precautionary measures and closely working with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, on the matter. “The patient was taking personal protection of using face mark and self isolation,” he said. He advised people of the host community of Dutsinma town where the suspected patient hails from to be cautious of movements and gatherings. NYSC camps shut down In a similar development, the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, has suspended the ongoing orientation exercise for 2020 Batch A corps members due to outbreak of coronavirus. In a statement issued yesterday by NYSC’s Director, Press and Public Relations, Mrs. Adenike Adeyemi, the Scheme also announced the immediate commencement of primary assignments for the corps members already in camps for the nationwide orientation course. The statement, however, said corps members would be invited back to camps to complete the exercise when the situation improved. It also maintained that no corps member nor camp official has contracted the deadly virus. The statement read: “Sequel to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic which led to the cancellation of the National Sports Festival, Management of the National Youth Service Corps Scheme wishes to announce the suspension of the ongoing Orientation course for the 2020 Batch ‘A’ Stream 1 Corps Members. “Therefore, the Corps members shall be posted to commence their primary assignments forthwith, while they shall be invited back to the Orientation camps when the situation improves, just like it happened a few years ago when the Nation was confronted by the Ebola virus threat. “Management wishes to state that no Corps Member or Camp Official has contracted the virus.”