After five-week lockdown of FCT, Lagos and Ogun states following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, relief came the way of Nigerians as the federal government Wednesday announced guidelines for a gradual return to normalcy nationwide.
To this end, government offices, banks and other business concerns would resume Monday, May 4, 2020.
National Coordinator Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Dr Sani Aliyu announced this at the daily briefing by the body in Abuja.
He said those in the banking, construction and manufacturing sectors as well as food processing companies would also be allowed to open.
Aliyu also said resumption would be based on specific grade levels, stressing that temperature test, respiratory hygiene and restriction of gathering of not more than 20 persons would be introduced.
The national coordinator said the PTF would engage state governments to have a common approach to the opening of offices.
“For government offices, government staff will be allowed to resume from the 4th of May but it will be based on specific grade levels and specific days so that we can reduce the amount of congestion that we might have in our government offices, and we will be discussing further with state governments to make sure that we have a common approach to this.
“Banks will be allowed to open but there will be restriction in the opening hours to between 8am to 2pm and together with all the other preventive measures I have already mentioned.
“In addition to this, from the point of agriculture and rural development, companies involved in food processing can commence operation.
“In construction sites, critical road will be allowed but waivers will be provided by state governments to enable movement.
“For the manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries, we will encourage shift work and limiting staff to only 30 to 50 per cent to maintain social distancing and pharmacy shops may remain open overnight,” he said.
Mosques, churches on hold
Aliyu also said restrictions on social gatherings, operation of schools, mosques and churches would remain in place pending review of the new measures by government.
“Restaurant will not be opened to the publics but will be allowed to engage in home delivery of food. Schools will remain closed till further evaluation. Schools are encouraged to continue with e-learning and virtual teaching.
“Social activities such as the use of recreational parks, communal sports, concert, social parties and movie theaters will be suspended until further review.
“Neighbourhood markets will continue to open with the same standard and restrictions that we have applied in the past as well as supermarkets, and retail stores,” the PTF added.
Cautions old people
For those above 65 years with mobility challenge, he said: “There will be general pieces of advice, for instance, discouraging persons above the age of 65 and those with mobility challenge from co-mingling with the general public so that they protect themselves from catching COVID -19 because they are the ones that are most likely to develop severe illness.
“We will be providing additional details and hopefully the implementation guidelines and the protocols will follow over the next day or two to allow businesses and offices to prepare for these changes.”
Aliyu also said public transportation would resume operations Monday but within the confines of already released protocols and regulations.
“On public transport, outside the curfew hours, buses and motor parks will be allowed to open for some hours in a day I believe from 6am to 6pm and taxis will also be allowed to operate.
“But because this is a respiratory-balance infections, what we are really trying to do is to limit interactions between persons. Because if you come in contact with person who is infected, it is a highly infectious organism and we don’t want you to end up with COVID and one of the best ways of preventing transmission is to put space between you and the other person,” he said.
He said the lockdown though relaxed, but that government was moving to more of a containment phase.
Aliyu also said the lockdown was primarily introduced to slow the progress of the pandemic and to allow health systems get ready.
Reopening economy in phases
In his presentation, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and PTF Chairman Boss Mustapha said the nation’s economy would also be reopened gradually.
He said the phased strategy of reopening the country’s economy was designed to reduce the pains of socio-economic disruptions.
The period, the SGF said, would allow the strengthening of public health response, which would provide succour to the poor and vulnerable.
Boss said: “The gradual reopening of the economy will span a total of six weeks broken into three tranches of two weeks each. This phased strategy is designed to reduce the pains of socio-economic disruptions while strengthening our public health response, which would ultimately reduce the recovery of our economy and provide succour to the poor and vulnerable.
“In line with Mr. President’s directive in paragraphs 38-41 of his broadcast, the PTF has developed sector specific guidelines. The gradual reopening of the economy will span a total of six weeks broken into three tranches of two weeks each.
”This phased strategy is designed to reduce the pains of socio-economic disruptions while strengthening our public health response, which would ultimately reduce the recovery of our economy and provide succour to the poor and vulnerable.
“To underscore the collaborative efforts with Sub-National levels of Government, they are encouraged to provide leadership in engaging relevant associations responsible for various sectors; e.g market associations and transport unions for orderly and effective implementation. Similarly, I want to emphasise the need for the security agencies to strictly enforce these new measures that have been put in place.”
Mustapha said the technical team of public health experts sent to Kano state had commenced evaluation of the situation in the state.
He said 50 trucks of assorted grains were sent to Kano and would be delivered within the next 48 hours.
“In furtherance of tackling the situation in Kano, the technical team of public health experts sent by the PTF has begun the evaluation of the situation in the state, working in collaboration with the State’s Team. I am pleased to also inform you that the operationalization of the laboratories in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and Bayero University Kano, will considerably improve our response to the pandemic in Kano State.
“Additionally, fifty trucks of assorted grains have been sent to Kano and due for delivery within the next 48 hours. The PTF appreciates the cooperation of the Governor and the medical team in Kano State,” he said.
Mustapha explained that the overnight curfew is applicable nationwide from 8.00pm to 06.00am daily, effective Monday, 4th of May, 2020,” he said.
He also disclosed plans to encourage local research into possible answers to tackling the pandemic in the country, both medically and pharmaceutically.
The SGF said: “I need to, at this point, mention the role of Research in this exercise. We must encourage our local scientists and deepen our capacity for research. There is a huge role for all relevant Research Institutes to play at this time.
“The Federal Ministry of Health is coordinating the process in conjunction with the National Institute for Medical Research and the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development. We have received information on domestic and international claims about emerging inventions on COVID-19.
“These are most welcome but scientific validation process and protocols will have to be followed. We are open to all options for the good of humanity.”
Relief for Nigerians
A cross section of Nigerians who spoke to Blueprint welcomed the government’s position, even as they cautioned that “the window” should not be abused.
According to Alhaji Lawal M. Sulaiman, a businessman resident in Abuja, the phased return to normalcy announced by the federal government is commendable.
“At least, we will be saved the agony of turning ourselves into beggars while the complete lockdown lasted. If you ask me, we are greatly relieved and it’s my hope the privilege won’t be abused. Let’s keep to the rules of social distancing, constant hand washing with soap, use of face masks and other advisories put in place for us by experts. COVID-19 or whatever it’s called is not our portion and In shaa Allah, we will send it off our land and indeed the entire world,” Lawal said.
Expressing some fear however, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Nigeria Police Academy, Wudil, Kano state, Dr Rauf Sakariyau, described the gesture as right but cautioned on possible abuse.
“Well, the gesture should not be abused for normal lifestyle. This remains a major worry to avoid second outbreak. The present scenario in Germany is not friendly as easing of lockdown has led to resurfacing of more infected COVID-19 persons. Nigerians should take responsibility of precautionary mechanism as issued by the NCDC,” said the political science teacher.