Nigerians are now more prone to contracting COVID-19 than ever before as the rate of community infections expands, the Presidential Task on the pandemic has warned.
It has, therefore, admonished that it was unacceptable for people to continue to flout guidelines given to contain the virus.
Speaking at the briefing of the task force, in Abuja, on Thursday, its National Coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, who stated this, pointed out some of the restrictions were relaxed only to enable Nigerians to earn their daily living and not because the virus had gone.
He stated: “The fact that we are receiving many reports on the flouting of the guidelines by individuals, groups and organisations, is simply unacceptable.
“As I said in the past, COVID-19 is far from over globally, neither is it over in Nigeria. There’s no doubt that a lot of community transmission is happening and it continues to increase across the states.
“Now, more than ever before. If you go out, you are more likely to get COVID-19 than before. Your risk of acquiring COVID-19, because of the numbers we have now is more than three, four weeks ago when we had the lockdown. So there isn’t any room for relaxation at this point.
“The reason why we had to relax the lockdown was in order to sustain the livelihoods of Nigerians, particularly those who depend on the daily income for survival, as well as to sustain our economy, it wasn’t because the COVID-19 is gone, or because we should be more relaxed in terms of our prevention measures.
“In order to balance the issue of livelihoods with public safety, we issued advisories and protocols that will guide the relaxation of the lockdown in order to mitigate the risk of transmission of the virus among us and to also ensure public safety.
“We have noticed that a lot of persons do not wear masks in public spaces. It is mandatory for masks to be worn in public spaces. Masks are supposed to cover your nose and mouth, not meant to cover your chin.
“There are also concerns about physical distancing and the issue of mass gatherings. We particularly note the issue of social gatherings and organisations going for concerts, against the lockdown protocols by the Federal Government.
“We are working with the security agencies to put in place enforcement when it comes to organisations that flout these guidelines. We will not sit back and allow public safety to be endangered by a few.
“While we are very much aware of the challenges that people continue to have because of guidelines that we have also, these guidelines are there for specific reasons. They are there to protect us, they are there to protect public safety.
“We are aware that times are challenging, but this is the new normal for COVID-19, it is the new normal that we really have to abide by and the question we should be asking ourselves repeatedly is do we want to be the next COVID-19 victim?
“If the answer is no, then we owe it to ourselves, to our community, to our loved ones to adhere to the safety measures provided. We plead with the public to please understand with our measures and to personally challenge those that continue to put us, our loved ones or our community at risk of COVID-19 infection.”
In his remark at the briefing, Chairman of the task force and Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, said three months after its inauguration, the PTF greatest challenge to its containment effort have been Nigerians resistance to change and inadequate infrastructure.
Giving a performance report for the period, he, however, noted it has been able to implement its objectives.
He said: “Like the rest of the world, our National Response continues to face challenges, especially as there is no known cure for the virus, presently.
“These include inadequate infrastructure, manpower shortage, the global shortage of essential items (test kits, PPE), the strain on the economy which has compelled the need to balance between lives and livelihoods.
“By far the greatest challenges are human resistance to change, stigmatization, mental health, scepticism, culture, religious belief, rising incidents of domestic violence and a host of others.”
Mustapha affirmed that the COVID-19 has “changed our ways of life and we may never go back to what we used to know.”
While recalling the terms reference given to the committee, Mustapha enumerated some of what he called the modest achievements it has recorded within the period.
He said: “There has, no doubt, been some modest achievements, challenges and lessons learned over the past three months. The COVID-19 is certainly the greatest invisible public health emergency that has threatened humanity in modern history.
“As at the last recorded numbers on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, global figures of confirmed cases were 8,408, 203 resulting in 451,463 deaths in 213 countries. Unfortunately, as at the same period, Nigeria accounts for 17,735 and 469 fatalities.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these are not just numbers. They are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and colleagues. These fatalities are forceful reminders of the task before us all.
“Although the PTF has planned a full mid-term report with larger stakeholders groups on 2nd and 3rd July 2020, we nevertheless find it necessary to share with you some of the high points of the last three months.
“The Presidential Task Force has the following functional working areas through which it implements its objectives. These are; PTF National Pandemic Response Center (NPRC) Coordination; Epidemiology & Surveillance; Risk Communication & Community Engagement and Laboratory.
Others are Security, Logistics & Mass Care; Points of Entry; Resource Mobilization; Infection, Prevention & Control; Research, Case Management; Finance Monitoring & Compliance.”
Speaking further, the task force chairman said since inception, several measures have been instituted by the Federal Government through the PTF to curtail the spread of the disease and protect the health of Nigerians.
He recalled that these include: initial lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT; Ban on flights to prevent importation; Ban on inter-state travels and domestic flights;
Closure of schools and religious centres; Imposition of nationwide curfew; and Easing of the lockdown in phases to allow for the gradual reopening of the economy.
Similarly, he said, the task force has prescribed measures to be observed, to prevent spread such as; Mandatory use of non-medical face mask/covering in public spaces; Mandatory provision of handwashing facilities/sanitisers; Extensive temperature checks in all public spaces; Physical distancing of two metres between people in workplaces and other public spaces; and Prohibition of gathering of more than 20 persons outside of a workplace.
Mustapha said the task force has, in addition to non-pharmaceutical measures, developed capacity such as Expansion of the testing laboratories from two to 38 as at today; Trained over 13,000 health workers in Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC); Developed policy and protocols for testing returning Nigerians; Developed policies and protocols for integration of primary healthcare into a national response; and Developed stronger and sustainable policy for community engagement and risk communication.
While collaborating with development partners to boost resources and enrich capacity for technical response, the PTF, he pointed out, also raised the isolation centre bed space from three-thousand to over five thousand nationwide.
The SGF admonished that the ease of lockdown did not mean that the infection has become less potent, saying that COVID-19 resurgence in other parts of the world was a reminded that things were not alright yet.
He said as the raining was here, there would be more COIVID-19 types of symptoms and therefore urged citizens to take responsibility.
He added: “Always remember, that the virus is real, potent and dangerous. Our relaxed lockdown should never be interpreted to mean otherwise.
“This point is further underscored by a reported resurgence of the second wave in countries like China and the USA and this should put all of us on alert, knowing that this virus can only be eliminated if we agree to play our part.
“This call becomes more pertinent as we go fully into the rainy season that ordinarily brings with it cold, catarrh and other COVID-19 mimicking illnesses. Our call to take personal responsibility cannot be more strident than now.
“As we go forward, therefore, let us look forward to another three months of overwhelming successes, let us create awareness and sensitization, stop the stigmatisation of survivors and let’s encourage fellow citizens that have contracted the virus to enable them to overcome the illness.
“Our choice of words matter. Our attitude and reactions to them help to boost the stability of their mental health. All combined will help our efforts to test, detect, trace, isolate and treat.”