Lockdown likely if high COVID-19 infection rate continues, says PTF

By Bolaji Ogundele and Gbenga Omokhunu, Abuja

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic has warned that the nation might resort to the extreme option of another lockdown, if Nigerians fail to comply with prescribed guidelines and protocols.

PTF National Incident Manager Dr Mukhtar Muhammad, in an exclusive chat with The Nation in Abuja yesterday, however, noted that government would be reluctant in taking such decision, explaining the it would only become necessary when the current spiking rate of infections fail to abate.

According to him, as part of efforts to avert another lockdown, the PTF was working with governors on the enforcement of guidelines and protocols across the country.

“Lockdowns help to minimise people’s movements and it’s very effective because if you don’t go out or if you reduce the degree of your movement, you’ll also reduce the risk of getting infection.

“Lockdown is not completely out of the table. We are monitoring the numbers, we are monitoring the statistics across the country and where necessary, we’ll have to take severe measures.

“For now, the PTF is very much aware of the hardship that lockdown brings along, particularly for low-income earners, for small businesses, for people who have to go out daily to get their daily bread.

So, we are doing everything possible not to have a total lockdown in the country, but for us not to reach that stage, we have to ensure that people take responsibility,” he said.

Explaining the strategy being put together to stave off a possible lockdown situation, Muhammad cited a planned legal framework for the enforcement operations, which he said would include very stringent actions.

“There are plans to introduce these enforcements and what we are doing now at the PTF is trying to identify areas; cities or towns where the infection has been reported to be very high, both in terms of people who have been tested and found to be positive, and also in terms of what we call incidence, which is the number of people that are positive, divided by population.

“We are looking at these and we have identified these areas where we’ll need to implement these stringent measures. We will have teams that will ensure compliance. We are working with state governments to ensure that they set up task forces that will move round to ensure compliance. Mr President has received the recommendation from the PTF and we are waiting for Mr President to accent because it has a legal implication.

“We’ll want to be sure that we are covered even before we start the enforcement. We’ll start prosecuting people who are violating protocols, we’ll also start closing down and locking down businesses, institutions, public places that are not complying to the protocols.

“As I mentioned, if all these do not work, then, we’ll have no option than to introduce the total lockdown. We don’t want to do it, but if our figures and statistics continue to rise, making more people to become vulnerable, there’ll be no option than to ensure that we halt this epidemic by a total cessation of movements,” he said.

Sultan of Sokoto and Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) President –General Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar yesterday advised Nigerians to ask questions about the COVID-19 vaccines before they were brought into the country.

Abubakar said the questions would help authorities provide answers.

He spoke in Abuja at the sensitisation programme on COVID-19 vaccine for Muslim scholars and Imams in Nigeria.

His words: “What we will take away from this interactive session is so important,  because it will help us convince the people of the need to take the COVID-19 vaccine or not. I  believe we cannot force people to take vaccines.

“For us as Muslims, we know that knowledge is very important, and we know that Islam was founded on knowledge. The vaccines are not yet in Nigeria but it is an opportunity to bring up questions and fears about the vaccines so that the authorities will offer answers and solutions.”

The traditional ruler noted that the coordination and partnership of northern traditional and religious leaders that helped to overcome polio would also help with COVID-19.

“When the Almighty Allah brought me to this position in 2006, we had very serious cases of polio in Nigeria.

“The then Minister of Health, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, approached me that he wants to use traditional rulers to sensitise the people. I said, ‘It’s okay… we want to see healthy communities.

“That was how we picked a senior traditional ruler  from each of the 19 Northern states and the FCT, and set up the Northern Traditional Rulers Committee on Polio. It was the work of that committee that was able to give us the polio-free certification after 13 years.

“Such is the importance of traditional leaders. But traditional rulers cannot do much without religious leaders. Any monarch who is not close to religious leaders is not a good leader. A collaboration between the traditional and religious institutions gave us the victory over polio not coercion.”

According to him, the emergence of COVID-19 vaccine was trailed by negative conspiracy theories, but stressed that truth and adequate knowledge were necessary to dispel the lies and half-truths.

The Sultan added: “People talk of conspiracy theories such as that the COVID-19 vaccine is meant to kill us. But my take is that if a vaccine was meant to kill us, will anybody wait for the COVID-19 vaccine before killing us? We have been consuming soft drinks and other medicines that are imported into the country. If any foreigner wants to kill us, there are more than a million ways to do so.

“The vaccines are free. You are not going to pay for it. But to take it is your choice. How? You have to find out the truth about the vaccine yourself. How do you find out the truth? By seeking knowledge. How? By communicating with the right people.”

The Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said any COVID-19 that would be brought into the country must be certified by the National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) before administration.

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Source: The Nation