…approves gradual reopening of international flights
President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the extension of the second phase of the ease of lockdown by four weeks. The extension, however, came with some modifications as recommended by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19. Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, disclosed this yesterday in Abuja while briefing newsmen on the progress report of the second phase of the ease of lockdown, which spanned last nine weeks.
Mustpaha said that the new phase will witness a gradual re-opening of international flights and rail transportation within established parameters; granting permission to exit classes in schools to resume ahead of examinations; allowing civil servants from Grade Level 12 to resume work and opening recreational parks for supervised exercises.
He said that the president has also approved the partnership between the federal, states and local governments to improve community sensitisation and engagement on the COVID-19 response. The PTF has also received presidential approvals for state authorities and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to enforce nonpharmaceutical guidelines, primarily the use of face masks, in public places. Similarly, Mustapha said state governments would be encouraged to collaborate with local government authorities to intensify necessary measures such as contact tracing, grassroots mobilisation and risk communication as well as strengthening collaboration with other mandate groups at federal and state levels to harmonise the country’s COVID-19 response, on the short, medium and long-term basis. National Coordinator of PTF, Dr. Sani Aliyu, who also gave more details of the modifications to the protocols for the continuation of the second phase of the ease of lockdown, said civil servants on Grade Level 12 and above should not only resume work, but would now return to their normal working hours.
They, however, would not be allowed into their offices without face masks. Aliyu cautioned that those above the age of 60 years should remain indoors and avoid crowded areas, even as he reminded all Nigerians that the curfew between 10p.m. and 4a.m. remains unchanged. On the planned resumption of flights, Aliyu said that local air travellers are to arrive at the airport one and half hours before their scheduled flights, while those on international travels have been mandated to arrive the airport three hours ahead of theirs.
He also disclosed that road transporters were to operate with half the passengers’ capacity and to obey other protocols, including wearing of face masks and sanitization of hands. Also, banks are now to open within the normal working hours, but at 75 per cent staff capacity and 50 per cent customers’ capacity to allow for physical spacing. Aliyu also disclosed that the restriction on churches, mosques and other places of worship would remain unchanged while PTF has also received approval for the resumption of the use of recreational parks for physical exercises. Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said that the aviation sector has been mandated to commence modalities for the reopening of the airports for international travels. Although he was not specific on dates, he disclosed that international travels would begin in a matter of weeks.
Sirika pleaded with Nigerians not to heap the blame of the inconveniences caused by the disease on anybody, stressing that the need to maintain the health and well-being of air travellers was responsible for the caution being taken in reopening the nation’s airspace. According to him, government, as well as airline operators, were losing money to the closure of the airspace, stressing that left to them, the airspace would have been opened for business long ago. According the report presented by PTF, Nigeria has not fared so well in the last month, as the number of states with over 1,000 confirmed cases increased from four to 10. However, while Nigeria has conducted 43 per cent more tests in July than in June, the positivity rate has decreased, showing the progress made in access to testing. In terms of case management, there has been a reduction in the fatality rate from 1.9 per cent in June to 1.7 per cent in July. Community transmission is increasing as reflected in the fact that 536 local government areas, which is 69 per cent of the total, have reported a COVID-19 case.