The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has directed government offices, banks and manufacturing companies to reopen on Monday.
The Chairman of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, and the Coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, stated this at the media briefing of the group on Wednesday in Abuja, where they gave guidelines for the gradual reopening of the economy.
According to them, banks will start operating as from Monday, but will only open from 8am to 2pm and must adhere to social distancing measures.
They also stated that people in public places must use face masks, adding that schools would remain closed and social parties should not be held.
The PTF members disclosed that public buses would only be allowed to operate from 6am to 6pm and that drivers must maintain social distancing in terms of number of their passengers.
They said employers must provide face masks and thermometers besides maintaining social distancing in their premises.
Government offices and many business premises had been shut since last month when President Muhammadu Buhari announced measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.
But the task force Chairman, Mustapha, on Wednesday said that the reopening of the economy did not mean an end to COVID-19 pandemic.
He urged state governments and security agencies to ensure that the measures introduced by the Federal Government were strictly enforced.
Mustapha said, “In line with Mr. President’s directive in paragraphs 38-41 of his broadcast (on Monday), 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 for the poor and vulnerable.”
According to him, as the economy reopens gradually, public and private organisations are mandated to ensure fumigation and decontamination of their premises.
He added that in all private and public establishments, there must be use of face masks; provision of thermometers for temperature checks and consideration must be given to persons living with disabilities while making all the arrangements
Mustapha said, “A mass gathering of more than 20 people outside of a workplace is strictly prohibited and controlled access to neighbourhood markets and locations of economic activities will be enforced.
“Mandatory temperature checks will be conducted in public places; social distancing of two metres will be maintained between people in workplaces and other public places; all passenger flights remain under ban; and there will be mandatory supervised isolation of persons arriving from outside the country for at least 14 days.”
The National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, gave more insight into the guidelines.
He stated, “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 a restriction in the opening hours to between 8am to 2pm and together with all the other preventive measures,” such as temperature check and maintaining of social distance.
Although the task force had said it did not stop banks from opening, many of them had shut their doors since the lockdown began.
Speaking on other aspects of the guidelines, Aliyu said, “From the point of agriculture and rural development, companies involved in food processing can commence operation.
“In construction sites, the critical roads (work) 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.”
Aliyu also spoke on schools, theatres and social parties.
He said, “Restaurants will not open to the public, but will be allowed to engage in home delivery. 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, concerts, social parties and movie theatres will be suspended until further review.”
Aliyu added that outside the curfew hours, buses and motor parks would be allowed to open “for some hours in a day, I believe 6am to 6pm, and taxis will also be allowed to operate.”
The PTF Chairman, Mustapha, in his speech, admitted that it was true that some categories of contributory pensioners had not been paid since January. He give reasons for the gap.
He said, “Accrued right of the pensioners is to be paid by the FG and it is being processed to be paid to PENCOM. We are in the process of transition as far as pension is concerned. There are people that retired in January 2019 that came with their accrued rights from the old pension scheme that will be merged with the new scheme. That is being processed at the moment.”
He also explained the purposes of the two stimulus packages released by the Central Bank of Nigeria, which came in two batches of N100bn and N50bn.
He added, “There is a package of N100bn which is majorly for hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. They are the ones government is trying to ensure that after COVID-19, they would be adequately prepared to deal with future needs.
“The second stimulus of N50bn is for activities such as agricultural value chain, hospitality, accommodation and food services. There is also help for medical and pharmaceutical supplies, manufacturing, trading and any other income generating activities.
Also at the briefing, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said some staff members of the centre had been infected with coronavirus. When asked to state the number of the affected workers, the DG of the NCDC refused to give the number.
He said, “After work on Tuesday, I spoke with a number of people in my own team that had sadly become infected in the line of duty. I called them to encourage them but they ended up encouraging me and the PTF to continue pushing, that our work is important for the future of our country.”
“Although they are isolated and some of them in hospitals, they keep working, contributing to the response. They said it is better to do that than to sit idly watching television or thinking about their fate.”
Ihekweazu said that he would not take issue with any governor on the number of person infected in each state. He stated that the only way to ascertain those who had the virus was to test them. During one of the briefings this week, the DG of the NCDC had charged states with zero case to collect more samples from people in their states for test to be conducted.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said restriction on the lockdown would only be relaxed if Nigerians observed government advisory put in place to arrive at reduced number of cases.
The minister urged lawmakers to be involved in disease surveillance and provision of bed spaces in isolation centres at their constituencies.
The minister said that the delegation that was sent to Kano over rise in COVID19 cases and deaths in the state had begun working after meeting the governor of the state.
“They were well received by His Excellency the Governor and have been able to conduct an appraisal of the situation and start working on outlines of providing technical support for the state COVID-19 task force in several aspects, as well as planning capacity building for the frontline health workers.
On isolation centres, Ehanire said various activities were available for patients while efforts had been made to provide mental health support to fight boredom.
“There are those in single room because they have travelled and waiting for 14 days. For those who do not like to be alone, it may not be easy but for those who like to be alone, they can work on their computers, read books or watch television. It depends on your kind of mentality,” he said.