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Abuja Eases Lockdown Cautiously

The Federal Capital Territory begins the experiment of easing total lockdown Monday despite rising cases of COVID-19.

As COVID-19 continues its onslaught against humanity, the world has found itself between the devil and the deep sea – stay at home and starve; ease lockdown and risk more infections. Whichever option you choose, people will die. That is what Fredrick Forsyth calls the devil’s alternative. The Federal Capital Territory, FCT, joins other states in the world in the trial run of this radical approach to the fight against COVID-19 this Monday.

 Some countries are easing lockdown because of receding coronavirus statistics; but in Nigeria, the cases are still on the waxing stage, raising fear that opening up the country prematurely may lead to a health catastrophe.

On Sunday, May 3, Nigeria recorded 170 new cases and two more deaths. On Saturday, May 2, 220 cases and 17 deaths were recorded. Lagos recorded the highest number of 62; while FCT recorded the second-highest, 52. Nigeria now has 2, 558 cases with 87 deaths and 400 recoveries. There are 2, 071 active cases.

The fear is that there are more cases, but because of slow testing process, many cases have not been captured in the net; and these continue to worsen the community infection. Put together, only 17, 566 persons have been tested nationwide in a national population of over 200 million. Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general of National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, said Nigeria has testing capacity for 1, 500 cases daily but testing has been selective, prioritizing those suspected to have been exposed to the virus, rather than the whole population.

The frightening spike notwithstanding, Nigerians returned to work on Monday in muted packages across the states in a bid to pre-empt a threat. In the Federal Capital Territory, private sector workers, especially the self-employed, were disappointed as they trooped out to resume work. They discovered the real meaning of “partial easing of lockdown” and that most of them do not qualify to return to work.

As at 10 am, most people who left their homes by 6.am to go to work were still stranded at the roadblocks. The Police are having a hectic time screening those who are on essential duty and those who are not. But the hungry stomachs searching for food are on essential duty.

After the security committee meeting on Saturday, Mohammad Bello, the FCT minister, advised residents who have no business being on the road to still stay at home or face the mobile court if arrested.

 “I must caution and warn that anybody who, for any reason, flouts the directives of government and is arrested, the full wrath of the law will fall on that person because we will not allow a few citizens who are not conscious of the wellbeing of the majority of other citizens to put all of us at risk.”

Bello was particular about interstate lockdown to avoid those with the virus coming into FCT on the one hand, and infected persons from FCT spreading the infection to neighbouring states.

 “We also realized that one weak area that has confronted us is the fact that enforcement of the inter-state movement has not been very successful and that’s an area where, if we are not very careful, will make it very difficult for us to prevent infection by people who are visiting the FCT from other parts of the country. By the same token also, if the enforcement is not very strong, infected people from the FCT will also move out to other states. At the end of the day, nationally, we all lose.”

He asked workers in FCT who reside outside in neighouring states to stay home. Most of them did not understand this and attempted to come to work. As at press time, they are still gnashing their teeth at the barricades. Workers who reside at nearby Nasarawa, Niger and Kogi states were stopped from entering the FCT.

 “The directives are very clear. Offices are open for specific categories of staff on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and within a specific time range of 8.00 am to 2.00 pm. So, my advice is, anybody who has no reason to come out based on these directives should just stay at home. We have been at home for about four weeks now; another few weeks would do us good, because if we are able to maintain the level of the virus in the FCT the way it has been maintained during the last few weeks, then by the grace of God Almighty, we will get over this.”

He also emphasized the enforcement of the curfew between 8 pm to 6 am.

Below are details of the guidelines as issued by the FCT Administration:

… On the phased easing of the lockdown, the following guidelines are hereby issued in the first instance, from 4th -17th May 2020:

  1. OVERNIGHT CURFEW
    1. An overnight curfew will be applicable in the FCT from 8:00 pm till 6:00 am.
  2. PARTIAL RESUMPTION OF CIVIL SERVANTS
    1. Effective Monday, 4th May 2020, all civil servants in the FCT on Grade level 14 and above are to report for work 3 times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between the hours of 8 am and 2 pm.
    2. All officers on essential duties are to carry on with their assigned responsibilities.
    3. All workers are to maintain safe distancing protocols of at least 2 meters and wear face masks at all times.
    4. Temperature checks and hand sanitizing protocols should be strictly adhered to at all entry points and access to offices tightly controlled.
    5. Number of visitors and customers are to be limited to enforce social distancing guidelines.
    6. All workers who are not resident in the FCT are directed to remain in their respective States of residence until the ban on interstate travel is lifted.
  3. MARKETS AND BUSINESSES
    1. Extant guidelines on market operations for sale of food items only remain in effect. Markets are to operate for two days in a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 8:00 am and 3:00 pm.
    2. Neighbourhood selling points will be established in various parts of the city to decongest the major markets.
    3. Wearing of face mask is mandatory to gain access to markets in addition to hand washing and sanitizing protocols.
    4. The above hygiene-related protocols are also applicable to supermarkets and neighborhood markets.
    5. Banks are to open between the hours of 8:00 am and 2:00 pm and are to observe temperature checks, hand sanitizing protocols as well as the use of face masks for staff and customers.
    6. Banks are to limit access by customers to allow for safe distancing reasons and limit the number of staff working on their premises to between 30% and 50%.
    7. Residents are encouraged to patronize online banking services as much as possible.
    8. Extant rules regulating restaurants and eateries remain in effect. Restaurants are not open to the public and are encouraged to adopt home delivery services. Similarly, eatries are to practice the take-away system and are to maintain all hand sanitizing, face-covering, and safe distancing protocols.
    9. Pharmacies may remain open overnight and are to observe all other protocols as enunciated above.
    10. Companies involved in food processing, drug manufacturing, and construction can commence operation, subject to following the approved health and safety guidelines.
    11. Operators of these facilities are mandated to refuse access to anyone not observing the hygiene protocols.
  4. PLACES OF WORSHIP
    1. The extant directive on places of worship still subsists and they remain closed.
  5. RECREATIONAL AREAS/FACILITIES/EVENTS
    1. All clubs, bars, gardens, beer parlors, recreational parks, communal sports facilities, movie theatres etc in the FCT remain closed.
    2. Ban on social congregations such as parties, weddings etc remain in force.
  6. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
    1. Prohibition of commercial motorcycles within the FCT remains in force including Kubwa and Dutse Alhaji.
    2. Tricycles are to limit their activities to areas already designated and are allowed a maximum of 3 persons (driver and two passengers).
    3. Taxis are mandated to carry a maximum of 4 persons at a time (driver and 3 persons).
    4. Buses are to reduce occupancy at any time to 50% of installed capacity.
    5. All bus stops and motor parks are to maintain environmental hygiene and officials of the parks and bus and taxi operators should provide temperature checks and hand sanitizing points at the parks and bus stops. Face covering is also mandatory. They are to operate only between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm daily.
    6. The FCTA will enforce very strictly, the ban on interstate travel. Vehicles conveying goods such as agro products, petroleum products, medical supplies, relief, and construction materials as well as courier and security services would be allowed entry subject to the permitted designation in the FCT.
  7. SCHOOLS AND ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS
    1. All schools in the FCT remain closed until further notice. Schools are not permitted to commence third term operations in any form until directed otherwise by the relevant authorities.
    2. Schools are however encouraged to continue with e-learning and virtual teachings.
  8. MEDICAL ADVISORY
    1. Residents are once more reminded that COVID-19 can be fatal and all are hereby advised to take all prescribed measures to avoid contracting it. Persons with underlying medical conditions especially hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and low immunity are advised to remain at home. Equally, Persons 65 years and older are also advised to remain at home.
    2. Use of face masks by residents in all public places is mandatory.
    3. All business owners and government institutions are hereby directed to de-contaminate their premises, prior to re-opening.
  9. ENFORCEMENT
    1. The security agencies have been mandated to arrest and prosecute anyone found to be contravening any of these guidelines through the mobile courts.

The FCT is ranked third in the table of COVID-19 infection with 278 cases, out of which 235 are still active.

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