The federal government has said it’s developing a three-year response strategy to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

It has also suspended a private charter company, Executive Jet Services Limited, for flying a controversial pop artiste, Naira Marley, and his crew, to perform at a musical concert organised by Jabi Lake Mall in Abuja on Friday night.

At the regular briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, yesterday in Abuja by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said in view of the assessment that the pandemic might last for a longer period, the federal government had decided to map out a three-year health sector response plan, which would guide efforts at containing the virus in the long-run.

“COVID-19 will be with us for a long time and we shall keep learning as we go along. In this respect, the Federal Ministry of Health is developing a three-year Health Sector COVID-19 Response Action Plan, which we shall use as a roadmap with which we can plan over the next 36 months,” he added.

He described the new plan as the product of learned minds, which is divided into “short-term, medium-term and long-term, with a flexibility to accommodate what changes or what we learn additionally about COVID-19 along the way.”

On the strike embarked upon yesterday by resident doctors, the minister said efforts were being made to resolve the dispute.

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He explained that the ministry met with the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services, Dr. Tanko Sununu, in a bid to persuade the medical doctors to go back to work.

“We had a meeting with the House Committee Chairman on Health. We clarified many of the issues they raised and I appealed to them that this is not the time to embark on strike. The issues are being attended to. The issue of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been dealt with and we have supplied PPE to all the states,” he stated.

FG Deploys Teams in Rivers, Cross River

Ehanire also said the Ministry of Health had deployed fresh teams in Rivers and Cross River states to work with the states’ epidemiologists to further deepen the response against COVID-19.

“We are collaborating with states to strengthen their response according to needs. An arrangement has been reached to send collaborative team to Cross River State in the coming days to complement the work of the state government,” he added.

Ehanire said efforts were on to increase the number of laboratories with priority given to states without a laboratory with PCR capability, including Cross River and Kogi.

“Despite the rising figures, the case fatality rate remains at about three per cent, which is lower than many countries, but not a cause for relief. The increasing pace of testing will yield more cases, but we need to also be proactive in keeping fatalities low.

“It is still strongly advised that those who test positive present themselves at a treatment centre. This is most especially so for those with underlying ailments like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, HIV, TB or are above 60 years of age,” he said.

The Representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Fiona Braka, said current research studies by WHO showed that asymptomatic patients could transmit the virus to others at close quarters.

She said there were asymptomatic patients who still infect others with the virus.

The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, who was asked about measures being taken to respond to possible health problems resulting from the recent concert attended by Lagos-based musician, Naira Marley in Abuja, said the centre was monitoring the situation.

“We have a lot more work to do than to pursue that but if we have infections arising from the party then we will definitely act,” he said.

Nigeria has recorded 573 new cases of COVID-19, bringing to 16,654 the number of confirmed cases in the country.

NCDC, in a breakdown, said yesterday that Lagos recorded 216 new cases, Rivers 103, Oyo 68, Edo 40, Kano 21, Gombe 20, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) 17, Delta 13, Plateau and Bauchi 12 each, Niger 10, Kebbi nine, Ogun and Ondo eight each, Abia seven, Nasarawa five, while Borno, Kwara, Benue and Anambra one each.

It said: “Nigeria has recorded 16,658 cases of COVID-19. 5,349 persons have been discharged, while 424 have unfortunately died.”

FG Suspends Airline for Flying Naira Marley

The federal government has suspended Executive Jet Services Limited for flying the controversial pop artiste, Naira Marley, and his crew, to perform at a musical concert organised by Jabi Lake Mall in Abuja on Friday night.

The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, announced the suspension yesterday during the media briefing in Abuja.

Sirika added that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) would impose a heavy fine on the pilot, A. Adebiyi, that operated the controversial flight.

He said NCAA only approved a return flight from Lagos to Abuja, but not for Naira Marley and other passengers on the Legacy 600 flight.

The minister said the flight, from the application, was to convey Hon. Justice Adefope Okojie to Abuja and back to Lagos for an official assignment.

He explained that the ministry approved the application because it considered the judiciary as part of the essential services to be delivered in this challenging time.

Sirika said although the approval was given for June 14, including a leeway of 24 hours, the operators chose to fly on June 13 at about 6.00 p.m.

The minister said the flight operation violated the authority’s approval, adding that such infraction has become a norm for the airline operator.

He announced the indefinite suspension of Executive Jet Services, in addition to maximum fine according to the law.

He said the captain of the flight would be fined for giving wrong information to the control tower in accordance with the law.

THISDAY learnt that the name of Naira Marley was not in the manifest given to Executive Jet Services Limited.

It was gathered that it was the name of Fashola Babatunde, presumably the Minister of Works and Housing, and nine others that were shortlisted for the flight.

THISDAY also confirmed that it was the approval already secured for the airlift of Justice Adefope Okoji.

Also yesterday, the National Coordinator of the PTF on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said it was left for the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to decide whether to prosecute Naira Marley for violation of the interstate movement and social distancing on COVID-19 control.

Aliyu added that PTF would support whatever decision taken by FCTA in that regard.

FG Warns States against Reopening Schools, Viewing Centres

PTF has warned states proposing to reopen schools and other activities of mass gatherings to suspend such contemplations.

PTF also said there were still possibilities of a review of all relaxed measures, adding that relaxation of restrictions “does not mean carelessness and that life is back to normal.”

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of PTF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, lamented the continued violation of measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, including ban on interstate travel.

Mustapha, in his opening speech at the press conference in Abuja, warned that the country was not ripe yet to allow activities that could attract large gatherings.

“We have received reports that some states are contemplating the reopening of schools, television viewing centres, sports stadium and other places where large gatherings could take place.

“PTF re-emphasises that it is not yet safe to do so and that utmost caution should be exercised. PTF guideline should still be complied with while considering decision of this nature,” he said.

He also raised concerns over the disregard for guidelines, measures and regulations across the country, saying the relaxed measures are still subject to review.

“In the course of our monitoring and surveillance of compliance across the nation, we have observed an escalation of the level of non-compliance with simple measure to keep social distancing, wearing of masks in public places, sanitation and hygiene.

“This is more prevalent in markets, motor parks and some places of worship. I wish to remind you that PTF has already issued guidelines for the mode of operations at places of worship and urge state governments to ensure strict compliance with PTF guidelines.

“We wish to re-emphasise that all relaxed measures are still subject to review and advisories issued are for personal and public safety purposes,” he stated.

Mustapha rallied Nigerians to ensure that the level of transmission of the virus is reduced.

He said: “If you listen to me conscientiously in the past four weeks I have spoken about personal responsibility. It is our responsibility. We are not your frontliners anymore. The choice of whether you will get to the hospital is yours.

“You, my fellow people, you are your last liners now. What you do, what you say, your actions, will determine where you will end.

“We have gotten to a stage where no amount of enforcement will cut this tool for us. It is the choices that we make that will determine what will happen. The governments of subnational will try to do their best but it is the choices of the people that will determine how effective that will be,” he said.

Mustapha added that one of his relatives in Adamawa State died of COVID-19 and was buried at the weekend in line with COVID-19 burial protocols.

US Suspends Emergency Use of Chloroquine for Treatment

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has withdrawn the emergency use of hydrochloroquine and chloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Announcing this yesterday, the agency’s Chief Scientist, Denise Hinton, said new information from large clinical trials suggested the drugs were unhelpful in treating the disease.

In May, Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had said it would continue with the clinical trial of the drugs to ascertain their efficacies.

This was even as the World Health Organisation (WHO), which earlier called for suspension of the use of the drugs, reversed its decision.

Hinton said the revocation of the authorisation for its use was on the request of the acting Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Gary Disbrow, after due consideration.

He said: “After reviewing new information from large clinical trials, we believe that the suggested dosing regimens are unlikely to produce an antiviral effect.

“More recent randomised controlled trials have found the drugs do not benefit COVID-19 patients, and doctors have reported that hydroxychloroquine can cause heart problems.

“Because hydroxychloroquine is approved for other uses – treating lupus and arthritis – doctors could still use it ‘off label’ to treat coronavirus patients, and clinical trials examining their use against COVID-19 can continue.”

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