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Lai Mohammed addresses the Press on Corona Virus

Thank you, gentlemen, for once again honouring our invitation. We have invited you here to brief you on the Federal Government’s continuing efforts to combat the Coronavirus pandemic, which is ravaging the world. We hope to make this briefing a regular affair until we conquer this disease.

2.   But first, let me use this opportunity to commend all our first responders, the great team at the Federal Ministry of Health and the

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Immigration officers and others at the ports of entry who, I will say, are in the forefront of this battle with an unseen enemy. We appreciate their sacrifice to keep us all safe. We also thank Nigerians for complying with all the preventive measures being put in place by the government. These include social distancing (deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. This entails staying at least six feet away from other people), cancellation of events likely to attract large number of people, quarantine, self-isolation, suspension of services, etc.

3.   The government, at the highest level, is already leading by example. Mr. President has cut down the number of courtesy visits. Mr. President is not shaking hands. One of the President’s daughters is in self isolation. The meeting of the heads of state of the Chad Basin Commission, scheduled for next week, has been cancelled. Visitors to the State House get their hands sanitized and their temperature taken at several points before reaching the executive council chambers.

4.  The Federal Government is aware that some political and religious leaders have either denied the existence of coronavirus or have defied the directives to avoid a large gathering. Leaders of all hues must show great responsibility at this time. They must avoid putting the lives of not just their followers but also those of the general public in danger. Nigerians too must take responsibility, do what they are requested to do to stay safe and stop blaming others. For those who would continue to willfully flout the directives aimed at checking the spread of this disease, the long arm of the law will soon catch them.

5.   We need the cooperation of all Nigerians in the area of ‘contact tracing’. As you may be aware, health services use ‘contact tracing’ to find people who may have been exposed to an infectious disease, in this case coronavirus. Those who have come into close contact with others who have coronavirus are at higher risk of infection, and of potentially infecting others. For those who will not cooperate by submitting to the authorities, as required, the government will use all lawful means at its disposal to trace and bring them in. Having now shut our gateway airports, the biggest assignment for us is ‘contact tracing’ to find all those who may have come into contact with those who have the disease.

6.   There is also the farce out there that the disease cannot affect Africans for one reason or another, or that the young is immune to it.

This is not true. Based on what we know so far, no one is immune to this disease. In New York, for example, 54% of those infected are between the ages of 18 and 49. As the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, young people are not immune to coronavirus and must avoid socialising and communicating it to older, more vulnerable people.

7.  Gentlemen, as far back as January 31st 2020, the Federal Government had set up an Inter-Ministerial/Multi Sectoral Preparedness and Response Committee to put in place an action plan for joint response, in the event that the importation of the disease occurs, to ensure its containment. The committee started work immediately and has been responsible for the formulation of many of the containment measures so far rolled out.

8.   And on March 9th, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari set up a Presidential Task Force for the Control of Coronavirus, especially the disease’s potential of causing significant disruption to health services in the country as well as impacting negatively on the economy.

9.   While Nigeria has refused to succumb to panic in tackling this disease, it has not wavered in its preparedness. The government has taken a number of measures to contain the disease. They include:

– Restrictions of travel from 15 countries, each with more than 1,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. The countries are China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, the United States, Norway, UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Sweden.

– Suspension of issuance of visa on arrival

-Cancellation of visas issued to nationals of these countries.

– Shutdown of international airports in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt

– Reduction of fuel price from 145 Naira to 125 Naira per litre

– Credit relief of 1.1 Trillion Naira announced by the CBN to businesses affected by the pandemic.

– Establishment of a credit facility by the CBN for household, small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

– Reduction of interest rates for loans from 9% to 5%, etc.

FAKE NEWS/DISINFORMATION

10.  Perhaps one thing that is as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than the virus is fake news/disinformation. Our efforts to tackle coronavirus are not being helped by the spread of fake news. Suddenly, coronavirus pundits are popping up everywhere, in particular on Whatsapp, prescribing Choloroquine (which has not been approved for treating coronavirus), garlic, hot bath, etc, as the cure-all for the disease. We implore Nigerians to shun these charlatans and follow the directives from the relevant authorities. We are happy that Facebook is cooperating with us. They have asked Nigerians to report any false or misleading report on Facebook and Instagram pages so they can immediately bring them down. I can report that Facebook has been bringing down flagged posts in this regard. Facebook is also taking preemptive action to remove any false or harmful messages about this pandemic  and public health in Nigeria 24/7. Similarly, Whatsapp is working with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to strengthen the capacity to keep the public informed on Coronavirus.

11   We want to appeal to Nigerians to continue to support the efforts of the government at all levels to defeat this coronavirus. We are hoping for the best in our efforts to contain the disease, but we are prepared for the worst. The truth is that things may yet get worse than it is now, hence the need for all hands to be on deck. Tougher decisions may yet be on the way to contain this disease. But whatever decision is taken will be in the best interest of Nigerians.

12.   Before I conclude, let me inform you, gentlemen, that I came here straight from the meeting of the Presidential Task Force on the Control of Coronavirus. I will now avail you of the decisions taken at that meeting

– Nigeria now has a total of 36 cases

– Nigeria has recorded its first coronavirus death, a 67-year-old man in Abuja with serious underlying diseases.

– Henceforth, all passengers on domestic flights are to be properly screened, just like we do for international travellers.

– All Federal Schools are already shut down and the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), will be directed to close all universities, both public and private.

13.   Gentlemen, we are prepared to take on and defeat this disease, President Buhari has assured Nigerians that the government is on top of the situation and that there is no cause for panic. This is not the time to engage in name calling, second-guessing the government or playing politics. Coronavirus does not select its victims on the basis of

their political party affiliation, their religion or ethnicity.

Therefore, Nigerians must come together as one to stop coronavirus dead in its tracks, just like we did to Ebola.

13.  I thank you for your kind attention.

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