- Anambra bans burials, any other gathering exceeding 30
- Lagos shuts four events centres
Mega international airlines based in the United States, Europe, Middle East and other parts of the world have suspended flights operations to Nigeria as the world battles to stem coronavirus spread, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.
This came as the Federal Government announced the closure of Lagos and Abuja airports to international flights from Monday.
As the number of coronavirus cases in Nigeria increased from 12 on Thursday to 22 on Saturday, the FG, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, said on Saturday it would close Abuja and Lagos airports on Monday.
The Director-General, NCAA, Capt Musa Nuhu, in a circular to airline operators on Saturday, said only emergency and essential flights would be exempted from the restrictions.
Nuhu, however, said domestic airlines would continue normal flight operations.
The NCAA’s directive came barely 48 hours after it announced the closure of the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, and Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa.
The NCAA’s circular read in part, “Further to our earlier letter on restrictions of international flights to Nigeria, we wish to inform you that effective March 23 to April 23, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja will be closed to all international flights.
“This is in addition to the closure of the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, and Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, effective March 21.”
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, on Friday, hinted that all international airports would be closed as part of measures to stop COVID-19 spread.
As of Saturday, there were over 290,000 COVID-19 cases, resulting in over 11,000 deaths globally.
Following the NCAA’s ban on international flights as Nigeria records more coronavirus cases, findings by our correspondents revealed that Lufthansa German Airlines, US-based Delta Airlines, AirFrance, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Middle East-based Emirates, Qatar and Etihad Airlines suspended flights to Nigeria on Friday and Saturday.
While Delta and Turkish Airlines operated their last flights to the MMIA on Friday, AirFrance, KLM among others operated their last flights to the country on Saturday.
British Airways, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic among others are expected to operate their last flights to the country today (Sunday).
Findings at the MMIA and NAIA revealed that some Nigerians and foreigners were rushing to catch the last flights to the country and out of the country.
Travel operators and airport officials confirmed that the few available flights ahead of the Monday closure were fully booked, explaining that some Nigerians and foreigners had brought their travel date forward to escape the imminent airport closure.
According to findings, passengers have been rebooking their flights since Monday when the FG announced revocation of visas of citizens from 13 countries.
Delta confirmed it had suspended its flights to the country.
The airlines, which operated its last flight to Nigeria on Friday, said in a statement on its website, delta.com, “Delta is suspending its service to Lagos, starting March 20, following government travel restrictions.”
Also, Emirates, one of the world’s biggest international airlines, said in a company email seen by one of our correspondents that it was suspending flights to Lagos and Abuja starting from March 23 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
KLM, the flag carrier airline of The Netherlands headquartered in Amstelveen, operated its last flight to Nigeria on Saturday.
“Due to travel restrictions in Nigeria, flights from Schiphol to Nigeria will be suspended as of March 21,” the airline stated on its website, klm.com.
Similarly, AirFrance and Qatar Airways operated their last flights to the country on Saturday, according to notices seen by Sunday PUNCH.
Lufthansa has also suspended its flights to Nigeria from March 23 to April 19. An email sent through its agency, Lufthansa City Centre TIFA Travels, said, “Lufthansa flights out of Nigeria are hereby suspended from March 23, 2020 until April 19, 2020.
“The last flights from Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt will operate on Sunday, March 22, 2020, to resume on April 20, 2020 as currently planned.”
Meanwhile, it was learnt that Nigerians and foreigners who planned to leave the country and come in for important meetings had rescheduled their flights, according to airline officials.
As a result of this, inbound and outbound flights in the past few days have been fully booked.
In the meantime, before Saturday’s ban on all international flights, the FG had earlier placed travel restrictions on travellers entry into the country from 15 countries with high burden of coronavirus.
The countries are the United States, China, Iran, South Korea, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Japan, Austria and Sweden.
Nigeria also announced the temporary suspension of the visa-on-arrival policy.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force for the Control of COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, said, “The restrictions will come into effect from Saturday for four weeks, subject to review.”
Mustapha added, “All persons arriving in Nigeria who might have visited these countries 15 days prior to such arrival will be subjected to supervised self-isolation and testing for 14 days.
“The Federal Government is temporarily suspending the issuance of all visas on arrival. The Federal Government is also counselling all Nigerians to cancel or postpone all non-essential travels to these countries.”
Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association last week projected that the disruption to air travel would cost Nigeria’s aviation industry $434m in base revenue, 22,200 jobs, and approximately 2.2 million passengers due to coronavirus spread.
Aviation stakeholders predicted that the losses would be huge, not just for the airlines, but also the economy.
The Managing Partner, Aglow Aviation Support Services, Tayo Ojuri, said the losses would be on safety, operational and financial perspectives.
He said the closure of all international airports in the country for four weeks would impact heavily on the economy as there would be job losses.
Ojuri said, “It is easy to shut down an airline but to restart it is a problem. Many of the airlines won’t return at full capacity, it will take some time for them to recover, some that were offering five flights per week might begin with three.
“A lot of people who rely on airline services to survive will be affected and don’t forget that if airlines don’t work, they may not be financially capable of paying their bills.”
The President, Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria, Mr Kingsley Nwokoma, described the situation as tragic, saying that the economy would suffer.
“There is life after COVID-19; there will be job losses because airlines are struggling now, many are shutting down already,” he said.
According to him, the closure of airports to all international flights is a preventive measure but cargo, which brings in supplies, will be affected.
He said “Cargo planes bring in spare parts, medicals and other essentials. I don’t know how the government will work around that.
“Shutting the airports to international flights is a decision that has to happen because most of the cases (coronavirus) were imported. But the effect on the industry will be much, not just for Nigeria, but for the entire world; the longer the disease stays, the more the problems for the industry.”
For domestic carriers, Nwokoma said they might not be affected as much as the foreign carriers because their operations within the country would continue.
He, however, stated that they would be needing government’s support due to decline in passenger demand.
“Their passengers are not only those within the country, but many of them are also people who come in through foreign carriers from other countries,” he added.
NRC gives conditions for train services
As COVID-19 cases increase in the country, the Nigerian Railway Corporation on Saturday outlined some conditions before any passenger could travel on its rail services nationwide.
It had earlier announced its decision to stop all passenger train services nationwide as a result of coronavirus spread.
This came as the management of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund declared the immediate suspension of the ongoing selection interviews for the award of 2020/2021 overseas scholarships.
The corporation in an early statement signed by its Deputy Director, Public Relations, Yakub Mahmood, on Saturday, said, “The board and management of the NRC have decided to stop all passenger train operations as from March 23, 2020.
“This is in view of the report of the already known coronavirus outbreak. Further information on passenger train services will be made available in due course to our esteemed passengers.”
But later, the corporation outlined the conditions which passengers must adhere to when using train services.
“Passengers (are) to provide their full names, addresses, date of birth and means of identity. We enjoin all passengers to please cooperate with any other measures put in place to protect ourselves from ourselves,” the NRC said.
On the suspension of its overseas scholarship interviews, the PTDF explained that the action would affect the conduct of the second week of the interview.
It was learnt that the interview was scheduled to review short-listed PhD applicants in four centres of Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Ibadan.
The interview which commenced simultaneously in the six geopolitical zones on March 16 was scheduled to last until March 27.
“The suspension is a precautionary measure to limit the risk of exposure to the virus by short-listed candidates, interview panel and staff of the fund,” PTDF stated.
It added, “A new date for the continuation of the exercise will be announced in due course and all affected candidates will be duly notified of further developments regarding the exercise.”
A total of 6,005 candidates were short-listed to participate in the exercise and these include 3,969 MSc and 2,036 PhD applicants.
Coronavirus patients now 22 as FG confirms 10 new cases
The Federal Government on Saturday said there were 10 new cases of coronavirus in Nigeria, with Abuja recording its first cases.
While Abuja recorded three cases, Lagos, which had become the epicentre of the virus in Nigeria, recorded seven new cases. With the new cases, Nigeria has recorded 22 cases since February 27 when the first case was recorded in Lagos.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said in a statement that all the 10 new cases were Nigerian nationals, with nine of them having travel history to Canada, France, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. He said the confirmed cases returned to Nigeria in the past one week ago while one was a close contact of a previously confirmed case.
The minister said, “The Ministry of Health has confirmed 10 new cases of the coronavirus disease in Nigeria; three new cases in the Federal Capital Territory and seven new cases in Lagos State. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Nigeria to 22.
“The three cases in the Federal Capital Territory are being treated at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada while the seven new cases in Lagos are being treated at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba. All the 10 new cases have mild to moderate symptoms and are currently receiving treatment.”
The minister added that contact-tracing was ongoing to identify all persons who had been in contact with the new confirmed cases.
He noted, “The Port Health Services of the Federal Ministry of Health has heightened screening at all air, land and sea points of entry into Nigeria and adapted the protocols to reflect the travel guidance issued by the Presidential Task Force on the Control of Coronavirus.”
When one of our correspondents visited the isolation unit of the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital after the announcement of the new cases, he observed that the unit was guarded by security men. However, none of the doctors on duty could confirm if the three new Abuja cases had been transferred to the unit. Some of them expressed fear over the development, saying the hospital was not fully prepared to handle the deadly virus.
CMA boss berates FG
Meanwhile, President of the Commonwealth Medical Association, Dr Osahon Enabulele, has blamed the Federal Government for the increase in the number of cases in Nigeria. Enabulele, who visited the isolation centres at the National Hospital, Abuja and UATH on Saturday, told Sunday PUNCH that the Federal Government policy to close all international airports against travellers from all countries was belated.
According to Enabulele, there is nothing wrong in following what other countries are doing to tame the virus from breeding in communities after being imported by travellers. He said Uganda had no single case because the government acted quickly and shut its point of entries.
The CMA president said, “The closing of the airports is coming too late. This should have been done with the first proclamation. It is part of the containment method of this challenge. We must learn from experience and evidence from others. Why wait till this moment? More evidence suggests clearly that the virus was imported and from those cases, we had secondary contacts and now it is spreading into the communities.
“We all know that our healthcare system is not strong enough to face a massive case like this virus. We should not have waited to get to this level. Our health system cannot cope with the challenge. But it is already here and we need to take more approaches, especially on the issue of contract tracing.”
Enabulele said after his tour of the two facilities, he was not impressed with what he met.
“How many people are involved in contact tracing? How many beds are at the isolation centres? I have been to other isolation centres in Nigeria and a lot needs to be done. We have to spread the capacity around the country.
“We also have to improve diagnostic capacity beyond the five reference laboratories we rely on. It is certainly not enough. There is no reason why each of the 56 teaching hospitals we have in Nigeria should not have one diagnostic laboratory. Imagine Lagos having to rely on Lagos University Teaching Hospital alone.”
Our correspondent who also visited the National Hospital in Abuja on Saturday observed that the management was reconstructing its isolation centre to have five en suite rooms, each accommodating a patient.
Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee of the hospital, Dr Aisha Umar, said the hospital faced financial challenge in treating patients. According to her, the hospital could afford to offer free services for a patient with serious viral infection but government should empower the facility to do more.
She explained that although the elite who could afford to move around the world and cost of treatment were being affected by coronavirus mostly, people who had the virus through contact with them were those who could not afford the treatment.”
Lagos bars standing, restricts passengers to two per row
…bans gatherings of over 20, seals four event centres
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation in conjunction with the National Union of Road Transport Workers and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria have barred standing in commercial buses.
They also limited the number of passengers on a seat to two as parts of the measures to stop coronavirus from further spreading in the state.
These decisions were taken following a meeting by officials of the state and stakeholders in transport sector.
The Commissioner for Home Affairs, Olanrewaju Elegushi; Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Transportation, Toyin Fayinka, and Permanent Secretary, Mr Sewedo Whenu, were part of the meeting.
At the end of the meeting, a communique which contained the resolutions was issued
It read, “No standing of commuters in all public transport buses including the high capacity buses. Mini buses should have not more two passengers seated in a row.
“The transport unions should ensure that sanitisers and thermometers are available at their respective motor parks. Transport unions are to report any suspected case of COVID-19 to the government.
“The unions were urged to observe the state government’s latest guidelines banning large gatherings of people to protect the health and safety of Lagosians.”
Meanwhile, following the state government’s directive on ban of public gatherings above 20 people to curtail the spread of coronavirus disease, a combined team of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency and Lagos State Safety Commission has sealed four event centres in the state.
The event centres are Regency Hall, Imperial Hall and Maltinox Event and Suites located in Ikeja. Prime Mall on the premises of Mega One Plaza in Lekki was also sealed.
LASEPA General Manager, Dr Dolapo Fasawe, and DG LSSC, Lanre Mojola, who led the team, said safety of Lagosians was paramount to the state government.
The Lagos State Government had banned all religious and social gatherings of over 20 persons.
The state government announced this on its Facebook page after the number of cases in the country rose to 22 on Saturday.
School closure: Rivers sets up committee to monitor compliance
The Rivers State Government has set up a committee to monitor the closure of all schools in the state as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.
In Kano State, the governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, has inaugurated a task force to check the spread of the deadly virus.
Anambra, Bayelsa, Abia, Imo impose more restrictions
More states including Anamabra, Bayelsa and Abia on Saturday imposed more restrictions on large gatherings as the country continues to tackle the effect of the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.
The Anambra State Government has banned any public gathering exceeding 30 persons.
As a result, funerals/burials, weddings, chieftaincy titles and other social ceremonies have been banned in the state if the attendees exceed 30 persons at a time.
Bayelsa State Governor, Douye Diri, has also announced the closure of all public and private schools in the state with effect from Thursday March 26 as part of measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Also, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State has ordered the suspension of the forthcoming Convocation of Abia State University, Uturu, ABSU and the immediate closure of the institution.
Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State has also ordered the immediate closure of all primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the state. He also announced plan to establish a specialist hospital for this disease.
FRSC warns against passenger overloading
In light of the spread of the coronavirus or COVID-19 in the country, the Federal Road Safety Corps has asked commercial vehicle drivers not to carry more than one person at the front and not more than three on the backseats.
The corps also urged motorcycle riders to carry only one person at a time for quick observation of coronavirus symptoms as passengers commute to their destinations.
The FRSC said in a statement that the directive was part of efforts to sustain the ongoing advocacy campaigns to curtail the spread of the virus.
Buhari’s inaction led to escalation of coronavirus – PDP
The national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party has accused the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) of being responsible for the spread of coronavirus in the country.
The main opposition party said the President failed to act when there were signs that the country was in danger following the quarantine of the Italian who brought the virus to the country.