Ease of lockdown in Lagos, FCT: FG mulls another lockdown. Despite the appeal against flooding the streets, Lagos and Abuja residents, yesterday, trooped out en-masse to transact their businesses, ignoring social distancing and overloading by commercial vehicle drivers. This compelled the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, to raise the alarm that the non-compliance to social distancing and wearing of masks might lead to a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and other states of the federation. This is even as the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19 also expressed worry that Nigerians have ignored the plea to maintain social distancing and the wearing of face masks to curtail the spread of the virus. Consequently, the federal government said yesterday it might be forced to proclaim another round of lockdown across the country. Lagos residents flout directive Checks by Vanguard on the first day of the easing of the lockdown revealed total chaos as residents, motorists, and commercial bus operators stormed the roads as early as 7 am. Across the state, there were gridlocks, as motorists stayed long hours in traffic before getting to their destinations. However,the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, operators kept to the 60 percent occupancy capacity, with 21 passengers on board. Though along Ikorodu Road, passengers in the BRT long queue did not observe physical distancing, the operators only permitted passengers with face marks to board Law enforcement agents helpless It was, however, a herculean task for law enforcement agents at the Lagos-Ogun border areas, specifically, Kara, along Lagos Ibadan Expressway, to enforce the ban on inter-state movement of vehicles as trucks, cars and other vehicle operators struggled to gain entrance into Lagos. Areas such as Ikeja, Agege, Ikorodu Express Road, Lagos Abeokuta Expressway, Oshodi, Egbeda, Ikotun, Obalende, Third Mainland Bridge, Funsho Williams Avenue, formerly Western Avenue, Badagry Expressway, LASU-Iba road, all recorded high vehicular and human activities. Also, most banks visited were invaded by customers who ignored the social distancing rule as they struggled to gain entrance into the banking hall. Security personnel stationed at the bank gate had a tough time ensuring compliance with 60 occupancy capacity directive at a time into the banking hall. Okada operations suspended However, there was high level compliance on the suspension of operation of commercial motorcyclists, popularly called Okoda riders, as they stayed off the roads. Only a few riders were seen operating within the streets. At Iyana-Ipaja Markets, shoppers were seen in large numbers in frantic buying, mingling among themselves without observing the social distancing rule. Also, there was no handwashing facilities or hand sanitizers at the entrance of major markets visited, as directed by Governor Sanwo-Olu. Commercial buses flout directive Also, most commercial bus operators did not comply with the 60 percent occupancy capacity, filling their buses with passengers. While some passengers failed to comply with the use of face masks, majority were seen with their masks on. In some places, including Ita Opo, Imokun, Noforija, Poka, Odomola, Iraye in the Epe area of Lagos, some people failed to comply with the use of face mask. At Eleko, Awoyaya, Abijo, Ajah, areas of Ibeju Lekki, most commercial drivers did not comply with the 60 per cent occupancy capacity guidelines by the state government. Hike in transport fare Speaking with Vanguard, a commuter in Eleko, Mr. Paul Adeoti, said: “It is sad that most people did not understand the implication of not complying with the guidelines by the state government to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus. “Those commercial bus drivers that were ready to comply with the 60 percent capacity loading insisted on increasing transport fares. So, from Eleko to Ajah is now N300 instead of N200. And transportation fare from Ajah to CMS has also increased.” Customers besiege banks Most banks visited by Vanguard were besieged by customers who ignored the physical distancing rule as they struggled to gain entrance into the banking hall. Some banks along Apapa road in Lagos Mainland were under lock. Massive turn out expected but overwhelming—Info Commissioner Reacting to the large turnout of residents, Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, described the development as “expected” but quite overwhelming. Omotoso said: “By human nature, people don’t like being caged or locked down. The influx is expected, having stayed at home for weeks but the number was just overwhelming. That is one of the reasons Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu directed civil servants to remain at home for now. “Don’t forget some bank customers do not have electronic banking facility, they have to be physically present at the bank to withdraw and do other transactions, that is why we had a crowd at different banks today (Monday). We appreciate Lagosians for their patience and perseverance. “We believe that as time goes, the situation will subside and we begin to see a high level of compliance by residents.” Police to enforce use of face masks in Lagos Also speaking, the Commissioner of Police, Lagos Police Command, CP Hakeem Odumosu, vowed that anyone who flouts the directive to wear face masks or abide by the social distancing rule would be dealt with. Addressing newsmen, Odumosu said: “This time, police will not arrest you for vehicle particulars, but for refusing to put on face mask and for not keeping social distance. Okada activities have been suspended. ‘’Since we started the lockdown, we have not had any case of police brutality in Lagos, because we are using persuasive enforcement, and we will continue on that. “Those arrested so far, are those who did not put on the face mask, passenger, driver or conductor. Anyone not putting facemask will be arrested. Anyone carrying more than the stipulated number of passengers without social distancing will be stopped. ‘’The operatives on enforcement will just ask the excess passengers to get down and the bus will continue its journey with the expected number of passengers. Before any arrest can be made on violators, it will be after 8.p.m. “We went around the city as early as 5.am, all the barricades have been removed and no policeman is stopping anyone anywhere. By and large, the enforcement is a persuasive one, we will persuade people.” Abuja residents troop out en masse Also, for residents of Kurudu and Jikwoyi communities in the Abuja Municipal Area Council, civil servants, artisans, businessmen and job seekers trooped out into the ever-busy Kurudu/Jikwoyi/ Nyanya road as early as 6:30 am, yesterday, following the easing of the lockdown. Though a significant percent of commuters wore facemasks, they failed to obey the social distancing rule. Tricycle (Keke) operators were seen conveying three passengers in the back seat and one in front from Kurudu to Nyanya. A Keke rider, Joshua, attributed it to the refusal of passengers to pay the sum of N150. He said: “Before now, we used to charge N100 but we agreed to bring it up to N150 to enable us carry only two passengers behind and one in front but they are not paying.” Also, there was low compliance with the use of face masks and social distancing rules in Lugbe and Kabusa markets in the FCT. Banks under siege As early as 7:30 am, residents of Abuja thronged the streets in their numbers to banks, markets, and other places of interest to carry out essential transactions. While there was relative chaos in some banks because of the unusually large number of customers who besieged their premises, a good number of them neither wore face masks nor observed the rules of social distancing. At a commercial bank located within the precincts of Lugbe Shoprite, customers were seen scrambling for space in contrast to the three feet distancing protocol, even as officials attempted to ensure there was order. Some residents, who spoke to Vanguard, yesterday, expressed reservations about the use of face masks. A resident, Vivian Ifezue, said: “The face masks are expensive to buy. Some families barely see enough money to eat. So, acquiring face masks of N200 each for seven or eight members of the family seems to be a luxury not many a breadwinner is willing to acquire in the communities.” Another resident, Victor Vershima, vowed not to use the facemask nor maintain social distancing because he does not believe the COVID-19 pandemic is real. “How can the government continue to announce the increasing number of cases on a daily basis yet move to lift the lockdown? Who is deceiving who?” he queried. We may have a spike in COVID cases – NMA Reacting to the easing of the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Dr. Francis Faduyile, said the country will see a spike in positive cases of the coronavirus. Faduyile said: “What I have seen so far is that a lot of people came out today (yesterday) and we have a lot of non-compliance with the regulations given in terms of social distancing as well as being guided in public places. “There was a large crowd at several banks. Some of the banking halls were filled with upward of 50 to 70 people and also a large crowd by the banks’ premises too. There were closed contacts in those banks. Also, in commercial buses, people were sitting too close to each other and these are the fears we envisaged with the relaxation of the lockdown. “This development is definitely working against all the regulations towards the containment of the disease and it shows that it is more likely we will have a spike in positive cases as the NMA envisaged.” He, however, urged the Federal and State governments to enforce all the regulations put in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. He said: “Since the government has relaxed the lockdown, they should be able to find ways to ensure that there is compliance to those guidelines they have put in place.” Gains made by the lockdown may be compromised—AMLSN Meanwhile, the Association of the Medical Laboratory of Nigeria, AMLSN, yesterday, warned that the gains made by the lockdown may be compromised should Nigerians fail to keep to the rules of social distancing. The National Publicity Secretary of AMLSN, Dr. Ifeanyi Casmier, said: “Monday was our first experiment of the easing of the lockdown and the outing in Lagos and some parts in the FCT left much to be desired. Our worry as medical experts is that it does appear that the gains made in the lockdown may largely be compromised by the way Nigerians compromised the rules of social distancing like in Lagos, people who went to various banking halls. “I think Nigerians must know that they must take responsibility for their lives and safety because the government has issued guidelines, the government will not, therefore, come to force you to comply with the guidelines. “If we do not attain the platinum of flattening the curve, it will be foolhardy to let loose the floodgate. People must understand that even though the government has eased lockdown, it does not mean that we have come to the end of the COVID-19 virus. It is here and we now have community transmission.” “I also appeal to those in the banking industry to open all their branches to avoid people congregating in one branch because if you limit the number of branches that are opened, people will crowd there and make a compromise of the entire effort.” PTF expresses concern over poor observation Also expressing worry, chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, at a press briefing in Abuja, said reports from across the country showed poor observance to the prescribed measures. He expressed dismay over the chaotic situation at the banks and called on the financial institutions to make their Automated Teller Machines, ATM, functional. While noting that the objective of the ban was to slow down the spread of the virus across state boundaries, the SGF stressed that the determination of the government to enforce the policy was not in doubt. Mustapha said: “The PTF has been monitoring the level of compliance with some of the measures and early observations showed a lack of compliance with social distancing and wearing of masks. READ ALSO: COVID-19: Economy reopens over 6 weeks — FG “We note particularly the chaotic scenes around the banks and other financial institutions. We must reiterate that the danger of infection is not over and that individual actions will contribute to the success or failure of our measures. “We urge citizens to minimize the risk of getting infected while trying to do transactions in the banks. We similarly urge the banks to ensure that their ATMs and online banking systems are in good order and stocked regularly to avoid convergence of customers on their premises. “The PTF fully understands the desire of Nigerians to come out to continue their lives after five weeks of lockdown. “State governments and security agencies have however been advised to enforce the measures rigidly and violators will be prosecuted.” Besides, he reminded citizens that the easing up is in phases and those who are permitted to open have clearly been defined. His words: “Our admonition to Nigerians is that it is still desirable to stay at home if there is no compelling reason to go out and to comply with the measures always, whether at home or not.” FG mulls another lockdown Similarly, the Federal Government has said it might be forced to proclaim another round of lockdown across the country, even as the World Health Organization, WHO, said it could take the next 12 to 18 months for a COVID-19 vaccine to be ready, adding that after that, such a vaccine would still take another time to be mass-produced for the public. Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who spoke on the likelihood of COVID-19 infections increasing, however, urged Nigerians to demonstrate a high level of responsibility to mitigate the spread of the virus. Ehanire said: “As we begin a new week and the prospects of gradual easing of the lockdown, ‘’I wish to start by reminding citizens that this phase comes with the added responsibility to be extra vigilant and compliant with the accompanying measures and guidelines that are meant to ensure that we do not lose the health gains we have made so far, while cautiously opening options for citizens to rebuild their livelihoods. “Since our COVID-19 statistics are of considerable concern, attention has also been drawn to the observation that countries who eased or lifted restrictions, suffered an increase in new cases. ‘’Although our projection already features an increasing number of cases, even with the lockdown, I believe that redoubling our efforts to adhere to government directives can keep figures within the control range of the COVID-19.” Further lockdown Also speaking, Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Iheakwazu, berated banks for opening fewer branches, an action he said would definitely fuel the spike in infection rate. Iheakwazu said: “Today, some of the measures are being eased. The initial reports are not too pleasing across the country. This is to appeal to everyone across the country to take responsibility. When we say take responsibility, yes, we are addressing the individuals but we really need to address Corporate Nigeria. One of the biggest groups that were allowed to start a business today are banks but many banks have limited the number of branches they opened. Yes, there is a benefit of the doubt, but when you limit the number of branches that open, everybody goes to the one branch that is opened and that becomes counter-productive. There is only so much we can do. We can produce all the guidelines and do all the preaching but if organizations are not going to come up and support the implementation of these measures and help us manage the risks and focus on a risk-based approach, then all our efforts would amount to nothing. “We will have infections because of what happened today. No doubt about that, but how can we learn from mistakes of today into tomorrow, next tomorrow so that by Friday, hopefully, we would have normalised some of these things? Yes, we knew today would be a problem. Everybody here knew today would be a problem because for the first time people were left out of their homes. But now that they are out and now that we have seen the sunlight again, the challenge for us, as a society is how do we now organise ourselves to mitigate this risk, to limit transmission from one another so that, yes we might have a few extra infections today and tomorrow, but what we do not want is an explosion of new infections. If we do have that explosion, there would be almost no choice left for the leadership of the country than to ask all of us to go back into our homes. So, for the benefit of having a few hours a day of coming out to reopen parts of the economy, there is a price to pay and that price is that we organise ourselves to do this safely. Focus on Kano “We are focusing a lot of energy on Kano not because Lagos is no longer important. In fact, Lagos still has the highest number of cases and they need all the necessary support and we will continue to give them all the support. “We have an emerging issue in Kano and therefore some of our thinking resources now have to be focused on Kano. Yesterday, I visited Kano again. We haven’t just activated the laboratories and left, because of what happened the other time. ‘’We left our colleagues to stay there and mentor the colleagues there to make sure they are able to do the tests. Therefore, the speed of testing is a bit slower than you would expect but that is the price we have to pay in order to get this up and running.” Iheakwazu added that while there were currently no fewer than 41 staff of the NCDC deployed in Kano, 17 officials of the World Health Organization WHO had also been deployed in the state. He added that the NCDC had begun the process of establishing at least one sample collection centre in each of the 44 local government areas of Kano State. Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce PTF, Mr. Boss Mustapha had earlier lamented the compliance level with the PTF’s guidelines. He said: “The PTF has also received reports on the level of compliance with the nationwide ban on inter-state movement. The objective of the ban is to slow down the spread of the virus across state boundaries. The determination of the government to enforce this policy is not in doubt and as we progress, we believe that proper alignment with the directives of Mr. President would be pursued. “There has been very noticeable relocation of Almajiris from one state to another, up until yesterday. With the ban on interstate movement, the continuation of this exercise will not be in alignment with the guidelines issued. The PTF shall engage with the respective State Governments on how to achieve their objectives. “As we journey into this new phase of measures, it is imperative that I re-iterate the importance of adherence to the guidelines more so that preliminary reports indicate that there is observable high level of breaches by the citizenry. “The PTF has also received reports about medical facilities and doctors turning back sick patients for fear of their illnesses being COVID-19 related. The PTF appeals to these facilities especially public hospitals not to neglect treatment of other ailments because such actions have resulted in avoidable deaths. The Minister of Health will engage the management of our tertiary health institutions to address this.” 4, 000 Nigerians wishing to return Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who said there are about 4, 000 Nigerians abroad wishing to return to the country, said while it is not possible to evacuate all of them, the federal government would begin air-lifting some of them this Wednesday. Onyeama said: “With regards to evacuating our nationals in various countries across the world back to Nigeria, we gave a target for us to start today. We were able to put the minimum requirements in place and proposed to an airline. Emirates had a flight that was cancelled a couple of weeks ago because we were not ready to receive that flight and that was the lowest hanging fruit that we could start with. “They have indicated that they will be able to operate their flight from Dubai on Wednesday. So, by God’s grace, on Wednesday, we will start the process of repatriating our nationals from outside the country. If we had our way, there are almost 4, 000 Nigerians wishing to come back home, we would bring them back immediately and all at once. But, there are various constraints, the biggest of which is where to quarantine them. We have done everything we can to get beds here in Abuja and Lagos. In Lagos, we have almost 300 beds available. So, the first flight on Wednesday will be at Lagos. We are hoping that soon after that, a British Airways Flight that is actually coming to Nigeria on Friday to evacuate some British nationals here in Nigeria, since it will be coming empty, we have negotiated with the British Government for us to fill the plane in London with Nigerians coming back. Ideally, we would have loved that flight to come to Abuja because we have been able to secure hotel rooms more than we have in Lagos. We have almost a thousand hotel rooms in Abuja but they let us know that unfortunately, that plane cannot come to Abuja but only Lagos.” No vaccine till late 2021—WHO Country Representative of the World Health Organization WHO, Dr. Fiona Braka said a vaccine against the Covid-19 could be possible in the next 12 to 18 months. Braka said; “Research is going on globally to study the genetics of the virus and by studying the genetics of the virus, it helps us to develop a vaccine. So, thanks to the rapid sharing of genetic sequencing data from countries and we are able to advance the production of vaccines. We do acknowledge the contributions of countries, including Nigeria, in sharing their genetic sequencing data. “The first vaccine trial started as early as 69 days just after the genetic sequencing information of the virus was shared by China and as I mentioned in the last briefing, we have about 89 products that are currently under vaccine development. The numbers keep getting updated because there is an accelerated process going on globally to try and find a vaccine. It takes years to develop a vaccine, but with the acceleration of these efforts, we hope that with an expedited process, we are probably looking at 12 to 18 months before the first product would probably be available. And once that product is available, then there is a process to produce in large quantities for global supply. We are optimistic, but we want to say in the meantime when we do not have a vaccine, we work on the strategies of breaking the cycle of transmission and how do we do that? It is through testing, isolation, contact tracing, quarantine to break that cycle of transmission. In addition to that, the non-pharmaceutical interventions, which is what we have been advising the public on hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette and others which are needed to break the cycle as we wait for a vaccine”, she added.