The Federal Government of Nigeria on Monday has asked Nigerians to prepare for tough measures as the deadly disease, Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection ravage the country.
The measures might include restrictions and forced enforcement of the directives against politicians, religious leaders and states treating COVID-19 with levity.
It was also learnt that there will also be draconian steps on those infected but who refused to report for test.
The government also said it might use the military and the Police for contact tracing of more than 1,300 people who have dissolved into the society.
The government said with the likely multiplication of infected people every five days, hundreds of thousands of people would have been affected.
It said the designated centres have been receiving 4,500 calls a day.
The government reiterated that Nigeria has recorded its first coronavirus death, a 67-year-old man in Abuja with serious underlying diseases.
It also confirmed that COVID-19 cases have risen to 36 in the country.
It said henceforth all passengers on domestic flights are to be properly screened as it is done for international travellers.
Notwithstanding, the Federal Government said President Buhari has assured Nigerians that the government is on top of the situation and that there is no cause for panic.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed gave the government’s position while inaugurating a three-day per week Situation Report Programme.
He said: “As to whether or not we are going to lockdown the country, I think, we should prepare for tougher measures. The form it is going to take will come out either before the end of today or by tomorrow. But clearly, Nigerians should be ready for tougher measures.
“By the end of today, there are certain decisions that will be announced by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. We won’t rule out restrictions for civil servants.
At our meeting today, we did make a lot of recommendations which if approved will actually affect all our lifestyles. Don’t forget that it is because we are alive that we can worship; it is because we can dictate certain things.
“We have heard all kinds of opinions that we are trampling on the fundamental rights of our citizens. No. We are protecting the lives of citizens. We must also be ready to suffer some inconveniences to be alive.”
Mohammed said the government was on the trail of more than 1,300 persons suspected to have come into contact with those infected or already infected.
He said: “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.
“If we do proper contact tracing, the figure could be higher. As of Thursday, Lagos State was tracing about 1,300people. Today , the figure is going to be much more than that. Lagos State has succeeded in tracing hundreds of people.
“We will not hesitate to use any platform, including the military and the police to enforce social distancing. And to ensure that proper tracing is done because we are talking of a situation where, if we do not take time, there are several hundreds of thousand infected.
“If we don’t do proper contact tracing, the figures will multiply every five days. Which means if you have 1,000 cases today, in a month it becomes 6,000 or even more. That is why it is important for us to embark on contact tracing. Again, I think Nigerians, like I keep saying, must take ownership of this crisis, they must cooperate with the government. And the government can only go as far as the cooperation they receive from Nigerians.
“A situation where you know just came back from the US, UK or France, you do not go on self-isolation and the next thing is you go to a pub or night club, you are not only endangering your life and that of your family, you are endangering the lives of Nigerians. That
“That is why I said we will not hesitate to use whatever platform to ensure that you do not endanger the lives of other people.”
He pleaded with Nigerians not to underrate the spread of COVID-19 under any guise.
He warned politicians and religious leaders against flouting the directives of the government on the containment of COVID-19.
He said: “Like I said, Coronavirus does not distinguish between the rich and the poor or the high and the low. All of us should heed to the advice. That is, if we travel and come back, we should go into self -isolation. The Federal Government is ready to enforce this self-isolation.
“On total lockdown., we must first of all understand that this is not a disease that is indigenous to Nigerians. Every case we have had so far was imported.
‘However if we do not succeed in contact tracing, we might end up with a situation where we will start having cluster or community strips. That is what we are trying to avoid by contact tracing.
“On religious leaders that are not taking this COVID-19 seriously, it is not only here. I think and I hope we are going to learn from Korea. The high rate of incidents in South Korea was actually as a result of what happened at a particular religious sect.
“We have had not just religious leaders, some political leaders are making fun of government directive. As for religious leaders, we can handle them because we believe that various states can make those laws and enforce the,. I can assure you that the Federal Government will not hesitate to enforce any of the laws we make. The Federal Government will not shy away from making declarations that it is going to enforce even if it means another Executive Order.
“We have heard also some political leaders saying that their states are immune. No state is immune from Coronavirus, we should not mistake about that. But the full weight of the law will be brought upon anybody that violates any of these directives at any level.
“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.
“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 socializing and communicating it to older, more vulnerable people.”
The Minister was non-committal on any form of subsidy for Nigerians to cope with the tough measures.
He added: “As to whether or not the Federal Government was ready to give subsidy, my position is that let us work towards containment and prevention. Containment or prevention is always cheaper than cure.
“ That is why we are emphasizing sensitization, advocacy and appealing to people. And a few people have helped. Some of the people who have turned up for test did so, it is because their friends have threatened to expose them. If you know you have travelled out recently, go into self-isolation. If you have any symptoms, dial the numbers made available.
“It is true that some people are complaining about some numbers. Yes, we handle 4,500 calls a day and if you divide the calls by hours, you are talking of almost 240 calls per hour. And per minute, we are taking for calls. That is why we are talking to the private sector to help us with more lines. We are also employing more people and training more.
He added: “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.”