This week on the Vibez we captured how top African leaders such as Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, threw their hats in the fight ring against the COVID-19, the backlash that came upon actor Desmond Elliot over his ‘makeshift cleansing project’ and some extra drama from the self-acclaimed African Giant, Burna Boy.
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The worldwide number of fatalities from the novel coronavirus rose to 63,437 on Saturday, according to a tally compiled by AFP at 1900 GMT from official sources.
More than 1,169,210 declared cases have been registered in 190 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December. Of these cases, at least 219,000 are now considered recovered.
The tallies, using data collected by AFP offices from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.
Many countries are only testing cases that require hospitalisation.
A total of 5,964 new deaths and 86,745 cases have been reported since a count compiled at 1900 GMT on Friday.
The United States registered the highest number of new deaths (1,399) followed by France (1,053) and Spain (809).
Italy, which recorded its first coronavirus death at the end of February, has 15,362 fatalities, with 124,632 infections and 20,996 people recovered.
Spain recorded 11,744 fatalities and 124,736 infections, followed by the United States with 8,098 deaths and 297,575 cases — the highest in the world.
France has reported 7,560 deaths and 89,953 infections, followed by Britain (4,313 deaths and 41,903 cases).
China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — has to date declared 3,326 deaths and 81,639 cases, with 76,755 recoveries.
Since Friday at 1900 GMT, Angola, Georgia, Kuwait, Liberia and Suriname announced their first deaths from the virus.
Europe has listed 627,127 cases and 46,033 deaths to date, the US and Canada together have 311,447 cases with 8,342 deaths, Asia 116,129 cases and 4,137 deaths, the Middle East 71,739 cases and 3,623 deaths, Latin America and the Caribbean 28,166 cases with 891 deaths, Africa 8,129 cases with 375 deaths and Oceania 6,480 cases with 36 deaths.
South African public healthcare workers dispersed into the buzzing streets of Johannesburg’s Yeoville neighbourhood as Africa’s worst virus-hit country rolled out mass door-to-door testing for COVID-19.
Armed with screening questionnaires and testing kits, medics and volunteers set up their testing station on the front porch of a block of flats in the gritty business neighbourhood.
Nurse Xola Dlomo told AFP they were asking one resident to mobilise fellow flat dwellers to come for screening and tests.
“They’ve been coming for screening and they are even open to testing if they have symptoms,” Dlomo said.
Already in a 21-day lockdown, South Africa is now embarking on the widespread testing and quarantine campaign involving some 10,000 field workers who are being sent out into homes in villages, towns and cities to screen for symptoms.
The testing plan to break the chain of infection appears to be modelled on the South Korean strategy which saw the Asian country bring the outbreak under control.
South Africa has so far reported nine deaths and 1,585 infections, but Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has warned that the relatively small growth in numbers was perhaps “the calm before a heavy and devastating storm”.
In Yeoville — a crime-prone area in Johannesburg’s hardscrabble central business district — eight small groups have been dispatched across an area covering one square kilometre.
“The health of our people is our first consideration,” said Kegorapetse Ndingandinga, overseeing the Yeoville team.
– Scaling up Testing –
With his head tilted back, 58-year-old Michael Moshone, braced for his nasal swab, seated on a brick staircase in Yeoville.
“It is a little bit uncomfortable but you’ve got to be strong… because you want to know exactly what is going on with you,” Moshone, wrapped in a green, gold and black scarf, said after his sample was taken.
Before the rollout of mass screening and testing, more than 47,500 tests had been performed, 6,000 of them at public health centres.
But for the health minister, that number is too low for a country of 57 million people where several million have underlying conditions such as HIV and TB.
The turnout was slow on the first day on Friday, Dlomo said.
– Grim Reminder of HIV –
But for Moshone who has lived in the area for 26 years, the trickle of people is no surprise.
It reminds him of the early 1990s when HIV first emerged in the country, which now has the world’s highest HIV prevalence rate.
“In South Africa, this thing is like HIV because when HIV started here… we didn’t take it seriously until we saw people dying,” he said.
But Dlomo is hopeful that visibility of health care workers in communities will push people to realise “that this thing is serious and they need to take precautions”.
World Health Organisation technical officer Mary Stephen told AFP that based on how the virus has spread through other countries, governments are urged to scale up public awareness, surveillance and medical care.
South Africa’s public National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) has secured 67 mobile vans to ramp up testing across the country.
Currently, the state will be able to carry out 5,000 tests in 24 hours at 10 laboratories countrywide, but at full capacity it can process 30,000 tests each day.
The country is currently observing a 21-day lockdown patrolled by the police and military, a perfect time to carry out the mobile testing, according to the health minister.
But the lockdown is little respected in the densely-populated Yeoville.
“They don’t want to isolate themselves inside their houses. They come out with their kids, they don’t care,” said Masechaba Motaung, pointing at a busy street.
“They take this virus as if there is nothing happening.”
Police have used rubber bullets, teargas and whips to force people to maintain social distancing and force people back into their homes.
A group of Lebanese in Kano State have donated food items and other essentials worth over One Hundred Million Naira (N100m) as their contribution to the state palliative programme to the poor in the population as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presenting the items to the state governor, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the Consul General of the Lebanese Community in Kano, Mr Khalil Muselmani said the commodities include 30 Tonnes of rice and 2,000 packets of spaghetti.
Others are 1,000 bags of Dawavita of 1kg, 500 packets of Juice drinks, 1,548 Hand Sanitizers, 1,500 Protective Garments, 20 boots, 500 cartons of detergent, among other items.
“We are giving this in order to give a helping hand in alleviating some of the sufferings of those needy individuals in the state, during this situation,” he said, adding that they were glad to support the government and people of the state in taking proactive measures against the pandemic.
After receiving the items, governor Ganduje handed them over to the Chairman of Fund Raising Committee, Prof Muhammad Yahuza Bello.
Prof. Bello thanked the Lebanese Community, noting that they are always ready and willing to act in anything that has to do with the development of the state “Another good thing about our people here is that, even before the coming of this deadly COVID-19 crisis, our community is very much involved in helping the needy amongst us.
“Our Committee has also recently got another contribution from Poultry Farmers Association, that donated 2,000 cartoons of eggs. Which we have already given out to Children’s Home,” he stated.
Dubai authorities on Saturday announced tighter measures to combat the novel coronavirus, as the number of cases in the United Arab Emirates surpassed 1,500.
For two weeks the movement of people and vehicles will be further restricted, with only one person per residence allowed to leave for “essential needs” such as food and medicine, according to the Dubai Media Office.
People working in “vital sectors” — including healthcare, media and delivery — are allowed to go out and supermarkets and pharmacies will remain in service.
Metro and tram services, however, will also be suspended.
In addition to movement restrictions, authorities announced “the extension of the sterilisation programme to 24 hours a day across all areas and communities in the emirate to protect the health and safety of the community”.
The measures went into effect at 8:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Saturday and are subject to renewal.
The authorities added that “extensive medical tests will be conducted across densely populated areas”.
The decision came shortly after the UAE announced on Saturday 241 new novel coronavirus infections — the highest single-day total since the outbreak in the country.
The Gulf state has now a total of 1,505 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease, and 10 deaths. It has enforced extensive lockdown measures to curb the spread of the illness including an ongoing night-time curfew.
The UAE has the second highest number of confirmed infections in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia, which has recorded more than 2,000 cases and 29 deaths.
The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has kicked against a plan by the Federal Government to invite an 18-man Chinese team of medical experts including doctors, nurses and those with sundry expertise to assist Nigeria in the fight against COVID-19.
President of the association, Dr Aliyu Sokomba, in a statement made available to Channels Television, advised the Federal government to shelve the Plan of inviting the Chinese Medical team rather, and immediately engage all key relevant Nigerian medical experts including NARD and present the full intents and purpose of the planned importation of the Chinese experts for full evaluation, cost-benefit analysis and consensus on the best option.
He also noted that inviting the Chinese medical experts will amount the Federal Government to be championing “illegality”, as all doctors coming into Nigeria are supposed to be licensed by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.
Sokomba, therefore, noted that the Chinese medical experts have not been licensed to perform any job in the country.
“The attempt to import Human resources for Health from China into Nigeria where many qualified medical doctors and other cadres of health workers are yet to be gainfully employed is the height of insensitivity and disservice on the part of the Federal Government and their advisers.
“The challenge at hand would have been sufficient marker to agitate the FG to the direction and timing for massive employment of medical and other health care workers to provide enough hands in the industry to battle the COVID 19 as other nations are doing”.
The Minister for Health, Osagie Ohanire had on Friday stated that China is sending in more kits as well as doctors to support the government’s efforts in the fight against the virus.
“I have been notified of gifts of medical supplies from China, courtesy of a group of Chinese companies working here in Nigeria. A special cargo aircraft shall leave Nigeria in a few days to collect the items which include commodities, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and ventilators,” he said during the briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, adding that “Of great interest is that an 18-man team of medical experts, including doctors, nurses and public health advisers shall come along with the flight to assist us”.
The resident doctors, however, say they have distanced themselves from the plan.
“In the interim, NARD wishes to distance herself from the planned importation of Chinese medical experts to Nigeria in whatever guise or hood for the reasons presented in this write-up and many more,” Sokomba stated.
“NARD shall not contemplate further warning to distance herself from the Chinese adventure by way of withdrawing all her members from every public health facility in Nigeria so that the anticipated downturn in the output of Nigeria’s healthcare service delivery can be properly situated and traceable to the Chinese as is the case today in Italy.
“NARD hereby reiterates her position which was canvased earlier in the week for the FG to immediately and massively employ all qualified but unemployed doctors and other healthcare workers. Get them trained, insured, motivated and deployed nationwide”.
Members of the House of Representatives are set to consider a fresh Stimulus Bill that will ensure that Nigerians get free electricity supply for two months to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Speaker of the House of Reps, Femi Gbajabiamila, in a statement issued on Saturday, noted that the proposed Bill will help in boosting the economy through the informal sector as the country prepares for the aftermath of the coronavirus.
According to him, the Bill which will be the second Stimulus Bill by the Green Chamber will be considered immediately the House reconvenes from its ongoing break, declared due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly leadership says the resumption date which had initially been slated for April 7, will be extended by one week in compliance with the government’s two-week stay-at-home policy.
Gbajabiamila disclosed this during a meeting between the National Assembly leadership and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmad, the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, among others.
Giving his opening remarks, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan noted that the meeting, the second in about 10 days, was a testimony of the commitment of both arms of government at addressing the issues holistically.
He assured Nigerians that the parliament would perform its constitutional roles towards ensuring that all can benefit from the efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of the disease.
While noting that Nigerians must be assisted to weather the storm of the virus, Lawan added that critical decisions need to be taken but must be legal, which makes it important that the legislature is part of the entire process.
On his part, Gbajabiamila said the country could not afford to be unprepared for the effects of the COVID-19 on the economy.
Explaining the necessity for the proposed stimulus bill for the electricity sector, the Speaker said electricity, being a commodity consumed by every household, has a greater effect on the people and that since more Nigerians are in the informal sector, the effects would be more felt by the economy.
“The issue of electricity, you’ll agree, because the Minister did say that she has been inundated by the public, just as we are, on several suggestions and ideas and I am almost a hundred percent sure that, from those ideas will be the issue of some kind of shelter, as far as electricity is concerned.
“It is one thing that will touch every household. As I said earlier, when we engaged, I discussed with the electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) that packaged whatever they would require, if the government can give them, for us to allow for two months free electricity for Nigerians, they would be able to guarantee it.
“We have the figures. I think we should look very seriously into that as part of our package for economic stimulus, because stimulus means something that will stimulate the economy. When you are stimulating the economy, most of it will come from the informal sector.
“When you are saving people their electricity and the fact that they now have stable electricity for two months, you are also saving the monies that would go into the payment of those bills at least for two months.”
On the need by the Executive arm to source for funds in the fight against coronavirus and its socio-economic effects, the Speaker restated the determination of the National Assembly to partner the Executive in efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of the disease on Nigerians and the economy.
He, however, noted that all government funds and private donations must be transparently accounted for.
He said: “Definitely, you will be taking loans from the Special Accounts, and as the Senate President said, it has to be backed by law, which again emphasizes the need to collaborate as earlier stated by the Minister.
“There has to be a collaboration. It cannot be a unilateral decision from the National Assembly; it can’t be a unilateral decision from the Executive; there has to be a collaboration. I’m glad that we are on that trajectory.
“I’m glad that my earlier discussion with the Honourable Minister on food and other items seized by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has been taken care of, as stated by the Minister.
“We need to, as soon as possible, and let the public know. On the issue of Presidential Task Force (PTF), none of us here, I don’t think any legislator can point to, who exactly is in charge. Where does the buck stop?
“Who is in charge of the disbursement? Who is in charge of the distribution of cash? Who decides what money goes where?
“Now, it is incumbent on the National Assembly to follow the money. Constitutionally, any money that comes into Nigeria, there has to be oversight.
“That is why, we in the House have directed our Committees on Health, Disaster Management and Preparedness and Donor Agencies to talk to the PTF, talk to the Minister of Health and the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“I wrote letters to all these people, but I wasn’t sure where exactly the buck stops. We need to clearly define exactly who is handling the money, who is handling what”.
Gbajabiamila also urged the Finance Minister and her team to consider all options put forward by experts on preparation against the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
Earlier, the Minister for Finance, said among other measures, the establishment of a N500bn Covid-19 Crisis Intervention Fund is on the table.
She said the money is expected to be raised from various Special Funds and Accounts in consultation with and with the approval of the National Assembly.
The intervention fund will be utilised to finance the Federal Government’s support to state in improving their healthcare facilities and also finance the creation of a Special Public Works Programme.
She also explained the need to revisit the 2020 national budget has become imperative, saying, “It has been established that Nigeria is currently facing significant fiscal risks due to the worsening global economic outlook.
“Specifically, Nigeria is highly vulnerable to the current global economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis; and exposed to the risks of both a pronounced decline in oil prices and spikes in risk aversion in the global capital markets.”
The Lagos State Government has announced that it would be offering free medical services to pregnant women and other persons with health emergencies in the state.
The state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, announced this during a briefing on Saturday, as part of palliative measures to cushion the effect of the lockdown imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19.
According to the governor, the development is an additional measure to complement the welfare food stimulus package already in place in the state.
“The Lagos State Government will for the duration of this lockdown, in the first instance throughout the month of April, take full responsibility for the medical bills of all patients who fall under the following categories and present themselves at all our secondary health facilities, meaning our 27 general hospitals and the maternal and child health facilities that we have round the state.
“Emergencies, casualties, cases including registration, laboratory tests and surgeries will be treated free of charge,” Sanwo-Olu said.
The Armed Forces of Nigeria, through the Air Task Force of Operation Lafiya Dole and Artillery Batteries of Sector 3 of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), has destroyed an Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) camp at Tumbun Fulani on the fringes of Lake Chad in Northern Borno State.
This was disclosed in a statement signed by the Acting Director Defence Media Operations, Defence Headquarters, Brigadier-General Benard Onyeuko.
According to the statement, this was achieved in a combined air and artillery bombardment conducted on April 3, 2020, as part of the coordinated joint offensive by the MNJTF to dislodge and completely rid the Islands (Tumbuns) of Lake Chad of terrorists’ presence and activities.
The statement further explained that the operation was executed on the heels of credible intelligence reports indicating that the ISWAP elements, with their structures concealed under the dense vegetation of the area, used the settlement as a base from where they plan and launch attacks.
Accordingly, the joint interdiction mission was launched with a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft coordinating the barrage of artillery and air fire towards designated targets in the settlement, destroying them and neutralising some of the ISWAP fighters in the process.
In a related development, the Air Task Force says it has continued to provide airlift support to troops of participating MNJTF national contingents, along with their logistics.
The COVID-19 patient in Osun State who had gone missing from the Isolation Centre in the Ejigbo area of the state has been found and returned to the centre.
The State Commissioner of Information, Funke Egbemode, confirmed this to Channels Television on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, the commissioner had announced that 127 returnees from Cote d’Ivoire were received about a week ago and kept in isolation to avoid community transfer of the virus.
But according to her, by Saturday morning when a headcount was done, one person could not be accounted for by officials stationed at the Isolation centre, debunking earlier reports that six persons had gone missing.
Egbemode had also assured residents that the person would be found and their contacts traced, to prevent a further spread of the disease.
She also stressed that any official(s) found culpable in the matter will be dealt with accordingly.