Nigeria recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, six months ago on February 27, 2020, sending shivers down the spine of Nigerians. Several went into panic buying hand sanitisers and face masks. Typically, the prices of these commodities skyrocketed as reality sunk in, that the distant disease plaguing China had found its way into Nigeria.
It became imperative to act fast so as to curtail the spread, bearing in mind the nation’s parlous state of health facilities and fragile economy. President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 9, 2020, set up the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 to coordinate the federal response.
The task force, chaired by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, has Dr. Sani Aliyu as its National Coordinator. Other members are Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika; Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Services, Sadiya Farouq; Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu; Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; Minister of Environment, Mohammad Abubakar; Director-General, State Services, Yusuf Bichi; Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu; and a World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative.
According to a statement by Senior Special Assistant (Media & Publicity) to the President, Garba Shehu, at the time, the task force was set up in preparation for the “unlikely but probable major outbreak of the disease” in the country which would require a multi-sectoral inter-governmental approach as advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), similar to that adopted for the HIV epidemic in the last two decades. “The start and finish task group would be expected to deliver within a maximum period of six months,” Shehu added.
The task force has not disappointed. The members have consistently provided daily updates to the nation on the steps being taken to curtail the spread of the disease and also cushion the economic impact of the initial lockdown on poor Nigerians. Being guided by science and data, the PTF, at various times, advised the President on the next steps to be taken to further curb the spread of COVID-19 across Nigeria.
At its daily briefings, the members consistently warned Nigerians of the dangers the disease portends and strongly advised compliance with safety precautions. On an occasion, Mr Mustapha warned that the low test/case confirmation numbers coming out daily should not be misinterpreted to mean that Nigeria had overcome. He emphasised that the nation was yet to reach its peak of the pandemic.
“Nigeria, with 46,577 confirmed cases and 945 cumulative deaths, remains respectively the third and fourth highest in these parameters. Nigeria is yet to reach the peak of the pandemic. Therefore, the low test/case confirmation numbers coming out daily should not be misinterpreted to mean that we have overcome,” he had said. At other times, the chairman of the task force harped on the need to continue to be vigilant and not be complacent.
On his own part, Dr. Ehanire constantly concluded his updates by reminding all Nigerians to take responsibility together.
“I shall end my speech today by reminding us all to take responsibility together, not only for today, but also for the days ahead, when the imperative to open our economy will demand great sacrifice and discipline from us all,” he said during a recent national briefing.
“The new normal may be demanding, but we all – government and citizens – must collaborate to halt the spread of this disease for each others sake.
“Global experience so far has proved that by following advisories and adhering to all the prescribed measures including appropriate wearing of face masks, physical distancing and respiratory hygiene, we can control the spread of this disease.
“The Health sector, on it’s part, is continuing to strengthen itself as we develop new coping measures to counter the challenges we can see ahead: from developing ambulance networks for patient transportation in case of emergency, to improving treatment options for COVID-19. Our objective remains to depress the case fatality rate.”
On Sunday, August 30, 2020, Nigeria recorded 138 new cases of COVID-19, representing the lowest daily toll since April. Members of the PTF are prominent figures in the successful mission to ensure that the numbers decline. While cases have reduced drastically in recent weeks, the fatality rate has also declined impressively well.
You cannot but agree with the SGF’s comments last Thursday, when he said Nigeria has done “remarkably well” in its response to the novel coronavirus disease. For the task force’s efforts in combating the disease, the members are our #ALEDEHCOVID19Heroes for the week.