• Observe the COVID-19 protocol ; Make more Masses available, says Archbishop Martins
• Jail term awaits violators of protocols, SGF cautions
The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Dr. Samson Ayokunle urged Christian leaders on Wednesday to obey all protocols and shun unrealistic confidence as being displayed by some faith leaders who have dismissed the existence of the virus. “If you love your congregation, this is the time to teach them restraint, that is the way of wisdom. If COVID-19 is a joke, why is it killing people in advanced nations where they have strong health infrastructure, Britain and America are under the siege of COVID-19,” the CAN President said at the meeting organized by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) to sensitise Christian religious leaders on COVID-19 vaccine in Abuja. Ayokunle stressed further, “the grace we enjoy is making us to take things for granted, and the grace of God should not be taken for lasciviousness.
Listen to experts and obey all they asked us to do.” In another vein the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos advised the lay faithful to observe the COVID-19 protocol to the letter. The Archbishop strongly encouraged Priests to ensure a limited gathering of those who attend Mass by making “more Masses available for the faithful.” “We call attention again to the need to focus on encouraging our people to pay attention to the safety precautions that we all know very well by now, which includes wearing of face masks, regular washing of hands, the use of sanitizers, maintaining physical distance, resisting the urge to touch our eyes and faces and observing the basic rules of hygiene.” Calling on all Parish Priests to reawaken and renew the safety measures that has been put in place to keep Churches safe and secure for people to worship, the Chief Shepherd stressed, “celebration of Masses would be at 50% of the Church’s capacity as indicated by government.
Just as it was before, Parishes should consider making use of other available spaces within the Church premises such as Parish halls so as to have more Masses available for the faithful.” Nigeria like the rest of the world, had been experiencing the more infectious second wave, which according to the Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SFG), Mr. Boss Mustapha, has increased the number of COVID-19 related deaths from 1,173 on November 29, 2020 to 1,578 on January 31, 2021, an increase of 34 per cent. Yet hundreds of Nigerian throng the streets without face masks, many apparently oblivious to the dangers of not wearing masks. The COVID-19 Health Regulations Bill 2021, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari has barely influenced the wearing of face masks and compliance to safety measures.
Majority of Nigerians still do not wear face masks. More so, the streets are awash with misuse and abuse of face masks by the public, government officials, and even health workers. Those who care to wear face mask, wear it on their chin and neck, and this segment of mask wearers pay no attention to covering their mouth and nose, when talking and even sneezing. Used face masks are kept with personal belongings or disposed indiscriminately in public spaces, leading to self and environmental contamination. The Government will take no more of this in no time. The SGF said: “We wish to draw the attention of all Nigerians to the fact that sanctions and punishments (including jail terms and fines) have been prescribed for violators of the provisions under the Regulations.
All law enforcement agencies have been fully briefed and instructed to enforce the law within the appropriate limits.” While applauding President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the COVID-19 Health Protection Regulatory Bill 2021 into law, the CAN President, noted that his tour of Abuja revealed that most residents moved with face masks and breached other protocols. He beckoned on government for instant enforcement. In his words, “Nigeria needs to fight this common enemy called COVID-19 through enforcement, enforce the law, especially in unorganised markets which poses the great potential of spreading the virus rapidly. Nigeria needs to fight this common enemy called COVID-19 through enforcement, especially in the unorganised markets, motor parks etc.” However, the Nigerian government has continued to intensify efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
While addressing the religious leaders, the SGF stated that global infections had exceeded 100 million while fatalities had crossed two million. Stressing that the arrival of vaccines has however raised hope that a solution had been found, he emphasized that this does not translate to the fact that the Non-Pharmacological Interventions (NPIs) will be discarded. Mustapha further remarked that nobody is safe around the world until everyone is vaccinated. According to him this informed government’s decision to sensitise and seek the inputs of religious leaders on the strategy to be jointly adopted and the role they will play in propagating messages on vaccines to Christians.
Highlighting the challenges Nigeria is facing that range from sceptism about the virus; lack of compliance with the NPIs, very low testing which limits detection; rising daily numbers occasioned by the second wave, disruption in socio-economic activities; an increasing number of deceased loved ones, friends and church members; and vaccine hesitancy across all strata to he observed that there are other dangers associated with those infected but were never detected. He said: “While we continue to push the frontiers of compliance with the NPIs through all means, including collaboration with the sub-national entities, faith-based organisations, community engagement and through legal instruments such as the recently issued Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Health Protection Regulations 2021, the role of the church in the escalation of the awareness on COVID-19, vaccines and minimisation of resistance and hesitancy to it, can never be overemphasised.
As we interact over all these issues and challenges today, I urge us to be frank, innovative and adopt common objectives of collaboration and determination to overcome the pandemic by reaching out to all adherents of our faith on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. Every Christian should be an advocate for the vaccines.” The Executive Director of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, implored faith leaders to play a crucial role in vaccine rollout, ensuring that they are distributed fairly and fully accepted as he recollected how actions of faith leaders influence people’s values, attitudes, behaviours, and actions in previous public health crises, including polio.
Shuaib speaking in a news conference on same day disclosed that Nigeria’s previous request for 10 million doses through the African Union had been increased fourfold while the Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire affirmed that Nigeria has indeed been allocated over 41million doses by the AU’s African Vaccines Acquisition Task Team AVATT and could expect 15 of about 42 million doses from COVAX stressing that all together, it will give the country coverage for over 50 per cent of our target for 2021 if Nigeria can access all doses promised. Shuaib said that the doses are expected to arrive by the end of April, adding that Nigeria was “exploring multiple payment options” for the doses including through the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) financing plan to make repayments in installments over five to seven years.
The Health Minister told reporters that dossiers for two vaccines, one from India and another from Russia, are being studied by the country’s National National Agency for Fodd and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). In another vein, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has approved the clinical trial of Ivermectin drug for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infection in the state, Sanwo-Olu made this known in a statement on the update on COVID-19 in the state on Sunday. He said, “The State Government is aware of numerous international claims that the broad spectrum anti-parasitic agent/medication Ivermectin has shown some efficacy in acting as a sustained prophylaxis in containing/inhibiting the causative virus in SARS CoV-2.
“While this medication has not yet been approved for the broad treatment of the Coronavirus disease, the State Government has however taken the bold step of ensuring we have adequate stocks of Ivermectin, which will be initially deployed in a short clinical trial to ascertain its efficiency in our population to prevent and treat COVID-19 infection.” Sanwo-Olu said when the COVID-19 vaccines are finally delivered to Lagos in the coming days, distribution priorities would be accorded to frontline workers, persons with co-morbidities, essential workers, and the elderly who are within the age bracket of 50 to over 65 years.
“The Government will keep the integrity of the vaccines intact along the entire supply and distribution chain, while also ensuring approved dosages are complied with. “The state will follow up on possible post-vaccination adverse event; the monitoring strategy will be diligently followed in line with protocols of pharmaceutical public safety,” he assured. In the distribution of the vaccines, the federal and state governments ought to consider local applicability, feasibility, and sustainability, as well as identify and mitigate all potential risks and unintended consequences. Also critical is the need for intensive public sensitization and education.