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Presidential Task Force admits failure as apprehensions, condemnations trail non-adherence to COVID-19 rules in burial of Abba Kyari

Stung by the barrage of apprehensions, condemnations and criticisms over the way it allowed the burial of the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Abba Kyari, on Saturday, against its own laid down rules and regulations, the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Monday admitted that several mistakes were made which allowed several procedural mistakes to mar the burial.

A statement signed by its Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, however said that it would henceforth ensure such a scenario did not repeat itself.

At the burial held at the Gudu Cemetery, Abuja, there were flagrant non-adherence of physical and social distancing rules and the flouting of the Presidential Task Force COVID-19 regulations on movement and mass gathering restrictions.

Even after the burial, there were no adherence to safety procedures by either the officials involved or the sympathizers who thronged the venue especially the case of an health official who participated in handling of the body of the late Chief of Staff carelessly discarding the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the open and driving away.

The statement by Mr Mustapha on the developments reads: “The burial of the late Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, on 18 April 2020, has attracted a lot of concerns from Nigerians over the non-adherence to the physical distancing measures and mass gathering restrictions at the Gudu Cemetery. The non-observance of physical distancing and the flouting of mass gathering restrictions at the cemetery were due to the failure of crowd control measures.

“We acknowledge that mistakes were made, we have learnt from these mistakes and would ensure that future events are adequately regulated in accordance with the Presidential Task Force and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols. It is however important to state that the body of the late Chief of Staff, who died on 17 April 2020, was prepared for burial in line with the NCDC interim guidelines for the safe management of a deceased person with COVID-19 infection.

“As a matter of fact, the body of anyone who dies from COVID-19 infection will not be released for burial without following these guidelines. Consequently, the body of the late Chief of Staff was thoroughly decontaminated, put in a body bag and then a sealed coffin in Lagos before being flown to Abuja. On arrival in Abuja, all safety measures required to protect those handling the body were strictly adhered to, from the plane to the burial ground. At no time was the body openly exposed to the environment.

“It is worth noting that while COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, that it is significantly less infectious when compared to Ebola or Lassa fever, the protocols for safe burial must still be strictly followed. The incidents that were recorded after the burial, which may have compromised due safety procedures, have been duly recognized and correct steps taken to limit any risk to the public.”

Meanwhile, the fall outs from the burial is affecting the mood of Abuja residents who worry that because none of the safety and distancing procedures were respected, there could be massive spike in the number of infections of the Coronavirus arising from the attendees’ exposure to the virus.

Already, all State House Correspondents and Media Staff of The Presidency have been barred from accessing the Presidential Villa and ordered to start self-isolation.

According to a statement by Deputy Director (Information) in the Office of the President, Mr Atta Esa, “as a precautionary measure, all State House Correspondents and Media Office Staff who covered/attended the funeral prayer/burial ceremony of the late Chief of Staff, at Defence House and Gudu Cemetery Abuja, respectively, are strongly advised to work from home for the next 14 days. 

Mr Attah admonished them to “be careful to observe the recommended measures to prevent the Coronavirus transmission, including maintaining physical distancing and good personal hygiene going forward.”

Also, Presidential Spokesperson, Malam Garba Shehu, has confirmed that all the Presidential aides who attended the burial have been barred from the Presidenital Villa for 14 days and are therefore expected to work from their homes.

The new measures followed President Muhammadu Buhari’s unhappiness that his aides violated clear protocols and guidelines of the NCDC.

Among the aides who have already proceeded to self-isolation include Malam Garba Shehu, State House Chief Protocol Officer, Mr Lawal Kazaure, Special Assistant to the President, Mr Yusuf Sabiu, a nephew to the President, Mr Musa Daura, National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno; Director General of National Intelligence Agency, Mr Ahmad Rufai and Personal Assistant on New Media to President Buhari, Mr Bashir Ahmed.

Shehu had, in a series of tweets, noted that the directive to stay away from the Presidential Villa is not out of place as it is aimed at stopping further spread of COVID-19.

According to him: “There is nothing extraordinary about those of us who attend Abba Kyari’s funeral being advised to distance ourselves from the Villa.

“This is in line with the standard rules put in place by the National Center for Disease Control, @NCDCgov and the Federal Ministry of Health. You do these things to stop the spread of #Coronavirus.

“For the most part, the Villa has operated digitally in the last few weeks so there is really nothing new to this.”

And to allay the fears of Abuja residents and assure them of their safety, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) said that it has rounded up and quarantined all those without protective kits, who participated in the burial.

Acting Secretary of the Health and Human Resources Secretariat of the FCTA, Dr. Mohammed Kawu, said in a statement that “all the individuals, including the man in question that participated in the burial and were not properly kitted have been identified and are being isolated. Necessary tests will be conducted on all of them to determine their level of exposure and ensure that they do not infect other people.”

The statement, issued against the background of a video clip trending in social media, showing a man pulling off his Personal Protective Equipment unprofessionally after participating in the burial, said that the said PPE left over by the said individual has been professionally evacuated and that the entire cemetery has been decontaminated.

Kawu added: “The Administration has also taken steps to ensure that all future burials of victims of COVID 19 are conducted in line with protocols established by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Residents are therefore urged to remain calm and rest assured that the FCT Administration will continue to do all that is necessary to curtail and eventually end the spread of the Coronavirus in the FCT.”

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