Despite fears of Coronavirus (COVID-19) contamination arising from attendance at the burial of late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Abba Kyari, without observing its announced safety or protocol procedures, four members of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 pandemic ignored call to go into self-isolation and attended the Monday daily briefing of the committee.
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 a 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.
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.
But those who attended the burial rites and were at the Monday COVID-19 briefing include the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and chairman of the Presidential Task Force, Mr, Boss Mustapha; National Coordinator of the committee, Dr. Sani Aliyu; Minister of Aviation, Mr Hadi Sirika; and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama.
Nigeria currently has 627 COVID-19 patients, 86 alone were detected on Sunday, the highest number of cases discovered in Nigeria in a single day.
Mr Mustapha, in his opening statement, admitted that mistakes were made and expressed regretted.
According to him, “the PTF recognizes, regrettably, the unintentional violation of the principles and protocols that form the core of our messaging to Nigerians, at the funeral of the late Chief of Staff. These principles for emphasis, include: the guidance provided on mass gatherings; social distancing; Personal Hygiene; and restriction of movements. Lessons have been learnt and appropriate measures have been taken to close all gaps. We assure all Nigerians of their safety and the determination of the PTF to combat the pandemic.”
Apologizing for the mistakes made at Kyari’s burial, Mustapha said that the PTF “will like to acknowledge and apologise for the mistakes that were made regarding the burial of the late Chief of Staff. We realised that crowd control failed, we have learned from this and we will ensure that future events are adequately regulated and follow the task force’s protocols.
“The Gudu Cemetery had since been decontaminated, the personal protective equipment discarded at the site; decontaminated being burned and discarded according to the NCDC guidelines. I’ll like to further clarify the issue of COVID-19 and the burial processes. Contrary to what is on social media, the body of the late Chief of Staff was properly prepared for burial, according to NCDC guidelines and the Islamic faith.
“The bodies of persons with COVID-19, as stated clearly by the WHO guidelines “except in cases of viral haemorrhagic fever and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. To date, there’s no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who had died of COVID-19. Therefore, we will like to further assure the public that we will continue to follow the guidelines and protocols we had produced. The NCDC guidelines are very much reflecting the WHO guidelines.
“We’ll also like to assure the public that the Task Force takes its Presidential mandate seriously and is committed to executing it to the best of its ability. We ask for the public to continue holding us accountable for our actions. We read your comments on social media. We listen to you and also acknowledge the issues that might arise. Please, continue to do so. It is the only way we can continue to improve and fight this big challenges we have.”
Mustapha, also warned that the COVID-19 outbreak is far from over, appealing to Nigerians to comply with the lockdown directive.
He stated that the government is determined to “flatten the curve. Given the increase in the number of confirmed cases in the last week, the PTF remains conscious of the fact that we are far from the end of this outbreak in Nigeria. We, therefore, must focus even more vigorously on our strategy of increasing testing, isolating confirmed cases, following up with contacts of cases and managing confirmed cases to recovery.
“The significant increase in the number of cases and distribution across states underscore the importance of remaining focused as citizens and as a nation because of the enormity of the challenges ahead. This is the time for all hands to be on deck so that the PTF can improve on its delivery. We must all come together because we face a common enemy and potential risk. We must flatten the curve at all cost and restore our country to full activity.”
Asked if the Task Force will extend the privileges attending the burial of the Chief of Staff to other families who might request same, the PTF Coordinator, Dr Aliyu said: “The incident over the weekend was not intentional. It was a crowd control issue. No privileges were given. In a pandemic situation, you cannot differentiate between the rich and the poor.
“You cannot differentiate between nationalities and neither can you differentiate between races because the virus itself does not differentiate. The Presidential Task Force is committed to making sure as we move forward, that necessary steps are taken so that this sort of episode does not happen again.”
On why those of them who attended the burial were not on self-isolation as directed by The Presidency, Dr Aliyu stated: “In terms of self-isolation, we have clear cut guidelines for isolation. If you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, we’ll have to isolate you when we test. If you have had contact with a case of COVID-19, we’ll isolate you. If you are coming from an area that is of high prevalence, we will isolate you. So, the guidelines in terms of self-isolation and quarantine are very clear.”