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'Life is not back to normal,' PTF warns Nigerians about coronavirus danger

The PTF has again appealed to Nigerians to comply with guidelines to keep many as safe as possible from the coronavirus disease.

Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha [Twitter/@DigiCommsNG]

The spread of the novel disease had initially led to the shutdown of social and economic activities late in March, and for most of April.

However, the government started easing restrictions in early May despite the explosion of cases across the country, with over 16,000 recorded as of June 14, 2020.

Chairman of the task force, Boss Mustapha, said during a media briefing on Monday, June 15 that the easing of restrictions is not a signal to the Nigerian public to start ignoring safety measures.

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He said the task force has observed an escalation of non-compliance with simple measures to maintain social distancing, wear protective face masks, as well as regarding sanitation, and hygiene.

Mustapha said this non-compliance has been more prevalent in markets, motor parks, and places of worship, even though they have strict guidelines on how to operate in the current atmosphere.

"Lifted restrictions does not mean carelessness and that life is back to normal. Yes, there is a normal, but it's a new normal," he said.

During his briefing, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the restrictions were only eased to sustain livelihoods, not because it was the best option to contain spread of the disease.

"We have eased the lockdown not because we wanted to, but because we had to," he said.

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Mustapha appealed to the public to comply with guidelines to keep many as safe as possible from infection.

He re-emphasised that relaxed measures are subjected to review, and advisories issued are for personal and public safety purposes.

The task force chairman, also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), also noted with concern the widespread breach of the ban on interstate travel which is one of the restrictions that has remained in place.

Despite the imposition of the ban by the Federal Government, hundreds of vehicles have crossed state lines all over Nigeria with hundreds of passengers, aided by security operatives who charge a premium.

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Mustapha appealed to security agencies to enforce the ban so as to limit the spread of the coronavirus across the country.

Mustapha also raised concerns with reports that some state governors are already considering the reopening of schools, television viewing centres, sports stadiums, and other places where large gatherings can take place.

He said state governors should strongly take a cue from guidelines recommended by the task force.

"The Presidential Task Force re-emphasises that it's not yet safe to do so and that utmost caution should be exercised in this regard," he said.

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Mustapha appealed to state governments to embark on wider community testing, enforce rules on social distancing, step up community engagement and risk communication, and pay attention to places of large gathering.

He urged Nigerians not to panic but to cooperate with public health officials especially where community testing is ongoing.

The SGF also announced that the evacuation of Nigerians stranded abroad has resumed with a combined 371 received from India and Egypt over the past weekend.

All the evacuees tested negative before boarding the plane and will be retested within 72 hours of arrival in Nigeria.

Nigeria has recorded 16,085 cases in 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

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While 5,220 people have recovered, 420 people have died.

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