It’s Suicidal Reopening Schools, ASUU Tells FG
INNOCENT OWEH;CHIOMA UME
ABUJA / LAGOS – The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Monday kicked against the reopening of schools by the Federal Government due to the COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging the country.
It said “it is suicidal to reopen schools now, if the Federal Government itself could not meet the conditions spelt out by NCDC and World Health Organisation (WHO)”.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Monday said it got permission from the presidency that schools could safely reopen to allow students in graduating classes resume in-person in preparation for examinations.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, also said the government has lifted the ban on inter-state travel earlier imposed nationwide to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country.
He said it placed a caveat on the new order, insisting that inter-state movement would only be allowed only outside curfew hours, and is to take effect from July 1, 2020.
Beyond this, resumption of domestic flights was also given a nod, while briefing Nigerians on measures taken so far to curb the impact of the virus in Nigeria which has its origin in Wuhan, China.
Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, ASUU National President, who spoke with newsmen in Ota, Ogun, said the Federal Government needed to address the challenges of education sector before it can talk of reopening schools.
Ogunyemi urged the Federal Government to provide ideal environment and should take the lead by meeting the conditions spelt out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) before reopening schools.
“The Federal Government must lead and show the ways by meeting the conditions for reopening of schools before any school can be allowed to open, because COVID-19 pandemic is a health challenge.
“When it comes to public health, it is something that should not be left in the hands of individual, but the Federal Government must take the lead,” he said.
The ASUU president listed the conditions spelt out by NCDC to include: provision of materials for regular washing of hands, face mask, isolations centres, space for social distancing and hands sanitizer.
Ogunyemi said that many of the schools do not have financial capacities to meet those conditions and requirements for reopening of schools.
“The nation will expose the innocent children to risks which is avoidable,” he said
Ogunyemi noted that how many of these schools could afford to provide hand sanitiser, saying that many of them do not even have running water, not to talk of having facility for washing hands.
He added that many schools do not have enough spaces to promote physical distancing.
The ASUU president said that putting all these requirements needed together to reopen schools in the country now would run to millions of naira, which most schools could not afford.
Ogunyemi appealed to the Federal Government to provide the running funds for the principals and head teachers so that they could provide some of these facilities in their schools.
He further said that inadequate funds by many parents would hinder them from providing some of these amenities needed for reopening of schools.
Ogunyemi said that the Federal Government needed to tell Nigerians the steps they intended to take in reopening schools.
The ASUU leader said that for government not to tell people their minds was like running away from “our shadow” which would later hunt the country.
Briefing newsmen on measures taken so far to curb the impact of the virus in the country, Boss Mustapha said the outlined measures are in addition to the Phase Two of the eased lockdown which has been extended by another four weeks with effect from Tuesday, June 30, 2020 through midnight of Monday, July 27, 2020.
Boss Mustapha, who chided Nigerians for flouting most of the safety regulations, said the above measures were subject to a review.
He said: “I am pleased to inform you that Mr. President has carefully considered the 5th interim report of the PTF and has accordingly approved that, with the exception of some modifications to be expatiated upon later, the Phase Two of the eased lockdown be extended by another four weeks with effect from Tuesday, June 30, 2020 through midnight of Monday, July 27, 2020.
“The following measures shall either remain in place or come into effect: maintaining the current phase of the national response for another four weeks in line with modifications to be expatiated by the national coordinator.
“Permission of movement across state borders only outside curfew hours with effect from 1st July, 2020; enforcement of laws around non-pharmaceutical interventions by states, in particular, the use of face masks in public places; safe re-opening of schools to allow students in graduating classes resume in-person in preparation for examinations.
“Also, safe reopening of domestic aviation services as soon as practicable; including publication of revised guidelines around the three thematic areas of general movement, industry and labour, and community activities.
“Provision of technical support for states to mobilise additional resources for the response; strengthening partnerships with states, local governments, traditional rulers, community/religious leaders, and the civil society to ensure increased public awareness and compliance with preventive guidelines.
“State governments should be encouraged to empower local government authorities to intensify contact-tracing efforts and ensure stronger grassroots mobilisation to support the response.
“States and hospital authorities should also be encouraged to ensure continuity of other health services to prevent fatalities from other life-threatening conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And deepening of collaboration with other mandate groups at states/federal levels to harmonise the country’s COVID-19 response in the short, medium, and long terms”.
According to the PTF chairman, the national coordinator will in due course announce and publish the details of the revised guidelines while relevant MDAs, including education, transportation, and aviation will, respectively, consult further with stakeholders and issue guidelines for their sectors.
Irrespective of the challenges faced in the last one month and the fact that Nigeria’s statistics have been on the rise, the PTF chairman noted that substantial progress had been made in curtailing the virus.
Part of the measures adopted, according to Mustapha, was harnessing available data, which showed that 60% of the confirmed cases are in a handful of local government areas in the country (18 out of 774 LGAs nationwide).
He said they were able to put in place targeted interventions, which resulted in increased capacity to detect, test, and trace those infected with the virus through the activation of 38 molecular testing laboratories, resulting in raising the test count nationwide in excess of 130,000.
He equally noted that a shift in focus to a targeted community-based approach, enhanced risk communication saw an increase in collaboration with the legislature, state governments, and the organised private sector.
“We activated a new, cost-effective policy on the evacuation of returning Nigerians; increased awareness of COVID-19 among the population, and cushioned the socio-economic impact of the restrictions through the provision of palliatives to vulnerable members of various communities nationwide.
“We were also successful in reopening sectors of the economy despite initial challenges in areas such as the banking sector, industry and agriculture,” he stressed.
The PTF boss also reminded Nigerians that their lackadaisical attitude towards the virus informed the further extension of the eased lockdown.
He stressed that the PTF had in previous briefings stated that the aim of Phase Two was to sustain the gains from earlier steps taken for the control of the pandemic and to enable additional sectors of the economy to restart activities.
“Given the challenges and the visible danger ahead occasioned by scepticism, poor public perception both leading to lack of compliance, it has come to the inevitable conclusion that the extension of phase two of the eased lockdown will be needed to consolidate the gains in the areas of the economy that have restarted.
“Ensure better compliance with the health-based response; support the states in enforcing guidelines and protocols, as well as strengthening the LGAs to build community level structures for ownership and effective risk communication, and help to better achieve the balance between saving lives and ensuring that wellbeing and livelihood of citizens are protected”.
The PTF chairman also explained that compared to other countries with similar climatic characteristics, the mortality rate of the disease is low in Nigeria due to the age bracket of most of those infected by the virus
He stated this earlier after he had led his team to brief President Muhammadu Buhari on the progress of the national response to the pandemic at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Speaking to State House correspondents, he said 80% of the infections were in the age bracket of 31 to 40 years, which he described as a very active part of the population.
According to him, even when they have the infection, they are able to surmount it because of their level of energy.
However, he added that the PTF was worried about the remaining 20% as he said nobody knows who may become a victim among them.
Therefore, he said, everything was being done to protect the vulnerable such as the elderly and those with underlying illnesses.
He also hinted that the government may introduce precision lockdown for pinpoint management of coronavirus hotspots.
He said the reason for the precision lockdown would be to place specific measures in certain places, especially by state governments, to enable aggressive testing for the disease and management.
FG Says Airfare May Increase.
Boss Mustapha, Chairman, PTF on COVID-19, also asked Nigerians to expect a hike in airfare.
“The domestic aviation services is allowed to resume operations as soon as practicable in line with existing international and local guidelines on COVID-19,” he said.
He said the resumption of flight operations would come with an increase in airfare.
He explained that the increment of products and services was not peculiar to the aviation sector.
According to him, prices of things have surged since the coronavirus outbreak.
“Prices have increased generally. The prices of things prior to COVID-19 is different from what it used to be.
“Even in the market, things have increased. That is the difficult thing that is going to confront us as a people and because of the protocols that are going to be introduced in the whole aviation business, you will definitely expect an increase in the prices” he said.