Nigeria reopens economy, worship centres as flights resume June 21

A News Central investigation showed that the government had barely no choice than to drastically reopen the economy as most Nigerians were already violating the lockdown measures and the police seemed to have lost control of enforcement.
President Muhammadu Buhari in an address at the State House, Abuja.

The Nigerian government on Monday further announced the relaxing of Covid-19 lockdown that has shuttered the economy for more than two months.

Under the phase two reopening, the ban on the banking sector, religious gatherings and closure of markets were lifted with the earlier national curfew revised between 10pm to 4am, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 announced Monday at a briefing in the capital, Abuja.

A News Central investigation showed that the government had barely no choice than to drastically reopen the economy as most Nigerians were violating the lockdown measures with the connivance of some sections of security agencies like the police who were mostly being bribed by commuters and drivers to pass through checkpoints on interstate highways despite the ban on interstate travel.

Most small businesses and worship centres in suburbs of state capitals including the nation’s capital, Abuja were also operating unhindered in what seemed like the authorities had lost control of the lockdown, residents said. The rule on compulsory use of facemask was also being violated as many refused to use such measures except after sighting policemen or local taskforce operatives.

Cabinet Secretary, Boss Mustapha who heads the Taskforce said President Muhammadu Buhari had also approved that domestic flights should resume on June 21 and directed airlines to take between 50 and 70 per cent of passengers on any flight.

The PTF said the aircraft of most airlines were currently being serviced in preparation for the June 21 resumption date for domestic flights.

– Local flights to resume –

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika at the briefing also said the airfares of flights would be proportionate to the current global realities facing the aviation industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The modality of operations by airlines and the passenger numbers will certainly drop and the load factor will also drop. Only 50 or 70 per cent of the passengers should be taken. These are some of the things that we have been looking at”, Sirika announced.

Sirika said the three-week period between June 1 and the resumption date would enable operators to adhere to all the necessary industry regulations, without which they would not take to the skies after being dormant for some time.

“This is because aviation, unlike other sectors, is a highly regulated sector,” he said.

The minister said consultations had been on and would continue between the ministry and industry stakeholders on the best ways to operate profitably while at the same time ensuring the safety of travellers.

Sirika had earlier cautioned owners of private aircraft who had been in the habit of asking for permits to fly within the country despite the restrictions in place to desist, as the restrictions were still in place, except for those on essential services.

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Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu at a national briefing of the PTF on Covid-19 in Abuja. Twitter/@NCDCgov

– Banks, markets reopen –

National Coordinator of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr. Aliyu Sani said the full reopening of the financial sector, restricted opening of worship centres will be granted by the 36 states and capital, Abuja subject to the PTF guidelines.

The announcement injected a new lease of life into big businesses and SMEs that had remained shut over the months.

Banks were given immediate clearance to operate fully. Hotels got the nod to reopen “but must observe all mandatory non-pharmaceutical intervention”.

“The goal of phase two over the next four weeks is to balance public safety with protecting livelihoods as well as allowing the full restoration of economic activities across the country”, Sani said.

“We are not opening places of worships across the board. We are saying that opening is conditional and it is based on these clear-cut guidelines and would only cover regular church and mosque services.

“The nationwide curfew will remain in place but the timing of this will be reduced to 10pm to 4am. The purpose of the curfew is to limit social interactions and therefore reduce the risk of transmission of the virus”, Dr Sani said.

The government also announced that “all interstate travels by individuals remain prohibited except for essential travels and the movement of goods and services. All restrictions on the free movement of goods and services is now removed in this phase.”

– Not yet uhuru on Covid-19 fight –

Despite the new relaxation of Covid-19 lockdown rules, the government said it was “still safer to stay at home and avoid crowds. The pandemic is not over in this country and the relaxation of some of the rules doesn’t mean that it is safer to go out. If you do not need to go out please continue to stay at home.”

“The mass gathering of more than 20 people outside of the work place or places of worship remains prohibited. In terms of general movement, persons may go out for work, go to buy necessary food and for exercise provided that they abide by the curfew hours”, officials announced.

Schools however remain closed as the federal authorities said they were yet to reach a decision on the matter but made some concessions.

“The Federal Ministry of Education has been instructed to work with school owners to prepare students that require exiting exams to allow them to take exams early in the next phase of the lifting of the lockdown”, PTF’s Sani said.


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