The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has raised the alarm over an unhealthy practice of some Nigerians who pick face masks from rubbish dumps and sell them.
The Chairman of the task force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, who raised the alarm at the PTF press briefing in Abuja, warned that such a practice would worsen the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
He also said northern state governments, which had been evacuating the Quranic school pupils, popularly known as Almajirai, to their states of origin should suspend it.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, also at the press briefing, said pathologists from Sokoto, Bauchi, Jigawa, Katsina and Kano had been trained, adding that they were investigating deaths in the states.
The task force, shortly after the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in his national broadcast on April 27 ordered gradual reopening of the economy, gave guidelines that would assist in flattening the COVID-19 curve in the country.
Among the guidelines are the compulsory use of face masks and maintaining social distance in public places. The government also banned a gathering of over 20 people and interstate movements.
Reviewing Nigerians’ adherence to the guidelines, Mustapha noted that people were still sharing face masks.
He said, “The unhealthy practice of picking disposed masks for whatever purpose is harmful to both the individual picking them and whoever procures them later.
“The PTF has become aware of the ongoing practice of sharing masks and picking of masks for recycling from dump sites. This places a lot of responsibility on all of us to be self-educated and to educate others.
“The following points are emphasised: Except for fabric masks, every disposable used mask is a hazardous medical waste and should be disposed of properly, preferably by burning.
“It is very risky to share masks as the virus is capable of remaining on surfaces for several hours and you could get infected.”
The PTF also advised governors to suspend interstate movements of Almajirai so as not to frustrate efforts to combat the pandemic.
Northern Governors’ Forum, in a statement issued after its meeting on April 21 unanimously decided to ban the Almajirai system of education. They decided that the children should be sent back to their parents or states of origin.
States, which have been repatriating the Almajirai back to their states of origin include Kano and Nasarawa.
But some of the children have been diagnosed with COVID-19. For example, On May 2, the Kaduna State Government said 21 out of 61 Almajirai deported to the state from Kano tested positive for the virus.
Besides, some of the children are being hidden in vehicles carrying food and brought to the South, a development southern states have frowned upon.
Expressing concern about the development, the SGF said, “This is not the time for movement of Almajirai because of interstate lockdown. If you say interstate movements are banned, I don’t think that movements of Almajirai are essential movements.”
Mustapha urged state governments to align their actions and enforcement with the guidelines provided by the PTF.
“The virus does not respect boundaries neither does it respect status. All state governments are, therefore, urged to strengthen their monitoring and enforcement machinery in collaboration with the security agencies,” he stated.