Medical experts in the country have asked the Federal Government to quarantine all persons who attended the burial of Mr Abba Kyari, the former Chief of Staff to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), for public safety.
The experts pointed out that the gathering violated the ban on all forms of gathering in the Federal Capital Territory and government’s directive on social distancing, which were part of measures put in place by the government to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Kyari, who was the topmost public figure to have died of the coronavirus in Nigeria, tested positive for the disease about three weeks ago, after he had visited Germany, a high-risk country. The former Chief of Staff passed on at a private hospital in Lagos on Friday.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, in a thread of tweets on Saturday, said Kyari died of complications of the COVID-19 at the First Cardiologist Consultants hospital, a hospital he described as a Lagos State designated high care, biosecurity-compliant COVID-19 facility.
On Saturday, there were 49 new cases, pushing the total cases to 542, out of which 19 had died and 166 had been discharged.
But, at the Defence Guest House in Abuja where Kyari’s body was first received and the Gudu Cemetery, also in the FCT, where his remains were interred, there were scores of attendees, including top government functionaries, in violation of the ban on large gatherings and physical contacts imposed by the Federal Government.
But, speaking on the impact of the mass gathering at the burial in the midst of the rising spread of the COVID-19, medical experts said it would be in public interest for those at the funeral to be quarantined.
A renowned virologist, Prof Oyewale Tomori, who faulted the gathering of sympathisers at the burial, said even though there was no evidence that any of them had the virus, it would be better to place the attendees in isolation to be on the side of caution.
Tomori, a former President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, said, “I watched the burial and thought ‘this is wrong’. My focus would not be on the dead body but on the rules that we should maintain social distancing and not gather. So what did they take Funke Akindele (celebrity actress) to court for? And look at the number of people who were also in court with Akindele, they should have been taken to court.
“We don’t have any evidence that any of them at the burial has the virus but if they decide for safety sake to keep them in isolation, I think it is a right decision. It is better to err on the side of caution.
“Any of them could have the virus and with the gathering, there was the possibility of spreading it among them. So to be on the side of caution, I would put all of them in isolation and then test them. It is not just isolating them; I would test them in addition to isolating them.”
He, however, noted that even though he didn’t know how the body of the deceased was treated, with the way it was wrapped up in the video, the chances of anybody getting COVID-19 from there were very slim. “It is not impossible but it is very slim,” he said.
“However, this is the same government that said no mass gathering and that people should maintain a distance of six feet from others. There was definitely mass gathering at the burial and they violated both.”
Also, the President, National Association of Resident Doctors, Dr Aliyu Sokomba, said it would be appropriate to quarantine those who attended the burial for the safety of all.
He said, “What is appropriate at this point is for all those who attended that gathering to be traced and isolated to prevent further spread of the disease. And that is very important. Part of the precautionary measures that should have been taken while the burial rite was going on was social distancing, which was not observed.
“The gathering itself was a hazard for those who attended the burial. What is important is that those people who attended the burial should, if possible, be identified and quarantined to prevent any chance of them transmitting the disease to other people like their loved ones and other Nigerians that would come in contact with them.”
The President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Francis Faduyile, said it was unfortunate that such happened, especially when all gatherings had been banned at the Federal Capital Territory. The FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello, on March 21 banned all public gatherings of over 50 persons.
Faduyile, however, said environmental health officials should have decontaminated everyone at the burial to limit the chances of spreading the disease.
He added, “From what we saw, we observed that those people at the burial did not show the required physical distancing. What we saw was not good enough. Again, for those who put on the PPE, although I did not see how they donned it, we saw one viral video in which one person was doffing it and it was really unfortunate.
“These were the minimum that we expected, that anybody leading such should ensure that the donning and the doffing were well supervised. And what made things worse was the disposal. The way it was left outside left us with so much to worry about.”
When asked if there was a need to quarantine all the attendees to limit the spread, the NMA President said, “We have different levels of contact and it depends on the categorisation of the contact; we have some people that were close to the body and those were the people who wore the PPE and carried the body. Then, we had people who stood by watching and didn’t have any contact. So, it’s different categorisation.
“Naturally, we should have the environmental health officials around so they could ensure they decontaminate everybody that was there.”
Also, a former Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, said it was a big error to have more than 50 people during the burial, while expressing concern that social distancing rule was not observed.
He added, “I do not think those that attended the burial should be isolated now. The only time you will isolate them is if there are one or two people who are confirmed to have the symptom or are confirmed positive. However, if you find anyone maybe tomorrow or on Monday positive, I will advise that all the people that attended should be quarantined.”
Meanwhile, the immediate past president of NARD, Dr Olusegun Olaopa, also warned of a major consequence from the huge gathering that witnessed the burial while describing the gathering as disappointing.
Olaopa said, “It will be a big disappointment if that burial was coordinated by the NCDC. I want to believe people just took the law into their own hands. So, let us give NCDC the benefit of the doubt.
“Funke Akindele hosted an event in her house in Lagos and the number of people there was not up to 30. She was arrested and prosecuted. The gathering at Kyari burial showed that some people think they are above the law.
“The danger there is that Abuja may just be waiting for another pool of new cases of people with coronavirus.”
He said with the way law was broken at the gathering, government should sanction its officials at the event.
Group threatens to sue FG, family over gathering
A civil society organisation, Kingdom Human Rights Foundation International, has threatened to sue the Federal Government and the Kyari family should they fail to produce all those who attended the burial for isolation or quarantine.
The group’s Executive Director, Okere Nnamdi, in a statement, said, “Kingdom Human Rights Foundation International will file a public interest action against the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Kyari family if they fail to make all those who attended the burial available for 14-day isolation and NCDC to quarantine them within 24 hours.”
Also, a civil rights movement, Human Rights Writers Association, has demanded that the NCDC should trace and quarantine for 14 days everyone that witnessed the burial.
HURIWA, in a statement on Saturday by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, said, “For the sake of public safety and public good, we urge the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, to self isolate for 14 days and for the NCDC to trace and send to the isolation centre the hundreds of the persons who attended the burial of the Chief of Staff in clear violation of the extant laws regulating the conduct of funerals during the health emergency brought upon us by the rampaging coronavirus disease.
“This public show of total disregard for the laws that were rolled out and signed publicly by the President as manifested by the rich and powerful who turned up for the burial ceremony must never be allowed to go the way of other illegalities in our clime.”
Also, the Coalition of United Political Parties also expressed disappointment with the manner of handling the burial.
In a statement by its spokesperson, Ikenga Ugochinyere, it said, “The Presidential Task Force led by the SGF should be disbanded for authorising the violation of all measures put in place to curtail the spread of the virus, hosting an infected body in government presidential building; the Defence House in Maitama, and an effective and responsive team to be headed by the Vice-President be set up immediately to lead us through this battle against coronavirus.”
VIPs shun social distancing at Kyari’s funeral
Meanwhile, despite the tweet by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, that the funeral prayer and burial would be “private”, scores of Nigerians, including top government officials, attended the burial.
Most attendees at the burial, though wearing face masks, stood less than two metres apart as prescribed by the NCDC protocol and the guideline issued by the Federal Ministry of Health.
Prominent persons in attendance included the National Coordinator of the PTF on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu; former Governor of Borno State, Senator Kashim Shettima; and Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika.
Others were the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari; Minister of Communications, Isa Pantami; and the Permanent Secretary of the State House, Tijjani ldris Umar, among others.
However, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control Interim Guidelines for the Safe Management of a Dead Body reads, “In the event a ceremony is held, the number of attendees should be limited. The ceremony should be held in a well-ventilated structure, attendees should be advised on social distancing throughout the event, ensuring practice of hand and respiratory hygiene.”
Pallbearer who buried Kyari dumps used protective suit at cemetery
Meanwhile, one of the pallbearers at the burial was seen in a viral video dumping his used Hazmat suit, apparently to prevent coronavirus infection.
The nearly two-minute long video, which was uploaded on YouTube on Saturday, did not show the unidentified man being disinfected before disrobing outside the Gudu cemetery.
After disrobing, the man, who moments earlier had handled Kyari’s remains, walked away, leaving the protective suit on the floor.
FCTA isolates pallbearers, says future interments must follow NCDC protocols
However, the Health and Human Services Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory Administration on Saturday said the pallbearers at the burial had been put in isolation.
It also said that its officials had evacuated the personal protection equipment discarded by one of the men who participated in the burial.
This had generated concern among Nigerians who expressed fears over the implication of the culprit’s action.
But the Public Health Department said it removed the PPE and also decontaminated the area.
The acting Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretariat, FCTA, Dr Mohammed Kawu, in a statement said, “The said PPE left by the individual has been professionally evacuated and the entire cemetery decontaminated. In addition, all the individuals including the man in question that participated in the burial and were not properly kitted have been identified and are being isolated.”
Kawu explained that necessary tests would be conducted on all of them to determine their level of exposure and ensure that they do not infect other people.
He said the administration had also taken steps to ensure that all future burials of victims of COVID-19 were conducted in line with NCDC protocols.
“Residents are therefore urged to remain calm and rest assured that the FCT Administration will continue to do all that is necessary to curtail and eventually end the spread of the coronavirus in the FCT,” the statement noted.
Also, several Nigerians on Twitter expressed outrage over the violation of social distancing. The burial was one of the topmost trends throughout Saturday.
Presidency rules out condolence visit
Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, in a statement, said well-wishers at the burial could sign a condolence register at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, adding that there would be no visit to the State House.
Shehu said, “As advised by the protocols put in place by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Federal Ministry of Health on social distancing, the burial marks the end of all ceremonies and there will be no condolence visits to family and the Presidency.”
By Gbenro Adeoye, Olufemi Atoyebi, Friday Olokor, Adelani Adepegba, Success Nwogu, Ade Adesomoju, Tobi Aworinde, Tunde Ajaja and Dayo Ojerinde