The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), has continued to appear in meetings without wearing face masks.
The most recent of such appearances was during the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, where everyone except Mr. President wore face masks.
Again, on April 10, Buhari was the only person who did not wear a mask when officials of the Presidential Task Force on Control of COVID-19 held a meeting with him in Abuja.
Also, in a picture dated April 11 featuring him and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while his deputy had a mask on, the President didn’t wear one.
It may be recalled that, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria, the Federal Government had mandated the use of face masks or coverings in public.
The National Agency for Disease Control also advises the use of face masks “as an additional layer of physical distancing” to help block the spread of the respiratory droplets from person to person.
The overall goal is to curb community transmission of COVID-19, NCDC says, as COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
Indeed, the National Council for Arts and Culture on Monday, April 27, said it would launch a campaign to create awareness on how wearing face masks in public will help to contain COVID-19 spread.
NCAC Director-General, Mr. Olusegun Runsewe, in Abuja said the campaign would adhere strictly to the social and physical distancing rules.
“The focal agenda of the council now is to launch a nationwide campaign to encourage Nigerians to brace up for the use of face masks in public places,” the federal agency had said.
Experts had warned that older people are at highest risk from COVID-19, even when everyone must act to prevent community spread.
The World Health Organisation Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, said though the majority of those who are infected with COVID-19 have “a self-limiting infection and do recover,” a minority go on to suffer more severe diseases, with 10 per cent of cases requiring intensive care unit admission, noting, “sadly, some patients will pass away.”
Continuing, Kluge warned, “Older adults are at a significantly increased risk of severe disease following infection from COVID-19.”
In Europe, for instance, over 95 per cent of coronaviruus-related deaths occurred in those older than 60 years. President Buhari is 77 years old.
Kluge noted that more than 50 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths were people aged 80 years or older.
“We also know from reports that eight out of 10 deaths are occurring in individuals with at least one underlying co-morbidity, in particular those with cardiovascular diseases/hypertension and diabetes, but also with a range of other chronic underlying conditions,” Kluge added.
The President had battled undisclosed illness, for which he travels to the United Kingdom for medical consultations.
In 2017, he spent 104 days in Britain, while VP Osinbajo acted as president.
The President was feared to have been exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic after his then Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, and three state governors – Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna); Seyi Makinde (Oyo); and Bala Muhammed (Bauchi) — tested positive for the pandemic.
Kyari, 67, who is believed to have had a history of medical complications, including diabetes, succumbed to the pandemic and was buried on April 18, a day after his demise.
All the governors, however, recovered fully from their infection; and presidential sources said on March 24 that Buhari had tested negative for the viral contagion.
According to Kluge, a family physician and infectious disease expert before his WHO appointment, some of the reasons older people are greatly impacted by COVID-19 include the physiological changes associated with ageing, decreased immune function and multi-morbidity which make older adults to be more susceptible to the infection itself and make them more likely to suffer severely from COVID-19 disease and more serious complications.
Experts, however, note that age is not the only risk for severe disease.
“The very notion that COVID-19 only affects older people is factually wrong, as young people are not invincible.
“Ten to 15 per cent of people under 50 have moderate to severe infection.
“Severe cases of the disease have been seen in people in their teens or 20s, with many requiring intensive care and some, unfortunately, passing away,” Kluge said.
On a positive note, there are reports of people over the age of 100 who were admitted to hospital for COVID-19 and have now made complete recovery.
On Wednesday, Lagos State discharged a 98-year-old woman who had undergone treatment in one of its isolation centres, becoming the oldest COVID-19 patient in the state — if not in Nigeria.
However, physicians say it is becoming clearer that the healthier an individual was before the pandemic plays a crucial role.
“People who age healthily are less at risk,” they said.
Speaking to our Correspondent, a Professor of Public Health and former National Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Prof. Tanimola Akande, said the President must have been properly advised by his doctors and he is also well-informed about the preventive measures.
“Sometimes, when you are in your home, you don’t need to wear a face mask.
“When you are interacting with people, then there are chances of being infected, which is common when you go outside your place, then you need to protect yourself,” Akande said.
Continuing, he noted, when you are in your air-conditioned car, you don’t need to put on a face mask if you are alone, but once you are exposed to someone else, then you need to put on your face mask.”
Akande said Buhari might be thinking that the people around him are not likely to infect him because he strongly thinks those people do not have any form of COVID-19.
“Usually, before you can access somebody to that level, you must have been well-screened.
“Those people are not in the kind of environment that you and I will be, that are readily exposed.
“So, people who see the President must have been well-screened; but, ideally, it is good not to take chances at all,” Akande said.
Again, a public health physician and sustainable development consultant, Dr. Laz Eze said the recommendation of the Federal Ministry of Health was that everyone should wear a mask when leaving the home or going to public spaces or gathering.
“Many of us don’t wear mask inside our sitting room or office and it doesn’t expose one to much risk as long as all other prevention measures are observed.
“Mr. President is in his office. He is apparently COVID-19 negative.
“His visitors must have done temperature screening, washed their hands, used sanitisers and put on masks.
“They also sit meters apart. I don’t see any risk of transmission in that room from my observation,” Eze, who also doubles as the Country Coordinator of the West African Network of Emerging Leaders in Health Policy and Systems, said.
He noted that what the mask does essentially is to prevent the spread of the virus from a symptomatic COVID-19 patient to non-infected persons.
“Assuming that someone has the virus and coughs, the mask protects the next person from getting huge loads of the virus, especially if the person doesn’t maintain physical distancing.
“Masks reduce the amount of the infected cough droplets in a symptomatic COVID-19 patient that could get into surfaces or air in the public space.
“It works with other preventive measures, especially in a public place where the status of people are not known.
“However, if the president comes out to perform an official function in the public, he must wear a mask,” Eze submitted.