As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday approved the indefinite postponement of the National Sports Festival, tagged Edo 2020, scheduled to kick off on March 22.
This is as the Federal Government has advised against social distancing as it concerns large religious and social gatherings as part of preventive measures to stop the spread of the viral disease that has killed over 7,000 worldwide since last December.
Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, announced the presidential directive after he and Minister of State for Health, Olorunimbe Mamora, met with Buhari at the State House, Abuja.
According to Dare: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development because of the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, has been in close touch and consultation with the ministry of health – particularly with both the minister of health and the minister of state, health.
“We have also being in consultation with the governor and deputy governor of Edo State, the LOC, and the MOC but we have had the Ministry of Health take the lead. Base on daily review on development, we got assurances that we could go ahead.
“But because we are dealing with a dynamic situation, this morning (Tuesday), we had a meeting at the ministry of health in the office of the minister of health with the minister of state, health present, myself, the permanent secretary and the Director-General of NCDC.
“Shortly after the meeting which lasted for about 45 minutes, we proceeded to the presidency to brief Mr President. After briefing Mr. President, Mr Presdent took the initiative and gave the directive that the National Sports Festival, christened Edo 2020 should be postponed as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19.
“A new date will be communicated late based on development around COVID-19.”
He further said that “for the benefit of the sporting community, the Ministry of Youth and Sports recognises the fact that a lot of resources, a lot of efforts on the part of our athletes has gone into preparing for Edo 2020 – 36 states and the FCT.
“But we think that staying healthy to be able to compete in not just Edo 2020 but other sports and tournaments, is very important. So the interest of the health of our sports men and women is paramount at this time.
“But beyond that, we are looking at 11,500 people in Edo State for two weeks and we think that, that is a huge number, we think that we should go by just what the Minister of State Health has said, we have done extensive review and we just want to say, we have the interest and the welfare of our sports men and women at heart and we know that not too far from now, we will be able to re-enact the festival in Edo. ”
Mamora added that although the World Health Organization (WHO) had given its guidelines especially the precautionary measure, each country still has the liberty to take decision in the best interest of that country.
He said: “we felt that in the overall interest of Nigerians and national health security, it is better to err on the side of caution and therefore, we conveyed to Mr President our thought and Mr President thereafter kindly agreed that it was best for us to have this postponement.
“One of the things that we need to give attention to in the posponment is the possibility of people carrying the virus even without knowing – what we called asymptomatic – that is they carry it but they don’t even know because they are not manifesting symptoms.
“And what we need so far is that up to 80 to 81 percent of people would either be asymptomatic – that is not showing any symptoms or where they show symptoms, the symptoms may just be mild and moderate and this is a major source of what we call community transmission.
“So the principle of social distancing has to be respected. That is preventive or advising against congregation of large number of people starting from the national sports festival which stands postponed.
“That also extends to religious gathering or any other gathering that would have a large number of people. It is not advisable at this point in time.”
Asked whether the Ministry was considering to ban all forms of religious gatherings and schools in the country, he said that “for now, the immediate issue before us is the national sports festival and our meeting with Mr. President essentially was to convey our thoughts in that regards and Mr. President did the right thing by approving the need for the postponement. But social distancing is desirable at this point in time.”