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Covid-19: Not yet uhuru for Lagos, Ogun, Abuja

Nigeria has moved into a new phase in its fight against the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, with the easing of the lockdown imposed on Lagos and Ogun states and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja).

President Muhammadu Buhari had to bow to pressure from the populace by relaxing the restrictions on movement within the two states and Abuja because artisans and other Nigerians in the informal sector had temporarily lost their means of livelihood and were clamouring for a relaxation of the directive to allow them to go out and earn their livelihood.

But, it is not yet uhuru, as Nigeria faces a stiff battle in the months to come, to restore normalcy in all aspects of life. After the relaxation of the movement restriction order, the Lagos State Government has taken a number of steps to ensure that residents adhere to laid down regulations, to curb the spread of the virus.

For instance, the state which is the epicentre of Covid-19 infection in the country has rolled out guidelines for different sectors of the economy to follow.

But, with the return of commercial buses, popularly known as danfo on the roads on Monday, it was business as usual, as the operators did not adhere to the guidelines released by the Lagos State Ministry of Transport.

For instance, indications were that operators of commercial buses popularly known as danfo flouted the ministry’s guidelines on the first day after the restriction order was relaxed.

Most danfo buses were said to be carrying full load of passengers, contrary to the guidelines that they should only carry two passengers on a row.

Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Dr. Frederic Oladeinde, had directed that danfo buses should not carry passengers beyond 60 per cent of their capacity, which translates to eight passengers, two on a row; instead of the regular 14 passengers. He had also instructed tricycle operators to carry just two at the back.

Besides, some commuters were not wearing face masks. Even during the lockdown in Lagos, the number of cars on the roads kept increasing on a daily basis, as residents went about their businesses as if they did not believe that Coronavirus is real. At this stage, experts say the cooperation of the populace is required to curb the spread of the virus.

The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) believes the Federal Government was too quick to relax the lockdown and that more Nigerians would be exposed to the Covid-19 infection because the authorities spearheading the fight against the spread of the virus are yet to get a grip on it.

In a statement by its President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, the association said Nigeria could experience a sharp increase in the number of Coronavirus cases as health workers are grappling with numerous challenges like lack for bed spaces, particularly in Lagos, and delay in the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to public and private hospitals, among other challenges.

Dr. Faduyile said it is instructive that the incidence of the Covid-19 reached 2000 last weekend, just seven days after hitting the 1000th mark. He added: “It figuratively tilts the epidemiological curve towards an upward spike. More so, the revelation by the NCDC that the nation lacks bed spaces in Lagos worsens this frightening scenario.

The confusing situation in Kano is neither unraveled nor resolved. At the same time, some states continue to live in the delusion of zero Covid-19 incidences. The easing of the lockdown even in phases is very premature.

“Instead, the association believes that agencies of state should intensify efforts through mass enlightenment campaigns beyond current attempts to explain the dangers inherent in easing the lockdown prematurely in the face of rising infection rates; and also for the palliatives to reach the needy.”

Similarly, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Caucus in the House of Representatives has condemned the decision to relax the lockdown in the two states and the FCT, saying the move could be catastrophic.

In a statement by Kingsley Chinda, the leader of the caucus, the group said relaxing the lockdown at a time the number of infected persons is going up is worrisome because the government does not appear prepared to tackle the pandemic.

Chinda said: “It is very apparent that the government is clearly more concerned about the economic benefits of opening an already weak and ailing economy, than the preservation of human life. This is no doubt a very callous, insensitive and most unfortunate response from the Federal Government.

Available evidence from the NCDC show that Nigeria is far from winning the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, as even within the lockdown, rather than reduce, the casualty rate and the number of those tested positive for the virus has been increasing on a daily basis.”

But, the NCDC, which superintends Nigeria’s battle against Covid-19 infection is not under any illusion that the battle has been won and it does not envisage the country returning to normalcy until next year. It’s Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu said the country is faced with a difficult reality that will take some time to go away.

He said: “Every country is right now looking at the same challenge and how to get us back to some level of normalcy, but the reality is that we are going to live with Covid-19 for the next year at the very least.

So, we have to start thinking about how to live safely with Covid-19, and you know some of the changes we would have to make are actually good things to have forever; the emphasis on hand washing, sanitizers, and respiratory hygiene. My goal as the leader of the NCDC is that we continue this forever.”

The director-general believes there is need to change attitude and behaviours to win the battle. He said the tendency to indulge in mass gatherings will be a big challenge, but that it is imperative to change such habits.

His words: “Every business, every church, every religious gathering of any form, social gatherings, weddings, we really have to rethink how we do this in the short term.

It’s a sacrifice we have to make as a people, as a country, to get over this. It will be a challenging time, but this a sacrifice we would have to pay – we are not alone in this; even the countries we looked up to are facing the same challenges; there is no easy solution.”

He said despite the inherent limitations, now is the time to rebuild the country by seeking for indigenous ways to solve the problem.

The NCDC faces a number of challenges in the fight. The number of infected persons has been going up on a daily basis. This suggests that the number of persons that have so far tested positive for the virus may not reflect the reality of the problem.

A lack of testing capacity makes it hard to know the full extent of the transmission of the virus. According to data from the NCDC, Nigeria, a country of nearly 200 million people, has managed to test 13,689 persons in five weeks of lockdown, as at April 29.

In contrast, Ghana, a country of 31 million, and South Africa with 59 million people have conducted over 100,000 and 200,000 testing respectively as at April 29.

Nigeria’s policy is one of targeted testing. This involves identifying those who are most likely to be infected, namely those who have just come back from other countries and those they have been in contact with. Different countries are pursuing different strategies when it comes to testing Covid-19.

The World Health Organisation (WHO)  supports a policy of widespread testing. But experts say policies around the world vary and there seem to be arguments in support of the different approaches — largely due to supplies, shortages and priorities.

It also depends on what stage that country has reached in the pandemic curve and its level of preparedness. There are tests for the virus itself and also one to indicate the level of immunity of the individual concerned.

The Nigerian authorities probably know the dangers associated with the relaxation of the lockdown, but we’re compelled by the prospects of hunger threatening the populace.

The flip side of the argument is that going into lockdown like the rest of the world may also not be the best approach because the virus may continue to spread, even when there is a movement restriction order in place.

This is because a large percentage of the population live in cramped and crowded accommodation, without clean water and reliable electricity; making hand washing a challenge and working from home impossible.

A rigorous policy of mass testing of suspected persons,  it is said, is the best approach because asking people with mild symptoms just to stay home will lead to more infections in the household and the community. This is because it is better to isolate infected persons as soon as possible to prevent the spreading of the virus.

But, the NCDC appears to be handicapped in this regard. For instance, the agency is also currently “struggling” for bed spaces for the treatment of Covid-19 patients, particularly in Lagos, which has the highest number of persons infected by coronavirus in the country.

Speaking the briefing of the presidential task force on Covid-19 recently, Dr. Ihekweazu said efforts are being made to change the agency’s strategy in order not to allow the inadequate bed spaces affect the fight against Coronavirus.

He said: “Lagos is the only place where we are struggling with bed spaces for now. We will always tell Nigerians the truth. We are struggling with bed spaces in Lagos for now.”

The upsurge in the number of Covid-19 cases in places like Kano and Borno states in the north is an indication that the spread of the virus has entered a new phase. As at March, Kano had no single case, but on April 11, a former ambassador who had recently visited the United Kingdom became the first case in the state.

He had attended Jumat service while awaiting for his Coronavirus test result. As at last Sunday, Kano had overtaken Abuja to emerge as the second epicentre of the virus, after Lagos, with 313 cases.

The Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 has indicated that 80 per cent of the tests carried out in Kano so far came out positive. A member of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Prof. Isah Abubakar, said Kano would require no fewer than 5,000 bed spaces in the next one month to accommodate the rising cases of Covid-19 patients.

The head of the team sent to Kano by President Buhari, Dr. Nasiru Gwarzo said the state has a high rate of community transmission.

He said: “This is a serious situation which needs a collective effort to address. The case of the pandemic has gone beyond people’s imagination, as it has gone to community transmission. What we are afraid of in this pandemic is what is happening.

It has left the first stage of entering the country, it has left the second stage and has entered the third stage of community transmission. The is not news that will be palatable to the public, but like a Hausa proverb says, ‘on the day you are to take a bath, you cannot hide your navel.'”

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