Today, the world is facing a severe and acute public health emergency due to the current COVID-19 global pandemic. Seven months ago, this scenario was not foreseen and the world was certainly not prepared for it. While the pandemic is ravaging and claiming thousands of lives on daily basis, the responses of the countries in mitigating or suppressing the virus transmission differ. A study conducted by Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team shows that “in the absence of interventions, COVID-19 would result in 7.0 billion infections and 40 million deaths globally this year (2020)”. This assertion implies that without mitigation strategy to suppress transmission of Covid-19, about 90% of the world population will be infected and may result to 0.5% fatality in 2020. Lockdown is part of the strategy to curtail the infection and community transmission.
It prevents the virus infectious trajectory acquiring exponential growth. The trajectory has to be flattened. However, the lockdown is not without cost to both individuals and the nation especially in a developing country like Nigeria.
This is a country where millions of citizens live by daily income; they have to move out on daily basis to earn a living. How expensive is the lockdown? How long should we continue with the lockdown?
The question on how expensive is the lockdown is better imagine when one considers the closure of schools, hospitality industry, grounding of airlines, commercial transportation, markets many other important businesses in the country. As mentioned in my last week article, the effect of Covid-19 on the economy in Nigeria is alarming. The result of the study conducted by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) during the first one and half months of the lockdown in Nigeria is very disturbing. The lockdown declined the GDP by 38%, increased National poverty Rate by 15% and brought in additional 30 million people below the poverty line (IFPRI, May 2020). The last two months experience of partial lockdown is worrisome. Should people continue to observe the lockdown while impoverishing and threaten by hunger or risk of going out to be infected by Covid-19? Perhaps, this is a Devil’s alternative.
Relaxing the lockdown is highly risky and continuing with lockdown would have devastating effect on the economy. So, we must find a way of relaxing the lockdown while learning to live with Covid-19. It is not like the virus is going very soon as the search for the vaccines is predicted to reach 2021 or thereabout. People would learn to live with the virus instead of unending lockdown as a preventive measure having produced no vaccines or cure for the virus. A Special Envoy to World Health Organization (WHO) and Director-General on Convid-19, Dr. David Nabarro expressed similar opinion. He was quoted “This virus is going to be with us for the foreseeable future and nobody wants to go having lockdowns as we have at the moment. We have all got to learn to live with this virus, to do our business with this virus in our presence, to have social relations with this virus in our presence and not to be continuously having to be in lockdown because of the widespread infections that can occur”(https://carlumegboro.com/). Can the economy and the social well being in Nigeria withstand complete lockdown up to 2021?
Some countries have already relaxed their lockdown after making their virus infectious trajectories flattened and started descending. Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria are among the European countries ending the lockdown. However, it was not a complete return to normality in these countries, people were made to mandatory wear masks outdoors, and observe social distancing in addition to other measures. In Nigeria, we should begin to think of relaxing the lockdown while adopting a high level strategy to curtail the virus. We need full and willing participation of people, a high level of organization within communities, public health services as well as COVID-Ready hospitals and other health care units to freely relax the lockdown. Thus, the strategy to adopt may include but not limited to the followings:
Mount a massive campaign and sensitization of general public on the Covid-19, infection process, symptoms and the consequences of infections.
This should be done in local languages for clarity. As at now, many Nigerians do not believe there is Covid-19 cases in Nigeria, some are even alleging that state governments are using Covid-19 issue to make money either for their states or personal gains. NCDC should improve in communicating to Nigerians on their daily issuance numbers of confirmed cases, discharges and deaths. Can’t they add pictorial evidences of Covid-19 patients and hospitals where such patients are being treated? NCDC communication strategy is rather poor and needs serious enhancement to assure Nigerians that Covid-19 pandemic is a matter of life and death concerning everyone of us.
Massive increase of nation capacity to trace, track and test all suspected Covid-19 cases nationwide, once a confirmed Covid-19 positive case is found, all contacts in the last few days should be traced and tested for further action. At the time of writing this piece (30/5/2020), only 60,825 samples were tested for a population of over 200 million people
Number of isolation centers must be multiplied to at least one per senatorial district, if not each LGA, provision of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to fully kit health personnel and necessary drugs must be readily available at all isolation centers in adequate quantities.
Compulsory wearing of mask outdoors and making each household to have provision for hands washing facilities and hand sanitizers at the entry of houses, schools, markets, shops, restaurants. Each public place should have temperature gun for use to prevent people with high body temperature entery. Social and physical distances of individuals must be imposed while suspending events that assemble people such as marriages, naming ceremonies, etc. Alternatively, few people can be allowed to conduct such gatherings while observing all necessary rules of preventing community transmission of the virus.
Lastly, we should leverage on the use of ICT tool to track down suspected Covid-19 cases. Governments of Norway, South Korea and Singapore are already using voluntary virus-tracking App that alerts users if they have been in contact with someone suspected of carrying the virus, as well to infection hotspots. This App will certainly be handy and very useful tool to Nigerian people as a guide to identify and avoid suspected virus carrier or infection hotspots.
Nigeria cannot afford to continue with lengthy or seemingly an endless lockdown at the expense of national productivity and impoverishment of people. As rightly observed by an ace columnist, Hassan Gimba in his Column “The Arbiter” published by Blueprint, a national Newspaper a week ago “our lockdown is a joke as people go about their businesses in many areas as if nothing is at stake. ….the police cannot map out a comprehensive strategy of enforcing the lockdown. Even if they can, they lack the manpower to do so. And as is happening, in some instances, they compromised or use excessive force such that, at a time, those killed by security agents surpassed those killed by the dreaded disease. In many areas in towns purportedly under lockdown, it is business as usual, perhaps knowing you are on your own because “palliatives” are just for publicity; therefore, governments’ hope of flattening the curve may not be achieved. Now, when you put this side by side with the stoppage of production, then we may inadvertently find ourselves in serious trouble.”
In conclusion, as I am advocating the relaxation of the lockdown, it is important to make people learn how to live with the virus until the pandemic is over. Equally important, Nigerian authority should pay special attention to few prominent Nigerians who claim to find curative treatment or vaccines to Covid-19. We should not underrate or lookdown on the ingenuity and innovative capacity of our fellow citizens. Many renowned professors such as Prof. Haruna Kaita of Ahmadu Bello University and Professor Maduike Ezebe of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike among others have claimed to find treatments for Covid-19 patients. They should be fully supported to transform their claims to reality. Who knows, Nigeria may emerge as a solution provider to the world of Covid-19 Pandemic.