Hon. Dr. Enefiok Edem
As the Federal government of Nigeria makes plans to mediate between managing the local economy and fighting the spread of the on-going and merciless Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it became pertinent as well as an urgent close call for the government; it can’t afford to pay citizens to stay at home like developed countries are doing, therefore to avert mass hunger-related deaths and crimes, tough and unpleasant decisions must be made.
All these have necessitated the gradual opening of the economy in key states like Lagos, Ogun and the city of Abuja following a 5-week lockdown. From the 4th of May, the sub-epicentre of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria – Lagos State will witness ease in movements while interstate lockdown remains intact for at least one more week.
The spread of Coronavirus is still rife in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. In fact, the cases have surged and grossed 2,300 and above, despite the lockdown. In one week starting from the 23rd of April, Nigeria added approximately 1,000 new cases. This makes the outcome of the ease of movement so predictable. The cases nationwide will certainly witness a spike. The spread is thus far from its peak as the Commissioner for Health in Lagos State, Professor Akin Abayomi averred in one of his interviews.
The indices are quite worrisome in major states of some geopolitical zones in Nigeria. Abayomi also claimed that one in every five persons with respiratory ailments in Lagos is battling with Coronavirus. The death rate in Kano has continued unabated amid all perceived cover-up by the state government. The transmission rate of the virus in the state is conservatively pegged at 80% for now. Other places like Abuja, Ogun, Borno and Kaduna are showing signs of a strong network of community spread as Nigeria fail to test to optimum level or even explore local solutions like Madagascar did with herbs.
Social distancing has been difficult to observe all over the world, as it’s an aberration to the nature of human beings. Most Nigerians have also flouted the lockdown rules due to reasons associated with economic survival, sheer ignorance, stubbornness and gross disregard for law and order. Ultimately, testing is the greatest challenge of not only Nigeria but most African countries due to lack of test kits and the market forces of demand and supply. All these factors and more have contributed to the continued spread of the disease in Nigeria.
Almost all the 36 states have recorded cases and Kano has dramatically taken the epicentre from Lagos State.
When the planned ease of movement is in effect, the disease will easily become transferable. The guidelines set by state governments specifically in Lagos and other states will be grossly abused. There will be a challenge in the area of policy enforcement. The resultant effect will be a gradual roll-back of the earlier gains made by the government in battling the dreadful disease. It has happened abroad and it will certainly Nigeria will not be an exception.
When Ghana prematurely eased restrictions on movements immediately following their lockdown, it recorded an extra 1,000 cases within a week. When Germany did, thousands of new cases emerged. The same story also applied to Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Spain, and even Hong Kong which initially had good records of containment of the COVID-19 respiratory disease.
Two factors will help the virus to spread easily across some key states in Nigeria. Public transport systems and office environments are to be watched. The fact remains that the city of Lagos is overcrowded and overburdened. The public facilities are being strained by the influx of people seeking economic revival. Early in the morning, they flood bus stops in a bid to visit their various workplaces and businesses within and in the outskirts of the city. They are cramped up in rickety vehicles run by greedy transporters, seeking to make megabucks with poor measures. Most people can hardly breathe well in such vehicles. It’s hard for commuters to board and could even be more difficult to alight from them in most cases. Wearing face-masks in areas where the ventilation is already poor is like being gradually suffocated to death. This will prompt people to take the face-masks off at regular intervals to catch fresh air and from there, they might go off guard.
Most offices and shops in Lagos also lack decent spaces. They are set up to personally accommodate more than necessary. Too many people share the same facilities like the bathroom, kitchen, ATM points and the rest. The relentless potent virus will ultimately seize this opportunity to spread effortlessly amongst them at every sheer display of laxity. After losing its position to Kano State on two consecutive occasions, recording 80 and above 100 cases respectively, many thought Lagos was already ‘flattening the curve’ as they expected a further slow in infection rate on the 2nd of May. Instead, the number just jumped up again higher as Kano was only suspiciously missing from the list. The death rate in Nigeria is also growing rapidly as the figure 100 is barely in sight.
Many will claim the reopening of the local economy isn’t total, but the ease in the human movement at state levels will most certainly create the capacity to grant the disease an even spread across all local districts. We can only pray that the predicaments of severely hit countries like the U.S, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Iran and others will not befall Nigeria. We don’t only lack the financial capability to combat the pandemic as crude oil sales is faring badly at the global market. Nationwide, our deplorable healthcare facilities are almost sicker than the Coronavirus patients (my apology). Risk-takers moving around from the 4th of May will have to rely on God, luck and their immune systems, therefore excessive caution on a personal note to avoid the disease, cannot be over-emphasized. It is also our sincere and collective prayers that the prediction of Melinda Gates about ‘dead bodies are littering the streets in Africa’ due to the scourge of the Coronavirus doesn’t come true as predicted.
A few things are certain; the number of cases per day will witness a significant jump and might even hit four digits. Our present Isolation facilities will be grossly overwhelmed, more personnel will be needed as a significant percentage of the caregivers will be exposed to the virus, more PPEs and on a scary note – more ventilators which have not been procured will be sadly needed. Most of the states will be looking up to a helpless ASO Rock for help which may not be available as a result of confusion and lack of a focused leadership at the center/NCDC.
International assistance and cooperation will become stagnated, as other countries will be managing their own crisis in the era of supplies shortfall and even the possibility of receiving contaminated supplies which is a clog in the wheels of effectively fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in most countries.
Our leaders at this juncture will be seriously hit with the reality that our Healthcare System and Services should have been strengthened, well-equipped hospitals built as against our elites and politicians constantly travelling abroad for routine medical care. Almost all International borders are now closed and all countries are relying on their own investment in the field of healthcare.
Retrospectively, the overall impacts of Post COVID-19 pandemic Nigeria will serve as a wakeup call on the Nigerian government to make available all necessary infrastructure that will seriously improve as well as place our health care in an ever-ready gear so that any other global mishap will not catch us off-guard as it is happening with COVID-19. May God’s grace be sufficiently available to all Nigerians and the global community as this pandemic continues to take its tragic toll on humanity.
Hon. Dr. Enefiok Edem, JP is an ace medical expert based in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. Former Special Assistant to the Governor of Akwa Ibom State on Projects; Fellow, American Society of Clinical Pathologists; Mkpisong to Oku Ibom Ibibio Land