COVID-19: Beyond Pandemic Lockdown, By Akeem Nafiu
POLITICS DIGEST – It was like a child’s play when the Chinese government on 31st December, 2019, alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) to several cases of ‘unusual pneumonia’ in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province.
The ‘unusual pneumonia’ was said to have infected workers at the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
The market was subsequently shut down on 1st January, 2020.
Amidst growing alarm, the World Health Organization (WHO) later found out that the ‘unusual pneumonia’ belonged to the coronavirus family.
Since January 11, 2020, when China announced a 61-year-old man who had purchased goods from the seafood market as its first fatality from coronavirus, reports of death incidents owing to the disease have been mounting from almost all the countries of the world.
As many countries across the world are infected, the outbreak of coronavirus also codenamed COVID-19 was later declared as pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). More than half a million people are currently infected with the virus globally with close to 30,000 deaths.
The first case of COVID-19 in the country was announced by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on 27th February, 2000. The victim was an Italian who came into Nigeria from Milan. He was in Nigeria for almost two full days travelling through Lagos and visiting Ogun State before he was isolated.
The case has prompted a scramble by authorities in Africa’s most populous country who are now trying to trace everyone who arrived on the same flight as the patient and identify the places he visited before going to the hospital.
The Italian, whose country is the worst-hit in Europe by the coronavirus outbreak, arrived on 24th February, 2020 on a Turkish Airlines flight that had a connection in Istanbul.
After spending the night in a hotel near the airport, he arrived in the neighbouring state of Ogun on 25th February, 2020 at his place of work. He stayed there until he developed a fever and body aches on the afternoon of February 26.
Health practitioners with his company then contacted biosecurity authorities, who transferred him to a containment facility in Yaba, Lagos State.
The infection was confirmed on February 27 by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
Since the announcement of the first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria on February 27, the incident of infections has been on the increase across the country with Lagos State being the epicenter of the disease.
As at the morning of 27th March, 2020, a period of a month, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Nigeria has risen to 81. Three of the victims were said to have recovered from the disease while there was one death.
A breakdown of the cases across states in the country shows that Lagos has recorded 52 cases while the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, has 14 cases. Ogun and Oyo States have three cases each while Bauchi, Edo and Enugu have two cases each. On the other hand, Ekiti, Osun and Rivers States have one case each.
Owing to the pandemic nature of the disease, the Federal and the State Governments announced several measures aimed at curtailing its spread.
Expressing the Federal Government’s resolve to tackle the menace headlong, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said: “We are determined to be more aggressive in enforcing the measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus. Time is running out. We have a short window within which to stop this pandemic or face an explosion in terms of the cases. We cannot afford to be complacent.”
A major step taken by the Federal Government in containing the spread of the virus was banning of all flights from countries mostly hit by the deadly disease. Thirteen countries of the world were affected by the ban. They are: China, Japan, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, Iran, France, Norway, South Korea and Germany.
State governments were also not left out as they also rolled out measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. These included closure of schools, markets and shopping malls. Civil servants below level 13 were also asked to stay away from work.
Many state governments also banned public gatherings and other social events in their bids to ensure the fast spreading of the disease is halted.
However, amidst all the measures by the Federal and the State Governments, cases of infection by the deadly virus have been on the increase with many citizens thinking towards a total lockdown of the country.
However, some senior lawyers have been sharing their thoughts on what should be done by the Federal Government beyond the idea of a total lockdown of the country.
The lawyers while speaking on the issue at the weekend lamented government’s delay in responding to the threat posed by the deadly virus.
They, however, believed all hope was not lost as long as government remained focused.
In his comments, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, asked the Federal Government immediately commence the building of medical facilities across the country.
He said: “Government should promptly commence building of medical facilities across the country.”
Another silk, Dr. Biodun Layonu, wants the Federal Government to acquire more testing kits and also commence local production of hand sanitizers in large quantity.
“It’s expensive but testing as recommended by World Health Organization (WHO) is very key. It’s the lack of testing that’s keeping the confirmed figure down. Immediate manufacture of local content sanitizers should also be undertaken by government.
“What I would love to see apart from ensuring that isolation centres are available everywhere is a lot more awareness to make Nigerians realize that the menace is not a joke. You will be shocked about the utterances of some educated people. Some of their views and opinions on social media give me a lot of concerns.
“Anybody can get it irrespective of status, particularly as long as you are in contact with other people. It has nothing to do with faith, colour, age or status in the society. So, I think we should take this issue, a lot more serious”, the silk said.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson, regretted what he described as collapse of leadership by the federal Government.
He said: “When things are normal it is easy to hide the mediocrity and incompetence in government. It is crisis that lays bare the weakness. Over weeks of ranging from arrogant and indifferent silence to floundering, except from the LAGOS state government, the collapse of leadership in our federal Government has increased anxiety and endangered lives. “There is no plan for internal security in the face of imminent civil strife. There is no organised deployment of resources for continuity of government. There is no credible plan for economic recovery.
“There is no plan for distribution of food or health care. There is no plan for public enlightenment after the storm of this virus hits us. The president is absent and the government is prostrate.
“The vision of a tongue-tied health Minister and the minister of information dressed for a festival in a splendid pure white agbada is the picture of utter governmental failure.
“What I think should be done by government now is to appoint an intelligent individual at the head of a panel of experts in epidemiology; public health; law and order and National security; economy and finance; community organisation and communications and act upon their plan to survive a rampant pandemic.”
A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, want government to ensure availability of enough medical facilities to take care of those infected with the deadly virus.
“The government was not proactive initially and that why we are where we are today. And now that we are here, the government needs to work assiduously to ensure that enough facilities are available to take care of the infected people.
“Government should work hard for people to see that it is really combating the epidemic rather than the unnecessary noise in the media aimed at scoring cheap political mark that helps nobody. Let efforts, cohesion and effective collaborative measures be deployed and utilised to the fullest.
“Now they are thinking of bringing retired health personnel on board. The question to ask is how better have they treated the current health workers?
“I am sorry to say that government at all levels is not serious at all in this regard. This is because attending to cases of this nature is like jumping to a burning bush or trying to catch a snake with bare hands.
“This is the enormity of the risk involved to the various health workers. Therefore, there is the compelling need to make adequate provision for their welfare and emoluments. This apart, government should insure their lives with very high premiums so they if any of them dies in the process, he would be sure that there will be something for his dependants to fall back on. “Anything short of this is a joke and big risk to the health workers who may not be willing to do the job well because to who little is given little should also be expected”.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Ige Asemudara, suggested a marathon construction of isolation centres that have the highest hygienic standard with the best medical facilities.
“The situation is sad. We had great opportunity to be pro-active. We chose to be reactive. This is a reactionary one. I expected that our international airport should have been closed down before the first case in Nigeria.
“We were waiting for the disaster to happen. Buhari daughter was abroad, they wanted her back before closing the airport. They wanted some of our Senators abroad back before closing the airports.
“The facilities here are poor. Buhari has had four year. The fifth one is here already; there is no improvement in the health sector. How do we now deal with this emergency?
“I suggest that a marathon construction of isolation centres that have the highest hygienic standard with the best medical facilities that we can afford should be undertaken immediately. Nigeria airspace should be completely shut down i.e. local flights should be stopped too. All passenger buses in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Kaduna should be stopped. No gathering of up to ten persons should be allowed.
“Now, the government must immediately assemble the best of our scientists; pharmacists, chemists, doctors, virologists, pathologists and related scientists including herbalists to immediately begin in depth research on how to get a good solution to the COVID-19 virus.
“It is the duty of government to pay all public servants during this period whether they work or not. Additionally, government should immediately make provisions for other Nigerians who have been denied their daily sustenance as a result of this avoidable nuisance that is harassing everybody”, he said.
Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi also called for the setting up of as many isolation centers as possible to address the ugly trend.
He said: “The Federal Government should fund as many isolation centres as possible and supply as many test kits as possible and encourage our politicians to do the same, because when elections come around now they supply so many bags of rice, kegs of vegetable oil and the likes. Let them demonstrate their love for the citizens they procure votes from.”