In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, the government tried to discourage interstate travels and free movement of people as part of measures to curtail the spread of the virus. Having listened to people’s pleas to ease the lockdown, it relaxed the restrictions, including the lifting of interstate travels. MOSES EMORINKEN writes that this may lead to a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases
Nigeria has been somewhat lucky in five months since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic on February 27. The country has not witnessed the kind of surge in the number of infected cases as expected, especially considering our demography.
Many countries have not been as lucky, even as they too count huge and heartbreaking numbers of deaths of their loved ones daily.
However, luck has no place in this ongoing pandemic fight that continues to numb and defy science in developing a vaccine or an effective treatment.
Stakeholders in the health sector have not relented in urging citizens to take responsibility in the face of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic because the country gradually tends towards a dramatic rise in the number of infections, which can potentially overwhelm available health facilities.
They specifically identified the total disregard for non-pharmaceutical preventive measures – wearing of face masks, corporeal distancing, avoidance of mass gatherings and hand hygiene, by individuals as potentially being a driver of a second dangerous surge in the number of cases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of flare-ups in the number of COVID-19 cases globally as countries are beginning to lift restrictions and opening up their economies in order to maintain a balance between lives and livelihood.
In an online briefing few days ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that COVID-19 infections in Africa have surpassed 500,000, and there are concerns about sharp rise in cases in countries across Africa.
It revealed that Egypt, Algeria, Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria account for nearly 71 per cent of the infection. Infected cases have more than doubled in 22 countries in the African region over the past month.
Also, confirmed cases have exceeded 160,000 daily. The WHO therefore urged countries to engage a comprehensive approach, which includes finding, isolating, testing and treating cases.
Countries which hitherto have ‘successfully’ reduced the transmission of the COVID-19 infection, hence, a drastic shrink in the number of cases; have started to record upswing in new infections.
China had earlier claimed to have defeated the virus, but have begun to record an increase in its capital city-Beijing. India has started seeing new cases of the virus days ago even after locking down the country of 1.3 billion people.
Other countries such as South Korea, Israel and Costa Rica, among others, where it appeared that the number of cases had significantly lessened, have started to also record fresh spikes in the number of cases.
Some of these countries started opening up their cinemas, retail stores, theatres and religious institutions and others.
Globally, there are 12,870,723 COVID-19 cases and 568,303 people have died – as at the time of filing this report.
During the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire told Nigerians to brace for a rise in COVID-19 cases as consequences of the ease of the lockdown. He said more cases of the virus should be expected, following the lifting of the ban on interstate travels.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu continues to emphasise that these are not just numbers but precious lives of people being cut short for a number of reasons, especially from non-compliance with safety measures either by themselves or by people around them.
In Nigeria, the number of confirmed cases stands at 31,987 and sadly, the country has lost 724 precious lives to the virus as at the time of filing this report. Still, the country is yet to reach its peak of the virus before it is expected to start experiencing a slide in the numbers.
Government, experts and other stakeholders have continued to decry the lackadaisical attitudes of people towards preventive and safety protocols such as wearing face masks, physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings and practising hand hygiene.
They have warned that should citizens continue in this irresponsible trajectory in compliance, the country might join ranks with countries experiencing a dangerous new wave and rapid resurgence in the rate of spread of the disease.
They added that more worrisome is that a sizeable number of people do not even believe that COVID-19 exists. Some believe it is just a grand conspiracy to instill fear in the people in order to loot the nation’s funds.
The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu had, during the daily briefing in Abuja on Thursdaysaid: “Many do not believe that COVID-19 is real and many think that it is a scam or a ploy to access funds meant for public welfare. Others do not believe simply because they have not seen or do not know someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.
“Our numbers are already increasing. We do not want to reach the stage that other countries are experiencing. A reasonable number of people still believe it is a disease that affects other countries but not Nigeria.
“For every one case, there are a handful of cases that we are missing because we are not able to test everybody.”
In a chat with The Nation, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) Prof. Innocent Ujah, also emphasised that Nigerians need to believe that COVID-19 is real and take responsibility for prevention and safety.
“The basic thing that we need to do is first to communicate and carry the message and use all the instruments of communication – television, radio, print, and social media.
“The National Orientation Agency (NOA) has to be up and doing. It is its duty to educate and inform the public using several means, including megaphone mounted on vehicles and move from village to village, community to community, so that people will be persuaded to believe and accept that COVID-19 is real.
“The PTF on COVID-19 needs to invest very heavily in the traditional way of communication using town criers, traditional institutions, religious leaders and other means, if they have not done so,” he said.
He added: “One of the things that I have observed which is not research binding but my own observation is that the issue of physical distancing is unlikely to work in Nigeria, unless you close down completely everything – which means shutting down the whole country and shutting down the economy. That will be a disaster because palliatives will be very difficult to come by in terms of affecting the lives of our people.
“It becomes a very big problem because even if you go to the bank, market place and in garages, you find people falling over one another. Also, the use of face masks has not been complied with. So, while the government is doing its best, Nigerians should do theirs to curb the spread of the disease.
“I pray that what happened or is happening in other more advanced countries will not happen here. This is because if it could happen to America and Europe, then ours will be a child’s play.
“There are many things that may affect compliance but I think that persuasion, awareness creation, and community engagements will be a better option at this time.”
The Chairman, Medical Sub-Committee of the COVID-19 Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee in Abuja, Dr. Ejike Orji said: “The philosophy of the disease is that people should be kept apart or they should wear masks. When people depart from those basic norms, then, they are just looking for trouble.
“You can’t blame humankind much because the disease attacks the very basic structure of human nature, which is person to person socialisation. It is not a problem if people go out, but that they do the right thing by wearing their masks, physically distance themselves from others and wash their hands with soap under running water regularly.
“What we have suggested in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is to decentralise the market so that it reduces the hustling and bustling.
“From what we hear, 50 per cent of the spread of COVID-19 is from religious houses, while the rest comes from markets and others. The problem with Nigeria is that we have not even peaked. There is low testing capacity in some states.
“A lot of states in Nigeria are still in denial and this denial is robbing them of the opportunity to know how much of the disease exists in their states. For most of the states in denial, the victims end up in Abuja to be isolated and treated.”
Dr. Orji further told The Nation that: “What we need now is massive public education and community engagement.
“Any time that we fail to do this and the number of cases overwhelms the facilities we have, people will start dying the way they’re dying in Europe and America.
“What happened in other countries was that those countries relaxed. They did the right things but they had to open their economy. But the most important thing which is public education and behavioural change did not happen very well. So, people started behaving as if nothing was going on. That is why sudden resurgence started happening and that is what is going to happen in Nigeria if there is no public education to lead to behavioural change.”
In a phone chat, the Registrar/Secretary-General of West African Post-graduate College of Medical Laboratory Science (WAPCMLS), Dr. Godswill Okara said: “Health authorities have been very particular, specific and persistent in issuing guidelines to the public. Unfortunately, the public has not been forthcoming in complying with the directives and guidelines.
“The government tried to discourage interstate travels; people are told to restrict movement until the situation is under control, but they take it as a punitive measure and do not know that all these guidelines being issued are functions of lessons learnt from past pandemic.
“The earlier the public took seriously the safety measures that the NCDC and the government have kept emphasising on, the better for us.
“It is only to be imagined if we have a massive resurgence in the outbreak; our health system will collapse completely because even the isolation centres that we have put in place will not be enough because there are complaints that the increasing number of positive cases has outstripped the bed spaces.
“We are faced with a potent danger. The bulk of the work is no longer in the hands of the government but with the people. We really need to raise the awareness of the public and appeal to them that defeating the virus involves collective responsibility.”
The WHO has advised that countries create a balance between lives and livelihoods; between protecting their people, while minimising the social and economic damage. It says countries can do both.
“At the same time, these measures can only be effective if every individual takes the measures that we also know work to protect themselves and others. Maintain physical distance, continue cleaning your hands, and wear a mask where appropriate,” it said.