Responding to The COVID-19 Pandemic

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The authorities could do more to contain the transmission of the viral disease

The signs are ominous. The number of Nigerians infected with COVID-19, the deadly viral disease that has become a global pandemic, jumped from less than 20 at the beginning of last week to almost a hundred by last night, according to figures from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Aside Lagos where the first index case was recorded and Abuja, the virus has spread to no fewer than 10 other states.

That there has been a spike in the number of cases was not unexpected. Indeed, it is significantly low by global standards, which leads to the conclusion that far many Nigerians may have contracted the virus without knowing. The receipt during the week of donation of medical supplies from Chinese businessman and CEO of Ali Baba, Mr Jack Ma, has helped to increase the country’s testing capacity for the virus and experts are projecting that the number of infected people could rise to 39,000 in Lagos State unless the restrictive measures put in place are observed without fail. The same could be said for many other states.

However, as governors announce a lockdown in their states, the greatest challenge will come from keeping people at home in a country where, according to the United Nations projection, about 80 per cent of citizens earn incomes from the informal sector or in “vulnerable employment”. Commendably, the Lagos State government has plans, and they are increasingly being enforced. Besides asking people to stay at home, and ordering the closure of offices and shops, except those offering essential services like medicine stores and food, the state government has announced some stimulus package for many of the downtrodden.

We consider this very significant and we hope the entire nation is conscripted into the plan. It will determine the measure of success of the war against the spread of the disease. The reality of the Nigeria situation is that even before the advent of Covid-19, many people could hardly eat a good meal a day. Millions are jobless while many of the employed are not paid living wages, hardly leaving any room for savings. Others get their daily living from the streets. It is thus significant that they are provided for in these testy times. That’s the only way to keep them at home, and from endangering their lives and millions of others.

It is noteworthy that many of the people who have tested positive to the virus in our country, as it is all over the world, are prominent people in the public sector. That has helped to destigmatise the disease. To mitigate the impact of COVID-19, there is now a campaign on hand hygiene, safe cough practice, and social distancing. However, despite the indisputable evidence for the efficacy of alcohol-based hand rubs, the fact that many reside in congested areas in cities like Lagos where the first index case occurred and has since been the epicentre is a challenge. Another challenge which is national is the dearth of healthcare workers with appropriate training and personal protective equipment to deal with the pandemic. To compound the challenge, the United States seems to be encouraging from Nigeria and other Third World countries brain drain at a very critical moment by seeking to hire international medical staff to handle the increasing number of coronavirus cases in their country.

That Nigeria is going through a difficult period as a result of the CODIV-19 pandemic is no longer in doubt but there are gaps in the manner we are dealing with it. Although schools have been shut, churches and mosques have been ordered closed while restrictions have been placed on international travels to and from our country, the response from the authorities still appears to be episodic and ad hoc. While the level of awareness on some of the risk factors is now high across the country, more can still be done, especially in dispelling baseless rumours, discouraging unhelpful practices and generally rolling out measures that will help contain the virus.

We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to take ownership by leading the efforts from the front.

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Millions of Nigerians are jobless while many of the employed are not paid living wages, hardly leaving any room for savings. Others get their daily living from the streets. It is thus significant that they are provided for in these testy times. That’s the only way to keep them at home