Supporting Fight against COVID-19

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Chineme Okafor hails the decision by oil companies operating in Nigeria to support the country in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 epidemic is no longer just a public health crisis, but a huge threat to the world’s economy which Nigeria is part of. Stock markets across the world have been hit hard just as prices of commodities such as crude oil have declined raising fears of a possible recession.

Indeed, demand for Nigeria’s oil – the country’s major export, will slow down as countries in Europe closedown to halt the virus. Key destinations for Nigeria’s oil – Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and the United Kingdom – have all recorded huge outbreaks which have impacts on their economies.

Based on this, relevant international organisations such as the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and International Energy Agency (IEA) have projected that resource-dependent countries like Nigeria will find it hard to cope with the decline in commodity prices.

In a joint review of the situation, the OPEC and IEA explained that the income of countries like Nigeria from oil and gas will fall by 50 per cent to 85 per cent in 2020, reaching the lowest levels in more than two decades.
This, they stated will likely have major social and economic consequences, notably for public sector spending in vital areas such as healthcare and education.

Speaking on Arise News Network on Nigeria’s situation, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, recently highlighted the need for collaboration in the country, stressing that the new wave of the virus outbreak was seen sweeping through countries in Africa, South America and South-east Asia.

“This is a new virus for which we are learning every day,” Ihekweazu said, adding that Lagos state has led through the process of halting the spread by instituting new measures to limit while the NCDC is scaling its capacity to test for new cases.

A commitment to support
Recognising the impacts of the virus on Nigeria’s economy, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) subsequently pulled together partner oil companies in the country to help in the mitigation efforts.

With its partners comprising the Oil Producers Trade Section (OPTS) of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, and Independent Petroleum Producers Group (IPPG), the corporation announced a plan – the Oil and Gas Industry Intervention Initiative on COVID-19 – to combat the epidemic and its associated impacts.

According to a booklet containing the plans of the oil companies against Covid-19, the intervention initiative will align with the existing efforts of the federal government and the NCDC to curb the pandemic.

It is reportedly aimed at supporting the country’s national healthcare delivery facilities and would focus on providing medical consumables for citizens; deploying logistics and in-patient support system as well as delivering medical infrastructure across board.

“The three thematic support initiatives amount to a total of $30 million (N11 billion) in the first phase. This phase covers the efforts by NNPC and its partners in the upstream segment of the nation’s oil and gas value chain,” said the brochure which added that the intervention will strengthen the country’s collective resolve to contain the spread of the virus.

For medical consumables, the intervention will scale up the provision of testing kits, medical protective suites, face shield and laboratory scientific kits. For logistics and in-patient support system, there will be retrofitted ambulances, ventilators, respirators and oxygen supply facilities, while makeshift intensive care facilities, ICU beds and state-of-the-art diagnostic laboratories will be built across the country’s geopolitical zones within the medical infrastructure aspect of the intervention.

In total, the intervention reportedly plans to provide 10 million surgical masks, 20,000 N95 respirator masks, 120,000 safety gloves, 20,000 protective suites and 3000 safety gloves.
Additionally, 40 retrofitted ambulances will be provided, as well as 10,000 test kits, 3000 oxygen kits, 1000 ventilators and four diagnostic laboratories.

With regards to funding, the brochure explained that 18 per cent or N1.98 billion of the projected fund will be spent on medical consumables, 22 per cent or N2.42 billion spent on logistics and 60 per cent or N6.60 billion on medical infrastructure. Each of the country’s geopolitical zone will get N1 billion for the medical infrastructure.

It equally noted that the funding will come through in-kind donations using a transparent process driven with a clear governance structure to be led by the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari.

Additionally, Katsina, Kano, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Markurdi, Enugu, Warri, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Lagos and Ibadan have been chosen to host the makeshift intensive care facilities to be constructed under the intervention.

A well-timed response
The oil sector-driven intervention against Covid-19 equally matched an advisory to the government by an expert in international energy business, Mr. Dan Kunle, who told THISDAY in an interview that it was necessary for the government to pursue collaborative efforts against the outbreak to minimise its impacts on the country.

Kunle stated then that: “This is a bad period for the whole world economy. We are faced with existential challenges and therefore oil and gas as a commodity becomes very unattractive and this is the reality.

“After the Convid-19 crisis, Nigeria along with other countries of the world, have to reset her developmental agenda which must focus on human capacity development – education, health, water, roads, electricity, deep seaports and railways.”

He further added: “The federal government of Nigeria must as a matter of national urgency which is derived from the global urgency, set-up some think-tank teams to assist in managing the looming crisis from the Convid-19 pandemic. The think-tank is to work out prevention mechanisms and curative measures the country would adopt.

“This I may imagine could involve the government inviting the Chinese to come and share their challenges and experiences as well as solutions used in the last two and a half months in their country to halt the spread of the virus.

“Because it is only China that has succeeded in working through the hell of the Convid-19 outbreak in Wuhan and today came out with minimal infection rates, Nigeria will need a group to get this engagement right in motion; even if we have to give our oil and gas in barter to get the best in terms of healthcare facilities and delivery from the Chinese.”

He noted that the capacity of Nigeria to deal with a widespread outbreak was limited because the country has limited hospital infrastructure, health workers and medicaments.
“The government will have no choice in the next foreseeable future but to embrace all the private hospitals in Nigeria for this type of emergency management,” Kunle added.

Also, contributors at a forum organised by Arise TV Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, at the weekend, lauded Nigeria’s management of COVID-19 but warned the federal government not to rest on its oars.

The panelists, comprising health practitioners around the world, among others, alerted the federal government that tougher days were ahead and how it would handle the next few weeks would determine whether or not Nigeria would be able to flatten the curve and halt the spread of the virus.

Among the contributors were the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; an entrepreneur and contractor to Obama’s White House, Mr. Alex Lightman; Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Prof. Akin Abayomi; Emeritus Professor, Chinese University, Hong Kong, Siam Griffiths; and Chairman, ANAP Foundation, Mr. Atedo Peterside.

Lightman described the country’s management of the pandemic as more organised than that of the United States.
Speaking during the global briefing on COVID-19, tagged: The Pandemic; the Frontlines, the Impact and the Road Ahead, Lightman said it took the US President Donald Trump thousands of confirmed cases before issuing a lockdown but that with less than 100 cases, the Nigerian government had done what was needed in halting the spread of the pandemic in any country.

He said: “I watched President Muhammadu Buhari’s broadcast and I think the two-week lockdown he declared in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun State is a very smart move. Nigeria is smarter than the US because we had thousands of cases before we had a lockdown. If we did this on time, things would not have been this bad in the US.

“The lockdown in Nigeria is a game-changer. If people adhere to social distancing and stay at home, the virus will not spread. This virus is a game of function, and one of the best ways against it is to halt community spread,” he added.

Abayomi said the pandemic in Lagos was expected to surge in the coming months following community spread of the virus.
He said although the predominant cases were imported, the state had started seeing community spread of the disease, describing this as the real problem.

He said: “We know person-to-person transmission is what we will now battle. That is why we have now changed our strategy, which includes ensuring people stay at home, maintain social distancing and imbibe hygiene practices like hand washing.

“So far, none of our patients has come down with serious symptoms of COVID-19. They are either asymptomatic or are having mild symptoms. It is only a matter of time before we start having serious cases, so we are preparing. We are putting all the necessary health equipment in place to address this.