Martins Ifijeh and Dike Onwuamaeze
Leaders of the Organised Private Sector (OPS), the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and a former President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mr. Olumide Akintayo, have expressed divergent views on the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to relax the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states.
Buhari, in a broadcast on Monday, had said the lockdown would be relaxed effective May 4 and that other measures would be put in place to halt community spread of COVID-19.
While NMA and Akintayo said the gradual relaxation of the lockdown would fuel community spread of the disease, OPS described the president’s decision as a welcome development.
President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Mr. Mansur Ahmed, said the decision to gradually wind down the lockdown was a step in the right direction, because the economic cost of any further extension on businesses would be unbearable.
Ahmed said a continued lockdown might lead to the death of some companies, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises, which would not be able to come back to business again, thus further worsening unemployment in the country.
He, however, called on the government to come out with clear guidelines for industries in order to avoid compounding the health risk.
Similarly, the Director-General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, said the chamber expected the gradual phasing out of the lockdown to enable the economy to come back to life.
Yusuf added that the one-week extension would be used by the government to come up with a proper protocol that would enable business to go on without endangering the health of the citizens.
He urged organisations to use the one week to adjust their business models to suit the new environment.
On his part, the Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Dr. Timothy Olawale, commended the federal government for relaxing the lockdown as a way to find a balance between promoting public health and sustaining the economy.
NECA said measures to avoid a fresh outbreak of the pandemic as occurred in Ghana and China were important.
“It is of interest to note that for businesses to survive and protect their current employment trend, there is a need for more direct intervention from the government such as direct wage or income support, wage subsidies, tax credits or tax deferrals, short-term work schemes, a moratorium on loan payments and the establishment of a COVID-19 Job Retention Scheme, where the government pays up to 60 per cent of private sector salaries until June,” he added.
In its reaction, the Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Power (NACCIMA) described the relaxation of the lockdown as a right balance needed to prevent the total destruction of businesses and the economy.
A statement issued yesterday by NACCIMA Director-General, Mr. Ayoola Olukanni, however, advocated that the gradual reopening should be done in a careful manner to prevent a resurgence of the virus.
Chief Consultant of B. Adedipe and Associates (BAA), Dr. Biodun Adedipe, viewed the gradual opening of businesses as a step in the right direction that must be carefully managed to avoid the dreaded “W” curve.
“If there is a spike in the rate of infection, do we lockdown again? That’s what we call the ‘W’ phenomenon,” Adedipe said.
He advised the government to also consider the business losses during the lockdown and come up with fiscal stimulus, such as cash injection into businesses, that goes beyond tax breaks.
Relaxation of Lockdown Will Fuel Community Spread, Says NMA
However, NMA Chairman, Lagos State chapter, Dr. Saliu Oseni, said the relaxation of lockdown would fuel community spread of the pandemic.
He told THISDAY yesterday that there was a need for extension of the lockdown, adding that the country is already battling with person-to-person transmission, which should require stringent measures to tackle.
He said: “It is obvious the government is unable to meet up with the palliatives for poor Nigerians and hence could no longer justify the lockdown. I presume that is why the president relaxed it.
“What the government is doing presently is just an alternative to what they were supposed to do. This alternative is not better than the total lockdown.
“The truth of the matter is that the government did not do what it was supposed to do to make the lockdown work appropriately. That failure by the government is what has translated into the community spread of the virus we are seeing now.”
He added that for the country to win the fight against the virus, the federal government should invest in awareness, increase capacity for testing and then put those that are asymptomatic in holding areas rather than allowing them to isolate themselves at home.
“One of the challenges we are having is that the government has asked those without symptoms to self-isolate, but it has forgotten that few days before symptoms are noticed are the days when the virus spreads easily.
“These asymptomatic people have no awareness; so, they just go home and live normally since they do not have symptoms, and by so doing they are spreading the virus in the community,” he stated.
He also blamed rich Nigerians with COVID-19 who refused to isolate themselves for the spread of the virus, noting that they have now transferred the virus to ordinary Nigerians who lack the means to stay at home for so long.
On his part, Akintayo described the relaxation of the lockdown as a mistake, saying the federal government should rather extend it nationwide for the next 14 days.
He told THISDAY that the relaxation from May 4 was not because the government had halted community spread of COVID-19, adding that it was done to pacify stakeholders and the poor who are tired of the stay-at-home order.
He said: “The whole essence of the lockdown was to tackle community spread of COVID-19, but what we should ask ourselves is whether we have successfully tackled community spread, which is no.
“We instituted a lockdown, while we were not doing enough COVID-19 testing. To determine whether anyone has COVID-19 in Nigeria, you would have to take samples to the molecular laboratory, but in more serious climes, these tests are done through rapid diagnostic tests, which ideally are handled by community pharmacists and the private sector.
“When you look at the top three African countries that have done high numbers of COVID-19 testing, you will realise they went further than the use of molecular laboratory testing.”
According to him, South Africa has tested over 160,000 samples, while Ghana has tested more than 70,000, adding that Nigeria with over 200 million people has not tested up to 15,000 samples.