By Becky Uba-Umenyili
A bold stare at death in the face was what ensued in Lagos from the ease of the lockdown and stay-at-home order, which was imposed by the federal government following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Nigeria in February, this year.
Having experienced a ‘house arrest’ form of living without inflow of income for over a month, maj¯rity of people couldn’t help thronging the street in search of daily bread as the government announced some form of easing to enable business transactions and other works commence.
Close observation reveal that some people are trying to live as directed; using the face masks and washing of hands, but not maintaining safe distance of the required length. Also, most offices and shops are open but with skeletal works and staff (as some seem to have wielded off their staff), while others have hand-wash points and sanitisers for their clients/customers.
However, an assessment of the effect of the ease-off seems to present a scary situation as most people came out en masse despite the warnings by the authority on stipulations guiding work days and timing for each business group. Also, the use of face masks and other related preventive measures against the virus attack are not adhered to strictly as directed while enforcement bodies are too relaxed in ensuring the compliance of stipulated rules.
Social mingling replaced social distancing especially in circles where people gathered idly to chat; while some others, particularly petty traders simply make jest with the situation as unreal with all sort of claims as thus: ‘there is nothing like coronavirus in Nigeria, it is oyinbo man disease’ and similar other sarcastic remarks greet one’s ears while around such persons.
The use of face masks became a thing of joke; while some simply hang theirs on their necks to avoid possible apprehension by enforcement officers; others do not use at all because of fear of hypoxia having heard of those who have been adversely affected.
This calls to question which of the avalanche of face masks serves the purpose required for the essence of using the masks. There are many types of face masks for different purposes: those used by medical staff for surgical and other medical treatments, those used by technical engineers for mechanical explorations or industry staff for work with chemical solutions.
For protection against the COVID-19, the Centre for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration Agencies have stipulated the use of cloth face masks for prevention of spread of the virus. The cloth masks are loose-fitting and designed to provide protection from breathing in airborne pathogens and viruses; they are also affordable in price and washable which makes it economical for the low income earner.
The surgical masks are for medical use, more expensive than the cloth masks and do not provide full protection from inhalation and airborne diseases from virus.
Additionally, the culture of regular washing of hands and/or use of sanitisers is not observed as expected particularly in very busy places like market arena.
Commercial buses (except the state BRT), the keke (tricycles) and bikes operate with the required directives issued them, but after leaving their respective motor parks, some flout these directives by picking passengers on the road despite the complaint of passengers who are helpless with the situation.
Surprisingly, these persons move about freely without being apprehended as expected by law enforcement agents who although are around almost everywhere, but yet watch as affected persons move about with ease.
When the first set of cases of death caused by the virus was reported abroad, it seemed like unreal until death knocked and sent everyone into hiding. Although few cases have been reported in Nigeria and still fast spreading, it appears like ignorance of the true facts of the pandemic still soars looms in the air.
Meanwhile, it has been observed that majority of the stakeholders in the category of businesses not allowed to open yet come out to operate despite the order to wait. This category includes hair salons and restaurants with eat-in service.
Others thus affected are churches and mosques; this group have hitherto obeyed the laid down rules notwithstanding the recent call by the Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins, for government to consider reopening religious bodies for worship to resume while assuring that the bodies would map out protective measures for worshippers to ensure compliance with rules to prevent the spread of the virus.
At the outbreak of the pandemic this year, churches immediately installed hand wash basins with soap and sanitisers for quick use by worshippers and visitors.
At St. Francis Catholic Church, Oregun, Rev. Fr. Lambert Nlemadim simply said ‘while we believe in God’s protection, we also decided to do what is needful to the faith we profess’ with reference to the giant sanitiser dispenser placed at the main entrance of the church building. Similarly, wearing of face masks has been made compulsory before gaining entrance into any Catholic church premises, as well as washing of hands at all entrance points.
Most churches resorted to broadcasting their worship through television, radio and even the social media where their faithfuls tune in to participate in their respective fellowship.
As regards the suspicion that some Christians may be comfortable with the broadcast and may feel inhibited from going to church to worship after the lockdown, Rev. Fr. Gabriel Amolegbe of the Catholic Church of Annunciation in Abraham Adesanya Estate, Aja, simply said ‘so many faithfuls are not comfortable with the media broadcast of liturgy especially mass because it lacks proper sense of participation, due to their inability to receive Holy Communion’.
Meanwhile, schools still remain closed for this term pending official lifting of the closure by government. However, indices of observation reveal that children still parade some street even in clusters of social mingling against the main reason for shutting down schools; a call for government and social organisations to intervene for the safety of these innocent ones.