Before the Lockdown Is Completely Lifted

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As the countdown to a total easing up of the COVID-19 lockdown begins soon, Samuel Ajayi writes on the need to educate those who still doubt the existence of the virus and also let citizens know that they are now fully in charge of their own safety

Susan (not real names) was having malaria and typhoid fever symptoms and since virtually no hospital would treat anyone with COVID-19 status, she did not bother going to any hospital. Rather, she went for the Coronavirus test and that was when her condition worsened. She went mid-April and by the beginning of May, the result had not yet come out.

She nearly died out of anxiety. She lost weight and she started exhibiting all the symptoms of the dreaded virus. All efforts by family members and friends to assure her that all would be well did nothing to improve her condition, which worsened everyday she awaited her COVID-19 test result.

Eventually, the result came and it was negative. She was relieved and within days, she got well with little or no medications.

“I have never had any doubt that COVID-19 is real,” Susan told this reporter. “In fact, before the index case was recorded in Nigeria, I have been following the spread of the virus in other parts of the world and I think I consumed too much news on the virus, reason I was scared to death.”

While Susan believed the virus was real, there are those, who still have their doubts about the virus, claiming it was not real and basing their position on the fact that it was not killing people the way it has been doing in countries worst hit like in Europe and Americas. Just yesterday, the American President, Donald Trump, ordered that flags be flown at half-mast across the country as a mark of respect for over the 100,000 Americans that have died from the virus.

Many Nigerians, who are claiming the virus is not real (or that the Nigerian ‘version’ is different) usually back up their argument on the fact that those, who are in isolation centres in Nigeria do not usually show signs of sickness. In fact, many of them are always dancing, singing and making merry. The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has, however, come out to explain that many of those who are in the isolation centres are asymptomatic. In other words, they are not showing any signs of illness or symptoms of the virus. The body further explained that they are being kept in isolation so as to stem the spread of the virus.

Health experts have also explained that Nigeria has been extremely lucky as far as the Coronavirus pandemic was concerned. They explained that one of the things that had helped the country is the weather and the fact that most of those who have been infected with the virus have been asymptomatic. Beyond this, the strain that is prevalent in the country seems to be the non-virulent strain.

A public health expert, who did not want his name in print, told THISDAY early in the month that there are families that might have one case and other members of that family would test negative. He explained that it is either the one that tested positive was a “weak carrier or he or she might be carrying the non-virulent strain of the virus.” He, however, cautioned that it is very wrong for Nigerians to say the virus was not real or it was a scam designed to siphon funds from the public purse.

And that is where the challenge lies as the nation prepares for the total lifting of the lockdown put in place since the beginning of April. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, had announced last week that the partial easing of the lockdown had been extended by two weeks. Also on Thursday, the government asked churches and mosques to come up with plans on how they would reopen their places of worship.

The interstate lockdown and 8pm to 6am curfew remain firmly in place and it was ruthlessly implemented last week to the extent that some essential workers, like medical personnel, were affected, which prompted the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) to order their members to work from 8am to 4pm and in some states, to down tools outright. It took the intervention of the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu to appeal to the NMA before it backed down. Journalists too were not left out in what was considered a deliberate action against them by the police for allegedly accusing them of sabotaging the lockdown order through compromises. Many journalists were even detained before an intervention came from Abuja.

Importantly, however, the measures that are still in place are all geared towards stemming the spread of the dreaded virus even if some Nigerians still have the wrong notion that the virus is not real. The total and complete easing of the lockdown and opening up of the economy would mean that everyone would now have to be responsible for his or her own safety from the virus.

It would no longer be the responsibility of the authorities again. In trying to ensure that each individual takes responsibility, one thing that might be staying with Nigerians for a long time to come is the wearing of nose and facemasks. After all, the Chinese have been wearing it for over 15 years.

Now, some offices and business places have made it mandatory that you must wear it before you are allowed into their premises. In the same vein, the Lagos State government has issued a gazette, which makes it a punishable offence if any resident of the state fails to put on his or her facemask in public. Mobile courts have been deployed across the state to ensure speedy trial and handing down of penalty.

It is therefore gratifying to know that the NCDC has started a campaign aimed at disabusing the minds of Nigerians that the COVID-19 is a death sentence. A lot of fear and panic were planted in people’s minds in the early days of the virus, which prompted many to hide their family members, who had the virus.

It was this fear and panic as well as activities of scaremongers that nearly claimed the life of Citizen Susan. Even at that, as the lockdown is likely to be completely lifted in a few days, it would be suicidal to doubt the existence of the virus. That can kill more than the virus itself.