Tajudeen Kareem writes that the course of the pandemic will largely depend on individual and collective responsibility

Given the confirmation that there is ongoing community transmission of COVID-19, with high rates of infection in 20 densely populated LGAs across the country, efforts must be intensified to contain the virus. Though the lockdown implemented in certain parts of the country has had a disproportionate effect on poor and vulnerable populations, attempts to successfully contain the disease is dependent on mass mobilization of all segments of the population in support of the national response.

Nigeria has lessons to learn from highly populated countries as China where a combination of efforts at all levels by the government including sub-national levels, as well as individuals have helped to slow the spread of the virus. A critical element that enabled this is adherence to advisories issued by government, especially on restriction of movement and social interaction. The pressing need for this in Nigeria has been reiterated repeatedly by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha. Severally, he has appealed to all citizens to take personal responsibility for the safety of family, household and communities!

On the other hand, Japan appears to be winning the fight against the disease without implementing mass testing or lockdowns. This can be attributed to adherence to physical distancing measures, regular hand washing and widespread use of face masks, among other government directives. A combination of these public health measures has proven critical in the country’s fight against the disease. In Sweden, though gatherings of more than 50 people remain prohibited, restaurants, shops and gyms were open because citizens have shown compliance with guidelines from the government. The approach of these countries may be considered extreme or lax, but ultimately, they are yielding results because their citizens have also taken responsibility in the fight against the disease.

In Nigeria, misinformation and perceptions that the coronavirus disease is not real or is being exaggerated have devalued sensitization messages and negatively impacted adherence to government directives. However, for any country, the responsibility to slow the transmission of COVID-19 must be borne by individuals, because government leadership and coordination of the entire response alone would be ineffective without individuals assuming responsibility.

Over 80% of people who contract COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. Data from countries with advanced health systems indicate that older adults with underlying illnesses are more vulnerable and are likely to die. In Nigeria, the age group affected most is 31-40 years old, but majority of fatalities have been older adults, over the age of 50.

The recent data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control shows that about three quarters of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria got the virus from unknown sources. This is a strong indication that community transmission is now the main mode of transmission of COVID-19 in the country, most likely passed on from people who may have had no idea that they are carrying the virus. These asymptomatic transmitters or “silent spreaders” are likely to be younger mobile adults, who now pose a significant threat to the containment efforts for COVID-19. These individuals have no symptoms and do not feel ill and so are unknowingly spreading the virus.

Unfortunately, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria are on the increase and this could be partly attributed to inadequate adherence to the recommended public health measures as seen in both mainstream and social media. There is an evident disconnect in people’s knowledge of the risks they take when they do not adhere to public health measures, despite the presence of silent spreaders in communities.

With no vaccine and treatment for COVID-19 yet, the reality is that the pandemic may continue for a while so there is a need to readjust our lives to the “new normal”. As a nation, we need to re-imagine a future with COVID-19, until a vaccine or treatment is found. Many countries are slowly easing the restrictions on lockdowns, however, no country is completely out of the woods and the entire course of the pandemic will largely depend on individual and collective responsibility we take.

The sooner we align with the efforts of the government, the faster we can exit from all the restrictions put in place and resume life with less curfew, ban on inter-state movement, closure of leisure centres; all the things we enjoy. So, when you leave your house without wearing a face mask or covering, share unverified claims, fail to adhere to hand washing advice or using a hand sanitizer, joining large gatherings of people or refuse to stay home when ill – you must ask yourself, are you part of the problem or do you want to be part of the solution?

More important, as part of our civic duties, we should endeavour to spread the right information to others around us who have difficulty grasping the situation while government intensifies risk communication at the grassroot.

Kareem, communication expert, wrote from Abuja