COVID-19: After Six Months, Nigeria’s Cases Decline

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Osagie Ehanire

Martins Ifijeh

It is exactly six months since Nigeria recorded its first case of COVID-19.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire had at the dead of the night of February 27, announced that an Italian, who flew into the country from Turkey three days earlier, had tested positive to the disease, and that he had had contact with a couple of people both in Lagos and Ogun states.

That announcement threw the nation into panic mode the next morning, with many Nigerians fearing that the worst could happen, especially since reports from mostly China, Spain and Italy at the time suggested that the virus had the capacity to spread in droves, kill many people on its way, as well as devastate even the best of economies.

With the devastation, tears, and sorrows in these nations, there was no hope that Nigeria could manage the pandemic, given the years of neglect of the health sector.

Hurried Lockdown

As predicted by people who believed Nigeria may not be able to halt the spread of the virus, the number of infections gradually rose to 60, prompting the Nigerian government to hurriedly close all international airspaces by March 23, as it was clear most infections were being imported by foreigners and Nigerians who had returned to the country from nations battling the virus.

By March 30, the number of infection had reached 131, mostly from Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), a development that prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to make a nationwide broadcast announcing the total lockdown of the two states and the FCT. The lockdown affected the movement of people across the states, except for people in the essential services sectors. Offices, schools, markets, religious homes were all closed. People were mandated to stay in their homes.

By April 13, the number of infection had almost tripled. Within 14 days, COVID-19 cases moved from 131 to 343, while 10 people had been confirmed dead due to complications from the virus.

Exodus of Foreigners

This continuous increase in cases was all many foreigners needed to impress on their embassies to organise their evacuation out of Nigeria. From the United States to Europe, China, India, among others, embassies began to organise evacuation flights for their citizens to leave Nigeria. To them, it was getting close to the point where people in the country would start dying in droves, partly because the country has one of the worst healthcare in the world, with several indices suggesting Nigeria would not have the capacity to manage COVID-19 cases more than 1,000.

Between March 21 and March 30, Germany, France, Israel and US had commenced evacuation. Their belief was that it would be better for their citizens to get infected in their countries where they would get better healthcare than in Nigeria with one of the worst health facilities.

Community Transmission

As part of measures to update Nigerians on the level of management of the disease, and to discourage panic, the federal government set up the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, with a mandate to provide daily updates to Nigerians.

There was panic when the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced that the country had entered the phase of full-blown community transmission.

The CEO of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu had announced that epidemiologists and staff of the agency, as well as other health officials were actively searching for over 6,000 persons who came in contact with confirmed cases.

Peak of COVID-19

Between May and early June, the number of cases peaked. It recorded its highest number on June 20 when cases moved towards 800 in a single day.

The Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Prof. Akin Abayomi at the time even announced that the peak was most likely going to continue until August when it would start flattening, although he was quick to add that it was only a modeling, adding that the situation could either go as predicated, escalate or even decline.

Decline in Cases

To the surprise of most Nigerians, six months after the Italian index case was identified, the country’s COVID-19 burden has not deteriorated to the point of having hundreds of thousands of cases or having Nigerians die in droves as seen in the United States, Brazil, China, Spain, Italy, Russia, and a host of other countries.

Speaking recently during one of the PTF’s daily updates, the Chairman of the taskforce and the SGF, Mustapha announced that number of infections was declining, while attributing the success to adherence to health protocols and the quality of management from health workers.

He said: “Nigeria’s COVID-19 Case Fatality Rate (CFR) is continuously declining. The decline has been consistent for four months. Sample collection across the country remains. States should ramp up testing to meet targets and know the actual number of persons with infection. Nigeria has crossed the 1,000 fatality mark at the weekend. This should be a reminder of the dangers facing humanity.

“We are studying the CFR and we note that it has been on a steady decline over the last few months: April 30: three per cent; May 31: 2.8 per cent; June 30: 2.3 per cent; July 31: 2.0 per cent; and August 22: 1.92 per cent. We are however convinced that our sample collection is still low. We, therefore, encourage states to ramp up their testing and to declare correct results because early detection will ultimately translate to treatment and ultimately leveling of the curve. These records are not just numbers as they vividly remind us of the dangers that we still face,” he said.

The cases have continued to decline with the country recording only 221 new cases of the pandemic yesterday, bringing to 53,021 the number of confirmed cases in the country.

NCDC said Plateau recorded 60 new cases; FCT, 33; Kaduna, 26; Rivers, 18; Lagos, 17; Enugu, Kwara and Ondo, nine each; Nasarawa, six; Gombe and Anambra, five each; Delta and Abia, four each; Imo, three; Edo, Ogun, Oyo and Osun, two each, while Bauchi and Kano recorded one each.

It said: “Nigeria has so far recorded 53,021 cases of COVID-19. 40,281 patients have been discharged, while 1,010 persons have died.”

With today marking the 6th month since the start of the pandemic in Nigeria, it is clear Nigeria has defiled all odds to keep the number of infections at less than 54,000 with 1,010 deaths.

But the country can truly overcome the scourge if it increases testing capacity to mop up infections not yet captured, and Nigerians adhere to health protocols by the government.