Is There A Special Heaven For Covid Victims?

By FEMI AKINTUNDE-JOHNSON 08182223348 - (SMS Only)

By FEMI AKINTUNDE-JOHNSON 08182223348 - (SMS Only)

COUNTERPOINT By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Nothing has changed since October 3, 2020 when this column ran a critical opinion against resumption of schools for Nigerian children, especially those below the tertiary level. The article titled “I Don’t Get Why We Want To Sacrifice Our Children” apparently irritated some mothers who were fed up with the over-extended holidays, and the hazards of online education service which in this climate is grossly inadequate, prohibitive or severely limited in coverage.

Yet, the core message of that article continues to resonate as the federal government, via the ministry of education, now seems to be at loggerheads with state governors over the January 18 national resumption date. Interestingly, and wisely too, some state governments have pushed forward the date in their states – seizing the extra days to monitor and take actions in the provisions and sustainability of hygiene and sanitary facilities in all the schools. Much as we are worried that government’s words are not often matched by their actions, we must encourage responsible action of Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, in this light.

We see that other more advanced nations are shutting dense spaces like schools, worship centres, sports grounds, etc, in the hope of curtailing the more severe second wave of Covid-19; and in spite of their relentless efforts to roll out the new anti-coronavirus vaccines. Here, our own government, with hardly any shift in containment protocols… with airports, bus parks and other crowd-prone areas milling and teeming – as if this was 2015 – and no certain date for the arrival of the vaccines (except few maladjusted people showing off their vaccination scoops in foreign lands), we are busy choking the schools with free-wheeling children, religious rites and social activities,and little or no regards for preventive protocols.

The way we conduct ourselves and our affairs in this country, it is as if there’s a different heaven prepared for those who die of Covid-19. There is hardly any day that we don’t read of one death or the other – and that’s only those who break on the news or social media…yet, Nigeria appears to be on the business-as-usual mode. No sense of national outrage…no groundswell of shared demonstration of personal responsibility – to make effort so as not to infect others, even when you think you’re impenetrable. It seems, most of us don’t just give a damn. But our children cannot make the decision for themselves…they depend on us to act sensibly, proactively and responsibly in curating their potential, opportunities and possibilities.

So, as at today, what is our score card as parents, teachers, school owners, civil servants, governors, ministers and the presidency? Where shall we stand when the calamities next time land on our doorsteps? “God forbid it” will not be enough…”I reject it” will not cut it… Our actions and inaction today will determine the level of our failures and casualties down the road. It’s simply a natural way of life.

Here is a reminder of our warnings few months ago: “Let us pause and review the available data that could justify our seeming risk to sacrifice the lives of our children on what appears a hunch that Covid-19 may be curtailed when children, characteristically ebullient and restless, mingle and frolic in so-called sanitized (safe) environment. Many schools in the United States have had thousands of returning students quarantined to prevent further spread of Covid-19; we have read alarming warnings of top US scientists advising school authorities not to send students suspected to be asymptomatic back to their homes – to prevent infecting adults.

Perhaps a report by The European Sting in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, published on August 10, 2020 will provide alternating perspectives to deepen our appreciation of these worrying times. Here are few extracts which crunched the numbers using Nigeria as one of its research-cases:

“What we do know is that low-income countries face a very different set of circumstances from high-income countries – for example, a higher proportion of households that include both children and elderly people, difficulty (in) testing for COVID-19 and enforcing social distancing in existing school settings, and the urgency of maintaining the livelihoods of working-age adults to prevent hunger and poverty. Our study finds reopening schools too early in developing countries could undermine the gains made so far in containing the spread of the virus. When deciding to reopen schools, policymakers need to weigh these findings against the cost of keeping schools closed for a prolonged period…

“A common justification for re-opening schools is that children are very unlikely to die from COVID-19. Yet, children live with adults, and – particularly in developing countries – elderly adults. According to UN data, the proportion of elderly people who live with at least one child under 20 is more than 10% in most African countries, compared to less than 1% in European countries and the United States. This raises the risk that children may contract the virus at school and transmit it to parents and grandparents at home.”

Indeed, the complexities of whether to reopen schools, or wait out the year, are damning for policy and decision makers: “Opening schools increases fatalities among older adults, and most commonly the elderly. By closing schools alone, our model predicts it could save around 175,000 lives relative to doing nothing. Other additional interventions can do even better, such as shielding the elderly. A blanket lockdown (of the formal sector) would save the most lives but would lead to large additional declines in GDP, meaning reduced livelihoods for many vulnerable households.”

For any decision taken, there are costs to pay, and losses to incur. What will our people prefer…between the deep blue sea and the hard unfeeling rock? Here is more from the Sting report: “The single biggest reason to delay school re-openings is to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Our study predicts that delaying school openings can be a potent force for saving lives, by reducing the risk of children getting infected at school, and in turn, spreading the virus within their households.”

“Of course, any policy decision about delaying school openings must dispassionately weigh the potential lives saved against the negative impacts of keeping children out of school for a long period. For example, evidence from the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone show an increase in out-of-wedlock pregnancies and a drop in school enrollment after the crisis among young women in villages. On the other hand, some families could not afford to send their children back to school after losing their livelihoods, indicating an important link between protecting livelihoods and access to education. Other major issues of concern in developing countries around keeping schools closed for long periods include losses in learning, missed midday meals, availability of childcare for working parents, and limited resources for online learning.”
What I see is our government hoping, or wishing, that all will be well with our children, if only they would wash their hands regularly, wear face marks, keep safe distances; and school authorities mobilise teachers and school workers to supervise, lead by personal examples and drive the safe teaching environment in schools, either public or private. So much for national policy dependency on uncontrollable variables…”.

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