COVID-19: Between Lockdown and Protocols Enforcement

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The federal government has rebuffed calls for another lockdown in the face of COVID-19 second wave as unrealistic, because of its grave economic implications. But a rational, scientific, apolitical option might be the enforcement of protocols, writes Louis Achi

Barely 24 hours after his inauguration on January 20, US President Joe Biden vowed that his administration’s national Covid-19 strategy would be based on science, not politics. According to gung-ho Biden, Coronavirus deaths in the United States will likely top 500,000 next month, in a dose of reality to the nation, as he signed 10 new executive orders and unveiled his administration’s comprehensive national strategy to defeat the raging pandemic.

He also announced a “full-scale, wartime effort” to address the shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other items and materials needed for testing and vaccinations, by invoking the Defence Production Act. The law allows the government to mobilise companies to prioritise producing the necessary equipment.
“400,000 Americans have died. That’s more than have died in all of World War II. This is a wartime undertaking,” he proclaimed.

Mounting of aggressive public enlightenment programmes, vaccination campaign, the requirement of masks on interstate travel and international travellers to quarantine, equipping schools to reopen safely and boosting testing – all speak to science-based, proactive measures to enforce protocols.

In terms of institutional capacities, organisation of society, industrial setups, systems sophistication, Nigeria can hardly be compared to the US. But despite these advantages, the US has suffered the largest casualty to the rampaging viral pandemic. The emerging consensus here is that a reactive rather than proactive leadership was to blame
On the home front, the first lockdown in reaction to COVID-19 first wave almost prostrated Nigeria in several critical arenas. From an already lame industrial production base, the education arena, health sector, international trade, hospitality industry and several more were effectively hobbled.

Not surprisingly, against this backdrop, the thought of imposing a second lockdown as the viral pandemic’s second wave kicked in was simply out of question, in the government’s calculations. Good a thing the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has clearly defined exacting protocols to limit and contain the pandemic’s spread. But the big problem is enforcement. For the safety of citizens, this hurdle must be frontally dealt with.

Protocols enforcement appears to be the wink link in limiting the local spread of the coronavirus. Currently, even very enlightened population segments often embrace scary indulgences that verge on impunity. Many social events are organised without extant protocols being observed. These have consequences and the media is copiously reporting related deaths. Even television stations transmit these events live.

Current mathematical models of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and control show that physical distancing can mitigate the pandemic and this has subsequently been backed up by empirical analyses of related case data. The other strategies like masking up and disinfection of surfaces that are touched often especially, in public facilities are also critical.

To be clear, the number of COVID-19 cases detected in the country in the past one month and a half has been confirmed beyond doubt that a second wave of the outbreak has already begun. This much was confirmed by Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, mid last December. Mustapha had stressed that the country was at risk of losing not only the gains from the hard work of the last nine months but also the lives of citizens.

“We are in a potentially difficult phase of the COVID-19 resurgence. Accessing the hope offered by the arrival of the vaccine is still some time ahead,” he said.
Health Minister Osagie Ehanire had earlier announced that the government would receive 20 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021.

Another dimension in confronting the pandemic is to look at management models adopted by other countries. New Zealand, Japan, several Northern European countries have deployed science-based strategies to minimize casualty.
But looking at the big picture of a pandemic that has prostrated the globe, panic or fear is hardly the appropriate survival response. This is where the federal and state governments, policy formulators and local health agencies take the centre stage – from public education, vaccine development or sourcing and delivery, to strict enforcement of protocols – have become priority.

Beyond well-structured enlightenment campaigns to educate the populace about the positives of strictly observing the related safety protocols, clear consequences must also be enforced by the authorities to persuade daredevils that, wanton breach of these protocols come with specific and harsh punishments.

To guarantee the collective safety of Nigerians, the government must focus on enforcement as it has ruled out lockdown. Without doubt, knowledge-based intervention protocols as already defined by NCDC – powered by science-driven policies and responsible footing by citizens – offer real safety.
More, theological leaders, who are powerful opinion molders also need to be courted to encourage responsible social behaviour by their faithful.