Coping with COVID-19 after lockdowns – Punch

When Nigeria recorded its index COVID-19 case in the person of an Italian in Ogun State in February, the government gave itself a pat on the back for the seemingly swift manner it was able to trace and isolate other persons who had contact with the expatriate. It was assumed that like the Ebola Virus epidemic in 2014, Nigeria would be able to contain the spread of COVID-19 within the shortest possible time, but this was not to be. Globally, the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be one of the toughest challenges of the generation.

Nature, the leading international weekly journal of science, says viruses infect all humans: when an outbreak happens, everyone is at risk, regardless of whom they are or where they are from. The late decision of the Federal Government to shut all points of entry – especially airports – coupled with the refusal of many to self-isolate after returning from countries of high incidence and take responsibility caused an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections. This upsurge negated the commonplace misconception that Africa’s hot weather offered some form of immunity to its inhabitants.

The stark reality COVID-19’s deadliness is dawning on many. With the President’s own Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, and two of his aides testing positive for the virus shortly after returning from Europe, it has become clear that the disease is no respecter of persons. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), rightly ordered a total lockdown in the most affected states of Lagos and Ogun as well as the Federal Capital Territory and a ban on all commercial local and international flights. There was also a ban on interstate travel. At the sub-national level, state governments initiated several protocols to suit their peculiarities.

The lockdown upended all aspects of human life and took a hefty toll on the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians. With the economy taking a nosedive and poverty levels rising in the face of an impending economic recession, it was only realistic for the government to lift the lockdown after five long weeks despite the 2,802 confirmed cases and 93 deaths recorded as of May 4. However, the pandemic has shown no signs of receding with the number of confirmed cases rising to 31,987 and 724 deaths as of July 12, 2020. Ironically and sadly too, many Nigerians still seem to have thrown caution to the wind by flagrantly flouting the protocols put in place by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

The death toll is mounting. Apart from the President’s CoS, the disease has claimed the lives of some prominent Nigerians. Other high profile persons at different times tested positive to the virus, but escaped the fatal consequence. Despite this development, many Nigerians remain unconvinced, sometimes describing the disease as a “rich man’s syndrome” or a fraud altogether. This and many more are some of the jejune conspiracy theories that have been propagated by those who should know better and this has ultimately frustrated the fight against COVID-19. The concert that was held at the popular Jabi Lake Mall, Abuja, which was headlined by a singer who had arrived from Lagos on a chartered flight under controversial circumstances, captured the people’s nonchalant disposition to this agent of death. Amateur videos that later went viral on the Internet showed young Nigerians throwing caution to the wind, flouting the COVID-19 guidelines such as avoiding crowded spaces, wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing. In South Korea, massive contact-tracing efforts found hundreds of cases linked to nightclubs.

Certainly, life goes on, but with different rules of engagement. With the gradual reopening of places of worship, coupled with the lifting of the ban on social gatherings, the impending spike in the number of infections is better imagined.

New scientific revelations are emerging. Nature says as restrictions are lifted, many researchers worry that the risk of catching COVID-19 will go up in crowded indoor. It argues that converging lines of evidence indicate that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, can pass from person to person in tiny droplets called aerosols that waft through the air and accumulate over time. After months of debate about whether people can transmit the virus through exhaled air, there is growing concern among scientists about this transmission route. After scientists highlighted the risk, the World Health Organisation has confirmed that coronavirus can spread through tiny droplets floating in the air in enclosed spaces.

Movement restrictions may have gone, but COVID-19 is still ravaging the world. It can only be defeated through the collaborative efforts of all Nigerians. The Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, captured it succinctly when he said, “Nigerians at all levels must take responsibility for their actions, adopt behavioural modification, ensure compliance with advisories and provide guidance to our followers and youths.” The government on its part must do more by increasing the testing capacity and join the rest of the world in revving up the search for treatment and vaccinations. The 181,248 tests conducted as of July 12, 2020 are still too few in relation to Nigeria’s 200-million population. In addition, the turnaround time for test results has been abysmal.

There is also a need for faith-based organisations, advocacy groups and other stakeholders to join in spreading the message that COVID-19 is real and victory over it is far from over. The various opinion moulders would do good to take into cognisance the fact that COVID-19 remains a disease which has no known cure and the best way to avoid getting infected is through rigorous hygiene, wearing face masks, maintaining sanitary practices and ensuring social distancing where necessary.

The hard truth is that there is still no single magic bullet to subdue this raging health vampire. Now, scientists are saying that additional airborne interventions are needed for further reduction of infection risk. Nature advises that adequate ventilation can stop coronavirus from accumulating and potentially reduce airborne transmission. According to The Independent, a British newspaper, some scientists fear that any COVID-19 droplets in the air could be transmitted more easily to people in the room, even those who are socially distanced. Air conditioning units that re-circulate air in rooms and offices should therefore be turned off or used only with open windows to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

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