As experts advocate stricter guidelines
By Chioma Obinna
Should the lockdown be totally relaxed and the economy fully reopened or should the lockdown restrictions continue? If the lockdown is eased This was the poser on the front burner even as the 2nd phase of the relaxation of lockdown expired on Monday 1st June.
The consensus is that Nigeria is not ready for total lockdown relaxation. Indeed if recent developments on the nation’s COVID-19 response scene are anything to go by, Nigeria should remain under lockdown.
There are concerns that lifting the nationwide curfew and bans on social gatherings would further worsen the situation.
Although lockdown rules have been gradually eased over the past four weeks with a partial opening of businesses and offices, the general COVID-19 alert level has not been relaxed and there are forecasts of spikes of cases in the event of further relaxation of restrictions.
However, over the weeks, the presidency has been under pressure to completely ease the lockdown but health experts have argued that more needs to be done to tackle issues such as community transmission, the challenge of testing, entrenchment of a culture of social distancing and limiting further spread of the virus.
On Saturday, 29th of May, Nigeria witnessed a spike in COVID-19 cases. The following day, according to the daily situation report of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, a total of 10,162 cases of COVID-19 were recorded with 307 new cases across 14 states and the FCT.
Despite the rising number of cases, a significant number of Nigerians are still skeptical about the existence of the virus. More worrisome is the uncontrolled social gathering in many states.
This social distancing breach in states like Kano, Jigawa, and Bauchi is something to worry about.
The COVID-19 cases in Nigeria is yet to peak, according to the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, who has been championing response to the virus in the epicentre said it is difficult to predict when the pandemic would end in Nigeria due to several factors.
He said Lagos state alone will likely be seeing 90,000 and 120,000 cases by the end of July, adding that the rise in cases does not mean that the cases have peaked but just modelling.
“That is based on our understanding of the infectivity of this virus. We have been able to work with scientists to define a modelling pattern for Lagos state. We believe that by the end of July we are going to see at least 90,000 in Lagos state. Almost 95 per cent of the cases are going to have a very mild course. So we are particularly worried about a small number of patients, less than 5 per cent who will develop severe to critical disease and those are the patients we will like to confine and manage in our isolation facilities where we could ensure that they get close medical monitoring and to be in a position to rescue them of severe complication of COVID 19.
But in the next four to six months (between September and November), we will see a sharp decline in the number of cases in the country, and this will signals that we are coming towards defeating the outbreak.
However, amidst the shortage of bed spaces in the isolation centres as well as reagents, Nigeria is planning home management of COVID-19 patients and reopening of the economy by next month.
Frontline health workers among other stakeholders in the health sector have raised concerns about home management in a country where more than eight people live in an apartment.
The Nigeria Medical Association has specifically kicked against the adoption of home management rather than recommended that abandoned primary healthcare centres across the country should be turned to isolation centres.
The erstwhile President of the NMA, Dr. Francisi Faduyile, warned that home management may fuel community transmission of the virus thereby compounding the pressure already on medical workers.
Currently, in Nigeria, social distancing remains a challenge. Many Nigerians are still clustering even in public places. The policy of compulsory face mask use is yet to be implemented. There are no public water taps to enable Nigerians to maintain handwashing rules. According to the National Publicity Secretary, Association of Medical Lab Scientists of Nigeria, AMLSN, Dr. Casmir Ifeanyi, despite rising cases of COVID-19 cases in states in the North, social distancing was widely breached.
Ifeanyi said while South-West Nigeria and a few other states complied with social distancing directive as most prayer grounds were under lock and key with respect to the State government directive and NCDC guidelines, few others threw caution to the wind. In those states, even their governors gather to pray in a congregated manner, we are worried about the implication.
He said the government should engage the national road transport workers on the reopening of the economy and schools across the country. The government also needs to work with school authorities, religious leader to develop a guideline.
“Markets are open and the seating arrangement is still as it was prior to COVID-19. The reason for this is simple, market operators were not rightly engaged before they told them to open for business. There is a need for the government to review market settings. The government needs to be committed to ensuring that guidelines are maintained. Nigerians also need to take responsibility for their health.”
In a chat, National President of the Nigerian Allied Health Professionals, NUAHP, Dr. Obinna Ogbonna said the government should embark on awareness and sensitisation on the need for Nigerians to observe the various NCDC precautionary measure.
“These should be seriously canvassed and re-echoed. Each citizen should be held responsible for his or her life and that of their families. For those who defiled the social distancing rule, their religious heads should be held responsible and reprimanded.
“There’s nothing wrong in opening the churches, mosques and the economy but the basic precautionary measures approved by the government should be operational in such centres.
“The churches and mosques are more organized when compared to the markets that are already operational.
“As per the students, I advise that it should be done in phases. Let the tertiary institutions open first. After a month, the secondary schools join and a month later the primary and nursery schools join. This will help to observe if there are spikes or not.
“Covid-19 has come to live with us, we must also learn to live with it like other life-threatening diseases in our environment.”