By Sola Ogundipe
As Nigeria grapples with rising infections caused by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of international public health, researchers have revealed that the lockdown and restrictions imposed in the country between March and May 2020 may have averted not less than 5.8 million infections.
In a statement made available to Vanguard, the team of researchers drawn from Parexel International, Harvard University and Holly Hill Hospital in the United States; Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in South Africa, and the Benue State University as well as the Universities of Ibadan, Lagos and Calabar, in Nigeria, said their findings support the use of restricted mobility as a measure for infection control in Nigeria.
They pointed out that noticeable spikes in people’s movement, occurred on Saturdays and Sundays, attributable to social events even during the lockdown and restrictions.
The research findings, published by the highly reputable public health journal JAMA Network Open, are based on information from confirmed COVID-19 cases provided by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, from February 27 to July 21, 2020, and Nigeria specific mobility data from Google in the same period.
They said their work was motivated by the need to better understand how the lockdown affected peoples’ movement and community spread of COVID-19, and the information from the result could inform future public health responses to subsequent waves of COVID-19.
The report stated: “Our study goals were to measure the association of government-mandated closures and restrictions with aggregate mobility, to evaluate associations between aggregate mobility and number of individuals with laboratory-confirmed SARS-COV-2 infections and to estimate the number of SARS COV-2 infections that may have been averted.
“Most countries including Nigeria responded accordingly, and part of the Nigerian government response included socioeconomic and public health interventions to reduce the impact of the pandemic.
“Socioeconomic interventions included providing cash transfers, lines of credit, and food assistance to poor and high-risk households, while public health interventions included government-mandated closures and restrictions on schools, social gatherings and all forms of transportation (locally referred to as lockdown)
Following the closures and restrictions initiated on March 30, 2020, and partially eased on May 4, 2020, the researchers used sophisticated statistical techniques to analyse NCDC data on daily infection counts anonymised Google mobility data from Nigeria (covering about 40 million individuals who activated location history on their smartphone google accounts), and publicly available information on the lockdown (e.g. dates for initiating and partially easing the lockdown).
The cross-sectional study found that government-mandated closures and restrictions in Nigeria owing to COVID-19 was associated with significantly reduced aggregate mobility everywhere (except in residential areas) and may have averted up to 5.8 million coronavirus infections.
Additionally, they found that the community spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria may have been faster in residential areas, transit stations (e.g. motor parks) and workplaces (including likely venues of social events).
“Our findings support the use of restricted mobility as a measure of infection control in Nigeria should there be additional COVID-19 waves in the future. Restrictions on movement are unsustainable in the long term and that “future closure and restrictions, if warranted, need to be more effective,” the researchers noted.
They suggested that areas of improvement include tougher restrictions on movement and more robust contact tracing in residential areas, transit hubs, and workplaces, greater testing capacity and more political support for testing; greater access to COVID-19 data for policy and process evaluation to identify opportunities for efficiency gains, and more personal responsibility above and beyond the public health campaign dubbed the 3Ws (washing hands or using hand sanitiser regularly, wearing a cloth mask over the nose and mouth, and staying six feet apart (social distancing).