By Kunle Olafioye (Lagos) and Fred Ezeh (Abuja)
There has been increased anxiety across the country following the revelation on Thursday by the Secretary to the Government of Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, that the increased level of community transmission of the Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) in Nigeria has pushed the country into a second wave of the dreaded disease. COVID-19 had caused heavy death toll and horrendous disruptions around the world and Nigeria in particular.
On Thursday also, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced the highest single day record of 1,145 new COVID-19 cases. As at that day, the total number of confirmed cases was 76,207 while 67,110 cases have been successfully treated and discharged. Sadly, 1,201 deaths have also been recorded.
NCDC had in the last three weeks disclosed that its surveillance system had detected an unimaginable sharp rise in cases of COVID-19 across the country, reminding Nigerians that the world is still in the middle of a pandemic with ongoing community transmission.
Already, Lagos State has returned to partial lockdown of worship centres, banning street parties and carnivals in the state. Other states are also thinking in this direction.
Also, Ebonyi State has banned large gathering to curtail the spread of the virus in the state.
As regards the effort being made to contain community transmission of COVID-19, NCDC Director General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, stressed the need for increased involvement of state governments and other corporate individuals in advocacy and response.
He said: “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, which includes NCDC, as well as state governments have continued to scale up response activities. In fact, we have built on lessons learned to strengthen our response and be better prepared for an increase in cases.
“We have grown from five laboratories to about 70 public health laboratories across all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. This has enabled us improve laboratory turnaround time. We have continued to communicate with the public and share key messages through mainstream and social media.
“We will continue to improve on the work we do. But our success is largely dependent on collective responsibility, support and cooperation of all Nigerians. The virus is still with us so we cannot go back to ‘business as usual.’”
Ihekweazu decried insinuations that enforcement of testing of Nigerians returning from overseas and other foreigners, either visiting or residing in the country, had been tainted by corruption.
“The introduction of the travel protocol that requires a negative COVID-19 test result pre-boarding in and seven days post-arrival in the country is another important strategy to minimise the risk of infection in Nigeria, and it is strictly being complied with by passengers at international airports.
“The PTF and our colleagues at Port Health Services have been working to ensure enforcement of these measures. We recognise the fact that people want to travel and be with family and friends during this festive period. However, we must adjust to the new reality we are faced with. Our advice for now is to avoid non-essential travel altogether.”
Meanwhile, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has been mandated by the Federal Government to coordinate and lead the country’s vaccination effort when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available next year. The agency is already developing and implementing plans to enable access and risk communications.
At a time when a large number of Nigerians are exhibiting attitudes tantamount to denial of the reality of COVID-19, and, therefore, do not conscientiously observe the preventive non-pharmaceutical interventions, Ihekweazu reiterated that every Nigerian has a role to play in reducing the risk of spread of COVID-19.
He said: “We have provided guidelines for safe operations of businesses, religious settings, among others, and have continued to communicate with the public and share key messages through mainstream and social media.
“We will scale up our communications campaign during the Christmas and New Year period.
“However, it’s important to note that not every measure requires enforcement by government. Several institutions have a role to play in ensuring adherence to preventive measures. Also, business owners, religious leaders, traditional rulers, school heads, among others, also have roles to play.
“For example, business owners can introduce measures to ensure that people visiting their stores have their masks on throughout to protect other customers and staff. We ask Nigerians to please take responsibility and adhere to measures in place, which are introduced to protect us all. Howbeit, we will continue to provide public health advice based on the evolving situation and with several other considerations.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has accused Nigerians of being responsible for the sudden rise in cases of new COVID-19 infections and deaths as being recorded daily by the NCDC.
NMA President, Prof. Innocent Ujah, observed that Nigerians have totally failed in adhering to the measures meant to prevent transmission of the Coronavirus, reduce ill health and death from the dreaded disease.
Ujah challenged NCDC to re-strategise to sustain the momentum as regards public enlightenment on the dangers of COVID-19.
He said: “Evidently, we have not learned any lesson from the pandemic. We have totally failed in keeping the COVID-19 prevention rules. Most Nigerians don’t comply with the protocols. Some don’t even believe that there is anything like COVID-19 at all, hence their decision to flout the prevention protocols.
“The NCDC should do more than what they have done by engaging in more sensitisation in languages that would be easily understood by all.”
He, thus, appealed to Nigerians to take the COVID-19 prevention advisories very seriously in order to interrupt the transmission, reduce ill health and deaths from the dreaded disease.
“The strict adherence to the NCDC protocols, particularly the use of face mask, regular hand washing and use of sanitizers as well as physical distancing should be strongly advocated.
With the declaration by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 that the country is in the second wave of Coronavirus infection there is palpable fear that the Federal Government may impose another lockdown on the country.
In response to the disquiet among Nigerians over the anticipated development, economic experts have opined that the Federal Government should put forth more pro-active measures in order to save the nation’s economy from total collapse that may result from a second lockdown.
Former President of Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, CIBN, Mazi Okechukwu Unuegbu, and Mrs. Fayo Williams, a former vice president, NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women, in separate interviews with Sunday Sun, were unanimous in their views that the price of the second wave of COVID-19 lockdown would be too grave on the nation’s economy.
In Unuegbu’s view, throwing Nigeria into a fresh lockdown when the nation was yet to recover from the effect of the first lockdown would be more devastating. “We are not yet free from the effect of the economic disaster of the first lockdown because at that time most businesses were closed down; people were not going to work; small businesses were hit disastrously. A lot of them had to close shop and lost all their staff. Now, this second lockdown due to the second wave of the COVID-19 may be worse because the few that survived the first lockdown may not survive the second lockdown,” Unuegbu said.
The ex-CIBN boss called on the government to urgently come up with fresh palliatives to businesses that survived the first lockdown and save them from going under.
“The government should now immediately think of how to help the remaining businesses to survive. Otherwise we are going to have the worst economy. The social dislocation caused by unemployment and the various dislocations caused by rise in the price of food, may result in the death of more people because the prices of food items continue to rise on daily basis, but the incomes are not coming in. Apart from COVID-19, hunger will be the major killer of the people during the second lockdown because most people will not have food to eat.
“In fact, most of the loans the government is getting should be diverted to help the economy come out of this quagmire. Moreover, remember that we are in recession. Recession combined with COVID-19 lockdown will be a disaster for Nigeria. Therefore, the government must try to see how they can cushion the effect of the imminent lockdown by providing needed assistance to businesses. The Central Bank of Nigeria should come up to manage the economy, enough of the politics they have been playing with the economy, the CBN should come out to take charge of the economy,” Unuegbu advised.
Also speaking on the implications of a fresh round of lockdown on the nation’s economy, Mrs. Williams said that closing down businesses again would lead to further shrinkage in the gross domestic product (GDP).
She added that going into another lockdown when the nation was still smarting from the effect of the first lockdown would portend more severe consequences for the nation.
Her words: “There will probably be further shrinkage in the GDP, particularly when businesses will be shut down again. There will be more loss of employment. In the last lockdown a lot of employees were laid off; this may resurface again. Unfortunately, with the high inflationary trend, we may find out that there may be shortage of food supply and this will gravely impact on the purchasing power of average Nigerians. We have not even recovered from the effect of the first wave of the COVID-19 lockdown. So, another lockdown now will have dire consequences.”
Williams noted that there are alternatives available to Nigeria, and urged the government to embark on massive enlightenment campaign on the COVID-19 realities, particularly during the Yuletide, saying “because people have been denied the opportunity of seeing their loved ones for so long, they probably may want to throw caution to the winds and congregate in places that may not be well ventilated. So we need to remind Nigerians to adhere to COVID-19 protocols now and avoid high risk behaviour and get the citizens to be more COVID-19 conscious.”