By Job Osazuwa
On December 15, about 100 passengers were loaded in a long commercial bus that plies Tollgate-Oshodi in Lagos State. About 45 Passengers sat while more people stood.
A closer observation of the fully loaded vehicle revealed that fewer than five per cent of the passengers wore facemasks. A mobile drug seller intermittently entertained the passengers with jokes as he sold his drugs and other articles while the early morning journey lasted.
Inside the bus, commuters appeared completely ignorant of existence of COVID-19. There was no trace of hand sanitiser anywhere, and neither the bus driver,who appeared to be in his 60s, nor his two lady conductors wore facemasks.
At various markets and busy bus stops in Lagos, people are seen pushing one another, jostling for space. Physical contact among people with no facemasks is the order of the day. Watching how people live carelessly, one could be tempted to believe that the virus was no longer in existence in this part of the world.
But there are worries in many quarters over the recent increase in the number of people affected by the disease. Many people, including eminent personalities have died in the last two or three weeks of the disease.
Experts have raised the alarm that if Nigerians continue to throw caution to the winds, the new surge might lead to a colossal disaster. Many are already worried that another lockdown might be imposed on the country if the disease continues its alarming spread.
The pronouncement of COVID-19 as a public health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) necessitated the implementation of proactive responses and mitigation measures by countries across the globe to curb the deadly infection which has claimed many lives.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries, including Nigeria enforced lockdowns and social distancing measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
But as case numbers waned and the lockdowns were lifted from state to state, many people believed that the worst had passed and began living their normal lives including having large social gatherings.
Unfortunately, flouting the various preventive measures has now brought up negative consequences of the second wave. It is taking the country back to where it was at the beginning of the outbreak.
Following the recent increase, it is already foreseen that the administration of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja may likely impose a second lockdown to curtail the spread. This, it is believed, might be extended to other parts of the country, particularly Lagos.
Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF), at an emergency meeting with FCTA officials, urged the FCT Minister, Muhammad Bello, to reactivate COVID-19 Protocols Enforcement Task Team to stop its violation in the territory.
National Coordinator of PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, who gave the advice earlier in the month, emphasised the need for aggressive enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines that would come with clear penalties.
He insisted that mass gathering should be restricted to not than 50 persons, preferably outdoors, and there must be wearing of facemasks. He said PTF only recommended that restaurants should be allowed to operate outdoors, but lamented that all restaurants have been operating indoors.
Earlier in November, the WHO had warned countries to prepare for a second wave of infections. Lagos remains the epicentre of the pandemic in Nigeria. And the state government said the continuous flagrant disregard of COVID-19 protocols and safety guidelines by citizens at work places, schools, religious centres, and bus parks, among others, had become quite alarming and disturbing.
With the Yuletide upon the world, mass gatherings at attractive sites have become commonplace.
Only recently, the Nigeria Army Head headquarters confirmed that 26 Generals and other senior officers have, so far, tested positive for COVID-19, while 417 others were undergoing test.
Major General Olubunmi Irefin, General Officer Commanding, 6 Division had died from COVID-19 complications during the 2020 Chief of Army Staff conference in Abuja.
Countries across Europe are witnessing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases after successfully slowing down outbreaks at some point. However, they are not folding their arms. The affected countries have reactivated their precautionary measures and strengthened their health institutions.
In Nigeria, as pointed out by many observers, the new wave of cases can be attributed to people not fully respecting the virulence of the virus and especially ignoring the necessity of observing social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines and protocols.
This second wave of the pandemic constitutes grave threat to the economic survival of the people just like it was witnessed during the early spread of the virus.
Nigerians can’t forget in a hurry how the first lockdown plunged people into deeper poverty. The lockdown in March also gave rise to criminal activities in Lagos and Ogun states.
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire has repeatedly warned that the country was heading towards a second wave. But many critics didn’t take him serious. Nigeria recorded over 3,800 fresh COVID-19 cases last week, the highest in over four months. The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, was among the new persons who tested positive. The governor has since gone into isolation while undergoing treatment.
At the weekend, it was announced that Nigeria recorded 5, 809 cases in 10 days.
Amid all these, a number of very sceptical Nigerians about the disease is swelling. These categories of people still don’t believe that COVID-19 exists in Nigeria. One would hear some of them arguing that the disease only affects the rich.
A journalist with a national newspaper, who is based in Lagos, Chima Eze (not real name), told the reporter sometime in October that coronavirus was a scam.
Said he: “These governments have been fooling us for too long. I don’t believe that we have coronavirus in Nigeria. I don’t believe in the number that NCDC is releasing everyday. Those who died might have died as a result of their normal health challenges.”
Many religious leaders have also told their members right from the pulpit that COVID-19 was not real. Such an influence has further slowed down the fight against respiratory disease.
Lamenting this display of self-denial, the assistant director, department of prevention programmes and management, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC),
Oladipo Ogunbode, said it was surprising that health workers still doubt the existence of COVID-19 despite clear evidence of its existence.
“Health workers should create awareness on COVID-19, but many of them still doubt its existence. We must work hard to remove such doubt.
“It’s amazing and inexplicable for medics to doubt the fact that the pandemic is a reality. To handle the doubt, there is the need to increase the level of awareness on the virus.
“As health workers, there is no one of us that does not know at least one person that has been confirmed COVID-19 positive,” he said.
Olaolu Aderinola, head, response division, Department of Health Emergency, Preparedness and Response, called on stakeholders involved in the fight against COVID-19 to do more awareness to limit the spread of the virus.
The lack of enforcement and supervision of gatherings and public events has made many individuals disregard the restriction measures.
Lockdowns on religious gatherings and public events have been eased nationwide. It has also been discovered that many churches and mosques still don’t have the required preventive measures in place. Yet they go on to organise special services that attract large gatherings.
A concerned Nigerian, Mr. David Okotie called for an urgent reactivation and coordination of national response across states to stop further spread of the deadly virus.
“Increasing testing capacity is key. This will enable us to know our status and the action plan. Contact tracing is as important as testing and treatment,” he said.
Also contributing, the Association of Radiologists in Nigeria (ARIN) has warned that second wave of COVID-19 lockdown is imminent because of the rising cases in the past weeks.
Dr. Ohikhoakhai Wellington, FCT Chairman of the body, made the disclosure in Abuja at an event to mark the 2020 International Day of Radiology.
He noted that contrary to the belief that confirmed cases of COVID-19 was going down, there had been a spike in the rise of the pandemic in the last few weeks.
“Statistically, recorded cases were going down and it actually got to a level where they thought it was going away, but it has increased in the last few weeks.
“This is as a result of the relaxation of the lockdown especially in the airspace. The borders here are free, people are now coming freely into our country from all over the world, but we hope that at the borders, we will be strong enough to strictly check people coming in,” he said.
Wellington said those coming into the country from abroad should be made to go into isolation before getting access into the society. This, he said, was critical to prevent a second phase of lockdown.
He added that during the process of finding out much on the pandemic, three radiologists lost their lives.
Also, recently, family members of the COVID-19 Task Force Chairman, Boss Mustapha, who is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), recently tested positive for the virus. He has since gone into self-isolation.
“I would like to remind all Nigerians that COVID-19 is real. As the NCDC, announced last week, we are recording an increase in cases across several states.
“Please stay safe and protect yourself. Adhere to all public health and safety measures so that we do not lose the gains we have made in the fight against COVID-19,” he advised.
Publisher and Chairman of Leadership Newspaper, Sam Nda-Isaiah was one of those Nigerians who recently succumbed to the cold hands of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in a bid to curtail the new wave of COVID 19, the Lagos State government last week ordered all schools in the state to shut down last Friday. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu also banned nightclubs, concerts, carnivals and street parties. The governor also gave stringent conditions for churches, mosques, offices and markets that might want to remain in operation.