• As states reopen schools, worship centres, other public places • Experts say Nigeria still in trouble despite falling figures
Cosmas Omegoh, Henry Okonkwo, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Medical experts have agreed with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 that the curve of the virus is yet to be flattened.
They warned that a deadlier second wave of the pandemic might happen if Nigerians continue to remain complacent with the approved COVID-19 protocols.
Earlier, the PTF had told the world through its Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, that the nation was already flattening the pandemic’s curve based on national response.
But the PTF later ate it words when its National Coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, said that the body was not convinced that it was flattening the curve, explaining that such a decision would be reached when it was sure that the country was having enough aggressive testing.
He said: “For clarity, we are not convinced that we are flattening the curve; we can only be convinced, we can only confirm this, we can only know where we are with the infection rate with aggressive testing.
“Our capacity as a country for testing is about 10,000 tests per day so you can see that this is clearly insufficient.
“We all have a responsibility to avoid a second wave of the virus, just like we are seeing in other parts of the world now, by increase in cases that could result in additional restrictions, which could drag us back to where we were before and this will have an adverse impact on our economy. We must, therefore, avoid a similar situation happening here.”
What is flattening curve
Dr Charles Umeh, a clinical psychologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) told our reporter that “flattening the pandemic’s curve means when the number of cases has gone to zero level. Or you are no more having any new increment in cases.
“Invariably you are looking at when you test and people are no more positive. That is, you are no longer having any new cases and that stays for a while. Then we can say that the curve has been flattened.
“But currently, are we testing as we should? That is the big question. If we are not testing, we are not going to get any new cases.”
Lamenting the situation, Prof Titus Ibekwe of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, University of Abuja said: “While the other parts of the world are talking about the resurgence of second and third waves of COVID-19, it’s sad that the country has not tested up to 700,000 out of about 200 million population.
“The low numbers we were getting from NCDC, was purely because of the reduced testing. The recent drop in the number of daily infections is because testing dropped by 36 per cent in August.”
Factors sustaining the curve
Medical experts believe a lot of factors have kept the Coronavirus in the country going strong.
According to Dr Wilson Imogang, a one-time Commissioner for Health in Edo State, COVID-19 is being sustained by the “attitude of our people. There is so much disbelief about the virus. When the pandemic first broke out, there was a lot of misinformation and disinformation going on. So, people had problems believing what they heard.
“People still believe that Coronavirus is the politician’s or big people’s disease. That is not true. Those dying were just people who visited the hospitals. They were only the celebrated ones. If someone was a governor or speaker and died we will know.
“In Kano, when people were dying there, the medical community couldn’t identify what the problem was. They were simply burying their dead. The figures only dropped when the Federal Government intervened.
“Again, our cultural milieu is part of the problem. You hear people say ‘oh it will not come near us; oh, we are covered with the blood of Jesus.
“People refuse to accept that there is a real threat around us; we are fighting a battle against an unseen army. And we need to take precaution.
“When the markets were opened, some pastors said no, ‘if you open the markets, why not the churches?
“Unfortunately, not believing what we cannot see helped in compromising the social distancing protocols – wearing of facemasks, washing of hands, etc.
“In most establishments now, you hardly see UNICEF buckets for washing hands; they are no longer there. Even in banks now, you see only sanitisers. These practices will help to sustain the virus’ spread. Go to our rural areas, if you wear a facemask, you will be odd.
“We thought we could prevent community spread, unfortunately that didn’t happen. We said no gatherings; but go to our marriage or burial or naming ceremonies, you see people falling over themselves, the same for worship centres.”
In his contribution, Dr Martins O. Ogundeji of Primary Health Care and Health Management Centre, Ibadan, noted that “if the claim is that the curve is not flattened, new cases are being discovered as a result of more testing. It is either that many more people are being tested than they were doing before or they are now reporting more that they were doing before or more people are presenting for testing.”
He lamented that people had jettisoned observing laid down protocol to check the spread of the virus.
“If people wear more masks and do social distancing, then the spread to those who are susceptible will be less. It is only then that we will now come to a stage where the cases will be flattened up.
“As long as more people do not put on mask, they risk infecting those who don’t have the disease; so we shall be having a rise in cases.
“Since the disease is a pandemic, it means that every human is susceptible to it. The only thing different in countries that have flattened the disease’s curve is that they are doing a lot of social distancing and wearing of masks.
“In such places, people ensure that they don’t go to congested places; they don’t do a lot of partying, or being in enclosed places where people gather,” he said.
He equally lamented that “there is a lot of inadequate education about COVID-19. I travelled with some people to an office in Lagos recently, and while I was seated in the waiting room, I saw a lot of people wearing their masks on their chin. Some had theirs in their pockets.
“Many people do not know that when you see two people out there, one of them might be asymptomatic – they might not sneeze, or cough, but they are carriers. What that means is when you see two persons coming in towards you, you should assume that one of them is a COVID-19 carrier.
“Every individual should wear their masks while assuming that they are COVID-19 carriers. Put on your mask to avoid infecting the next person. It is not to protect yourself. That is the principle behind it.”
Dr Dogulas Nkemdilim, based in Nnewi, Anambra State believes that often times the NCDC creates confusion which sustains people’s unbelief culture.
“If the virus is there the way it is being promoted, then there is fear of a possible spike.
“Sometimes people wonder about what government is saying about the Coronavirus – whether it is there to that extent and magnitude they are made to believe. We have seen the NCDC apologise for dishing out some figures. Sometimes, this creates doubt and cast a shadow around the whole thing.
“So, this fear factor is helping in sustaining the virus’ spread,” he said.
Possible second wave spike
Dr Ogundeji believes that a second wave of the Coronavirus is possible, warning Nigerians not to relax especially with the reopening of various public places.
“The fear is there. It is just reasonable to expect a spike unless there is compliance with the keeping of the protocols. Schools and worship centres should strengthen their protocols. For instance, I went to our church last Sunday and I saw the degree of compliance with social distancing, wearing of mask, washing of hands and I was impressed.
“We might have a spike if those protocols are neglected. But if what I saw is happening in some other places, then we might not expect any spike,” he said.
But Dr Imogang the situation in uncertain “because the way it comes, it does not send signals. We pray we don’t have a second wave.
“Europe is seeing a second wave now. Some countries are having it worse than they had it before. We pray we don’t have a second wave because it might be disastrous.”
Dr Nkemdilim fears that a possible spike might hit “a place like Lagos, with churches and schools’ resumption.
“Here in Anambra State, churches reopened over the past months. The state is a low risk area. But Lagos is different. Here if you visit Onitsha Main Market, you might even not be able to find your way out because of the crowd, the same for Nnewi.”
Is Nigeria ready for second wave?
Dr Ogundeji is unsure that the country will go the whole hog. “I’m not sure that we are ready to handle any spike. What do we have that can help us cope with the new situation? Is it the treatment; who is sure of the treatment being given? Is it the places to keep people in isolation? Do we have enough accommodation for people to be properly accommodated; what type of preparedness do we have. I don’t think that we are prepared for any spike.
“For that reason, I will strongly suggest that health education be seriously intensified in schools and worship centres. And there should be sufficient monitoring to enforcing compliance with COVID-19 protocols particularly in schools and worship centres and other places where people gather out of necessity,” he said.
Dr Nkemdilim expressed similar sentiments asking: “Are we ready for a spike? Probably no. The reason is that if the medical team is ready, is the government ready? Ready in the sense that a whole hospital might not have protective materials.
“Apart from the teaching hospitals perhaps, how many general hospitals are ready?
“Even when the medical team is ready what about motivation? Those who are at the frontline are not being paid; you can see the battle between them and the Ministry of Labour. Is that the right way to have them offer their best?”
But Dr Imogang has a contrary view: “I think that we will respond better than we did before because the health institutions are stronger now.
“When this thing came initially, we didn’t have some of the facilities we now have on ground. So, the health system is stronger. The testing centres are more, the same for the isolation centres.
“Edo State has very good response team. So, when it happens the second time, we will not be caught napping like we were the first time. We are better prepared and knowledgeable now about the disease.”
Advice to government
To forestall a second wave of the virus, another medical expert, Dr Adebajo Olufunminiyi, a biological laboratory scientists cautioned Nigerians against jubilating at the reduced figures released by the NCDC.
“COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and as long as other regions are not out of the woods, it would be misleading to convince the world that Nigeria is flattening the curve.
“Because we have moved from 500 cases a day to less than 200 consecutively for some days now, doesn’t mean that we are out of the woods because our testing capacity has been significantly reduced.
“Most countries have gone back to lockdown because of re-opening of school or the economy. South Africa and the United Kingdom opened up their businesses and now they are back with worse cases.
“We now have international flights from countries that are experiencing a second wave even when some countries have banned flights from such countries.
“State governments that are reopening social activities and gatherings should rethink, because it is wrong timing to say we are flattening the curve when we have not done enough scientifically,” he said.
Dr Nkemdilim called for closer collaboration with the schools, market leaders and worship centre operators so as to remount effective COVID-19 protocols. “At least, the cost of facemasks has been reduced. Let people use it. Social distancing in our markets might not be effective, but let them use facemasks, it is affordable.
“COVID-19 is seen to be an air-borne disease. Since it is so, the use of facemask should be a priority.
“Social distancing should be observed as much as possible everywhere people gather.”