Fred Ezeh, Abuja
There is palpable fear over the continuous rise in number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria. This is because the predicted period for the pandemic to reach its peak is fast approaching. It is the period Nigeria joined the global community in gradual reopening of the economy, badly affected by the prolonged restrictions.
In the same vein, medical experts and stakeholders expressed serious doubts over the predicted hike in the spread of the pandemic. They insisted that the proponents of the hike never provided scientific evidence to back up their claims.
President of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof Innocent Ujah, asked Nigerians to disregard the prediction that COVID-19 curve could peak any time soon: “It is a prediction and not sacrosanct. It may come to pass or otherwise, because along the way, something else could happen and distort the plans. That is why the research component of the entire COVID-19 response should be strengthened.
“It is the research outcome that will tell us the direction that we are going, whether we are doing well or not. Unfortunately, research is pushed to the background in Nigeria. Globally, research drives development because it evidently tells you what to do per time.
“For instance, many were made to believe that NMA was against the reopening of schools, churches or international airspace. That is not true. We are concerned about our readiness to reopen these places for public.
“For instance, the general compliance to the basic safety protocols of the NCDC is not being complied with even among the elite. That needs to be corrected if we desire to make significant changes and success in the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria.”
A Molecular Virologist, Dr Solomon Chollom, explained that the prediction by the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, that world’s poorest countries will experience a peak in COVID-19 cases soon is at best a wake-up call:
“In my opinion, the alarm by Lowcock best fits as a wake-up call. It should make us mount more infection barriers instead of undue panic, which seem to be the issue at the moment.
“In Nigeria, however, there is need for us to stabilise our response strategy and generate clear evidences on the picture of the COVID-19 curve. To do this, we have to maintain a robust surveillance system, robust sample collection and testing strategy to establish if we are peaking, experiencing a plateau or even an anti-climax in our national curve.
“Good a thing that we have increased testing sites to over 60 and still counting. We must roll out strategies to have them operate at full capacity, else we would have only increased testing points without commensurate increase in testing capacity.”
Executive Vice Chairman, National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Muhammed Haruna, picked holes on the non-effectiveness of safety tunnels, saying such arguments are not backed by clinical evidence.
He said countries like China and India adopted tunnels to cut down on the spread of the virus. He argued that the advisory by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the non-effectiveness of the product could be reviewed in not too distant time.
President, Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), Prof Francis Egbokharu, called for clear-cut preventive measures that are easily understandable by people as against the confusion that trailed some of the guidelines.
A member of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), Prof Sunday Bwala, warned against the commercialisation and politicisation of the pandemic: “Many are seeing this COVID-19 as a way of business. We are dealing with a virus and the best way is to attack it. We should embark on the scientific preventive ways.”
However, there are fears that if Nigerians continue to shun compliance with the COVID-19 safety protocols, including use of facemask, physical distancing, regular hand washing and use of alcohol base hand sanitizers, then the devastating effects of COVID-19 could last longer.
Regrettably, Nigerians are beginning to relax in the fight against COVID-19. Such approach could further jeopardise the achievements made thus far in the fight against the virus. Some respondents told Daily Sun that they have lost trust and interest in the activities of government as regards the COVID-19, accusing government of deliberately raising the figures on daily basis for financial gains. Others insisted that life must go on, with or without COVID-19.
How it started
The first COVID-19 confirmed case in Nigeria was announced by the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, on 27th February 27, 2020, when an Italian tested positive for the virus in Lagos. On March 9, the second case was reported in Ewekoro, Ogun State, on a Nigerian who had contact with the index case.
Both cases threw Nigerians into fear and panic and marked the commencement of response to the pandemic. It culminated in the constitution of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) that recommended lockdown of some cities and later, total lockdown of the country.
As at when the index case was confirmed, Nigeria had few laboratories equipped to run COVID-19 test. As a result, it took longer time to get the result out of the lab. Since then, the figure has continued to rise on daily basis.
On Monday, August 10, 2020, the cases hit 46,867, of which 33,346 patients were said to have recovered from the disease and discharged from various health facilities. Sadly, over 950 persons have died of the disease.
Data recently released by the PTF indicated that 60 per cent of the COVID-19 cases were recorded in Lagos, Oyo, Edo, Rivers states and FCT, while 85 local government areas in 20 states were without any reported case. Six hundred and eighty nine LGAs equally reported a case and 50 per cent of all cases were in 20 per cent of the LGAs.
There are suggestions that Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 should change its approach. It should look closely at the issue of risk communication and community engagement. Messaging and consultations should be intensified to drive the level of awareness, acceptance and compliance of the wider population using mediums and platforms that are most effective.
Schools recently reopened to allow students in exiting classes participate in regional (WAEC) and local (NECO, NABTEB) examinations. Also, worship centres, markets, airports, eateries reopened, though, for skeletal services.
Soon, the airspace will also be reopened for international flights, which may, perhaps, herald the end of extended phase of ease of lockdown, possibly allowing for full reopening of the economy.
The implication is that more economic activities will start, thus increasing interactions and possibly spread the virus the more. Chances are there that there will continue to be rise in the figure due to increase in socio-economic activities.
Evidently, Nigerians are beginning to lose interest in the fight. Some have accepted the COVID-19 situation as normal as cases of malaria, typhoid and other tropical diseases that affect Africans.
Howbeit, the scaring figures of confirmed cases being released daily by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) are still a source of concern for public health experts. It could, perhaps, be a pointer to the fact that the peak period is near, after which the curve will start to flatten as predicted.
Chairman of PTF on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, on Monday warned: “With 46,577 confirmed cases and 945 fatalities, Nigeria was yet to reach the peak of the pandemic. The low test/case confirmation numbers coming out daily should not be misinterpreted to mean that we have overcome. We have over time ramped up testing but more needs to be done to raise the quantum of test per million.”
He said key sectors that the PTF would watch out for in addition to general level of compliance, are the education and transportation sectors:
“Schools are gradually reopening with the commencement of preparations for critical examinations. COVID-19 safety guidelines have already been issued by the Federal Ministry of Education to all stakeholders.
“For the transportation sector, the PTF continues to follow the developments in railway and air transportation respectively. Nigerians and sector stakeholders are admonished to ensure compliance with the various non-pharmaceutical measures already in place. The PTF and the Ministry of Aviation are working rapidly towards reopening of the international flights.”
National Coordinator, PTF on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, said scientific evidences indicated that use of safety tunnels and fumigation are not effective for the prevention of the pandemic, describing it as useless enterprise.
He told a virtual colloquium organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), in Abuja: “There is no absolute evidence that this disinfection tunnel is effective. That is why at the national level we have expunged it from our plans. This disinfection could be less effective than washing hands. It is not as if you go into the tunnel, open your mouth, your eyes for cleansing.”
His submission was corroborated by majority of the participants, mostly heads of microbiology departments of tertiary institutions, who decried the use of fumigation in fight against COVID-19.
Concern in Abuja
Last week, Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) raised concern about the recent rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Abuja. Officials, however, attributed the spread to foreign returnees to Nigeria, as well as the activities of people from neighbouring states.
Director of Public Health, FCTA, Dr Josephine Okechukwu, said the major challenges are the self-denial of the disease and lack of adherence to health protocols by many residents.