Every day, almost round the clock, the noise of landing and departing aircraft is a regular music in my residence. Yes, I live in what you could call the route of airplanes, even though I do not share a fence with the international airport. Landing and departing planes, therefore, fly over the area I live in now and then. And we are used to it. We know when to talk at home and when to keep quiet, if planes are landing or taking off.
In the last three days, however, the planes’ noise has disappeared. No plane has landed or departed from the airport. There is a total lockdown on airport operations, as part of the measures the Federal Government has taken to fight the spread of coronavirus in the country. At the last count, 65 people as at the time of writing this column have been diagnosed with the disease, with one death. The coronavirus pandemic is frightening. The world is at the mercy of a disease nobody knows how it came about or how to cure it. The disease is ravaging mankind, with more than 22,000 deaths globally by yesterday. Indeed, people are dying like flies. The United States has recorded close to 1,000 deaths. Italy has lost no fewer than 7,503 people. Three thousand, four hundred and thirty-four (3,434) people have died in Spain. In China, about 3,000 have died. France has recorded 1,331, while the United Kingdom has lost 465 people. Many other countries have recorded deaths, with some having the tragedy of seeing hundreds of people dying in one day. This plague has hit the world hard. It has popularised the phrase: Social distancing.
My heart goes out to Nigeria, other countries and people who have lost dear ones to coronavirus. This pandemic is an evil wind that has reduced mankind to nothingness. It is a leveler, which has defied the sophistication of the First World, and made science look stupid, with no known cure yet. It is a disease as lethal as the atomic bomb. And the world is gasping for breath.
In Nigeria, mistakes have been made, but actions taken thereafter have been commendable. More effective actions are required going forward. For one, in the midst of the coronavirus devastation, it is still curious why some people came from overseas without self-isolation, as has been preached. If President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, tested positive barely one week after returning from overseas and three of his aides, who did not travel with him also tested positive for coronavirus, then something is wrong. From what is happening, it is becoming obvious that there are many people who came from overseas and did not isolate themselves from the rest of Nigerians at home. It is the failure of both the people involved and the authorities. I said earlier that airports were shut too late to international flights. Proactive measures were also not taken to isolate people coming from overseas. It should not have been self-isolation, but compulsory government-enforced isolation.
Now that coronavirus cases are rising, there are panic measures already, as is always the situation in Nigeria. Borders – air, sea and land – are totally closed. Schools are shut. Offices, shops and shopping malls are closed. Worship centres are shut. Markets are under lock and key. Banks are shutting down. There is about 80 per cent lockdown, aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus. Good measures. However, the drama should cease. The no-entry and no-exit into Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Kogi states, as ordered by the state governments, for example, makes no sense. Nigeria has borders. States have boundaries. Therefore, the shutting of Nigeria’s borders is enough. Closure of state boundaries is discriminatory among Nigerians.
Inasmuch as people are asked to stay away from crowds, there are people who are on essential duties, many of whose lines of duty are related to saving lives. There are also those involved in food and drugs supply. There are medical and security personnel and the press. These people need to move in and out of places, as the need arises. If all states in the federation decree no-entry and no-exit, as Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Kogi states have, Nigeria would be at a standstill. It would be, “to your tent O Israel,” whereas what is needed is collective effort to defeat this pandemic. If Edo State, for instance, shuts its boundaries, there won’t be access from the South-West to the South-East and South-South or from the South to the North through that route. Also, if Oyo and Osun states shut their boundaries, there won’t be access to the North from the South-West. Shutting state boundaries, to avoid entry, is not a guarantee that coronavirus won’t spread. Carriers may be in the states already. The Federal Government needs to intervene on this before every state resorts to self-help.
As government takes action in the coronavirus fight, Nigerians, as a people, should know that their health and survival are in their hands. Nigerians should observe all the rules that have been outlined. There should be social distancing. People should wash their hands with soap and running water regularly, clean their hands regularly with sanitizers, cough into their elbow or tissue papers, which are discarded after each use. People should stay away from those who are coughing or sneezing.
There are also many other things that are relevant. How many times do people clean their phones, television and air-conditioner remote controls and vehicle keys? Phones, televisions and air-conditioner remote controls are potential carriers of diseases and bacteria. If your phone, television and air-conditioner remote controls are not clean and you wash or sanitize your hands, it is a waste of time. As long as you are touching them, your hands are not clean. For those who use computers solely or share them, how often do they clean the keyboards or mouse? If your hands are washed clean and your computer keyboards and mouse are not cleaned, your hand will be contaminated and will bear bacteria. Cleaning these apparatuses regularly is personally hygiene.
The use of face masks and rubber gloves are no guarantee against coronavirus or virus. For those who wear face masks and gloves, how clean are they? Gloves protect your hands from carrying bacteria directly, but they bear bacteria or virus themselves. When you wear gloves and touch things, bacteria or virus could settle on them. If you rub your face or touch anything with the gloved hands, you transfer the bacteria or virus. If you also adjust your face mask with the gloved hand, whatever bacteria or virus therein would be transferred.
Those who wear face masks and gloves should, therefore, learn the rules of using them. They are to be used and discarded instantly. What this means is that, if you wear a glove from your house to the office, you discard them before entering your office. If you use your gloves to open your vehicle and enter with them and drive, whatever bacteria on them would be transferred to the steering wheel. To avoid this, as soon as you enter your vehicle, you discard them before driving or settling down.
The government should do something about public transportation. How many of the commercial buses are disinfected or sanitized regularly? How many of the operators give their passengers hand sanitizers at the point of boarding? How many of the operators are wearing face masks and gloves? Uganda has stopped public transportation for one week. If we don’t take such severe measures, commercial bus operators should be made to give passengers face masks and gloves as they board, which should be discarded as the people disembark. The fight against coronavirus is a huge-budget project. Government should earmark money for it. A rapid spread would be disastrous, as Nigeria does not have the facilities to handle a surge of infected people.
The economy is shutting down now. There will be casualties as the lockdown takes its toll on people and companies. There should be plans for this as a nation. The United States is talking of about $2 trillion stimulus. Other countries are setting aside money to sustain the people and companies. What is Nigeria’s answer to the imminent economic meltdown occasioned by coronavirus pandemic? There is near lockdown nationwide. The lockdown may be total in the coming weeks. What is the programme really?