On March 30, 2020, as cases of deaths and persons infected with COVID-19 rose, a national lockdown on major cities was announced by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) which was to last for an initial 14 days but lasted for more months.
The effects of the lockdown on the nation and individuals was unfortunately bleak and painful as revenues diminished and resources depleted, a series of uneventful and not well thought-out policies that were also poorly executed added to the bleakness of the era. The end game of the lockdown was equally not achieved as we saw cases steadily rise, leading to a second wave of the coronavirus.
The components of the lockdown included a complete shutdown of vehicular activities, in-person gatherings–social, religious, educational or otherwise, markets, airports, borders, and general economic activities save for essential services–note that the lockdown was necessary as the records of deaths in western countries were alarming. They shut down and since we did not understand the virus itself, our government shut down too. Other climes ensured there was an economic stimulus, grants, and palliatives for their citizens but contrastingly, our governments missed this and the only efforts made were laughable and abysmal. Social media was awash with the mediocrity displayed, however, it turned out that there were palliatives that could have been distributed but were hidden in different warehouses across the country – SAD. VERY SAD.
The handling of the pandemic in Nigeria leaves a lot of room for improvement, while I heartily commend the frontline workers–doctors, nurses, cleaners, and other medical practitioners within the field – the dearth of amenities within the Nigeria medical space only leaves them playing catch up with their counterparts abroad and magnifying their challenges and not their competence. In any case, kudos to the medical team for managing and minimising the death rates that still leaves the world shocked.
Nigeria and Nigerians are products of a failed system and our mentality is largely one of personal survival over anything else. How do you explain the call to keep social distance and the request to compulsory obtain a National Identification Number without observing the said protocols or setting up a process that does not require physical attendance? The request for civil servants under level 14 to work from home while children resume schooling activities? Or public transportation that is still being filled to their capacity on intrastate and interstate travels? Or observing social distance within airports but not in the airplane?
We knew ahead of time that a second wave was nigh but what plans did we put in place to mitigate the wave beyond asking citizens to observe social distance and wear masks? What plans did we put in place to ensure the economy does not suffer a further depression in recession if we have to go on lockdown? Proactive governments shut airspace for flights coming from high-risk countries with the second wave but we are still open to receiving flights from these zones–now we have the Nigerian strain of the virus.
Private hospitals are making a killing from the surge in cases and asking for as much as N5m to N10m as a deposit for a confirmed case while our public isolation centres are still contemplating whether to open up or not. As it is, one cannot blame the private hospitals as their capacity is limited, so a premium has to be paid when available. This is purely the economics of demand and supply. The current operations have been hard hit with a shortage of oxygen and an increase in black market activities and other sharp practices.
Testing for COVID-19 is still expensive in private hospitals and laboratories – ranging from N40,000 to N50,000 if you intend to receive a result without any delay, because doing the test via the government channels results in long delays to receiving results and this has led to the system being exploited with crooks producing fake negative results done without tests.
On January 15, 2021, Nigeria recorded its highest daily infected cases of 1,867 patients and the head of the Presidential Task Force on COVID 19 has insisted that there would be no lockdown. A sharp divergence from March 2020 when we had only 111 cases nationwide and went on a lockdown.
While the government is quick to copy and implement foreign policies pertaining to the lockdown, they have however held back in making such decisions which I believe is hinged on not hampering economic activities. It is also clear that the approach should not be the same. We need to put our house in order by asking and answering the right questions! Will the lockdown be efficient? Will it help us reduce the number of cases of the virulent outbreak? This can only be affirmative if certain conditions are met and I will itemise a few. Systemic/staged lockdown per region where cases are spiking. Reduce the cost of testing in private firms by subsidising the cost or providing concessions. There should be no sacred cows where enforcement of the protocol is concerned. Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world where the vast majority live on what they make per day – there should be provisions for palliatives. Restrict flights into Nigeria from countries with a high risk of the infection. Adequate controls in place at the nation’s land borders so as not to fully shut them down and hampering economic activities. Continuous sensitisation and encouraging the public to stay safe while observing the stipulated safety protocols. Opening up other isolation centres to ease the pressure on Yaba Isolation Centre and private hospitals. A clampdown on illegal activities as related to testing and issuing fake results which have now become prevalent. Invest in the construction of oxygen chambers to boost production – this is an important necessity for COVID-19 patients. Statistics have shown that at least 8-16 cylinders per day are required for a patient with breathing difficulty.
Improving the welfare packages of frontline workers through the period.
From the above, I can conclude that a lockdown is needed but highly improbable because the political will to do the right thing and the integrity of citizens is grossly lacking. So, I say NAY to lockdown.
In the meantime, let us stay safe, wear our masks, wash our hands and if you are a person of faith, pray for yourself, family, and Nigeria.
Shawana sent this piece via email@example.com
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