ANALYSIS: Three Factors That Will Shape FG's Next COVID-19 Response
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 will today address the nation on Nigeria's next response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This comes as the first phase of the gradual easing of the lockdown imposed on Abuja, Lagos, and Ogun by President Muhammadu Buhari comes to an end. The President had imposed a five-week lockdown on the two western states and the federal capital city in the wake of the crisis in Nigeria.
Here are three factors that will shape Nigeria's next response:
1. Level of compliance with phase one guidelines:
Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who also doubles as the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, had on April 30, issued guidelines on the implementation of the first phase of the gradual easing of the lockdown that was earlier announced by President Buhari during his nationwide broadcast on April 27.
Some of the guidelines include the prohibition of interstate travel, except for essential travels and services, the imposition of overnight curfew from 8 pm to 6 am, mandatory use of face masks for all persons while in public spaces, the prohibition of mass gatherings of more than 20 people outside of the workplace among others.
Sadly, many Nigerians have disobeyed these guidelines. Interstate travels went on especially at night with security agents manning the borders accused of receiving bribes to allow movement. Governors also transported Almajiri kids to their states of origin during the lockdown. Many of these kids ended up contracting the virus.
In banks, public transports, and markets, physical distancing was largely not observed. Many Nigerians could not afford the face masks, access to clean water for hand washing became a major problem for most households.
2. Surge in Cases:
Nigeria has recorded a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the past two weeks.
As of May 4th when the lockdown was eased, Nigeria had 2802 confirmed cases with 93 deaths. Two weeks later, our COVID-19 cases have surged to 5959 with 182 fatalities. This represents 3157 new cases and 89 deaths in fourteen days.
According to the Nigeria Center For Disease Control (NCDC), COVID-19 has two weeks incubation period. The coming days will present a true picture of the effect of lockdown relaxation on COVID-19 surge.
Though NCDC attributed the rise in cases to improved testing, violation of COVID-19 advisory on physical distancing, hand washing and use of face mask could be the main reason for the surge in cases.
3. Need To Reopen The Economy:
There is a thin line between opening the economy and preventing Nigerians from contracting COVID-19. Nigeria is currently experiencing an economic meltdown as a result of the crash in oil prices caused by the virus.
Government revenue is on the decline, unemployment is on the rise and millions are sliding into poverty on a daily basis. With the obvious failure in government palliatives, the need to fully reopen the economy has become more apparent.
One of the factors that have hampered Nigeria's fight against COVID-19 is the lack of a unified national action plan. States across the federation have different COVID-19 responses which have slowed down the collective fight against the virus.
While some states are extending lockdowns including a ban on religious gatherings, others are easing lockdowns and opening up places of worship. The PTF must ensure that states align with the COVID-19 national guidelines to ensure uniformity in the fight against the virus.
Defeating COVID-19 the virus also requires a collective responsibility on the part of everyone. Citizens must begin to see the fight against the virus as a national assignment. The use of face mask, regular hand washing, and the observance of physical distancing must be taken seriously on the part of everyone.
We must also increase our testing capacity and work with all relevant bodies to develop an indigenous vaccine for the virus.