By Tayo Ogunbiyi
INITIALLY, we did not really bother about it. Some of us thought it was a problem for the Chinese. Somehow, it broke the Chinese barriers, made a foray into Asia and got the whole of the continent entangled in its deadly claws. Having done sufficient damage in Asia, Europe, precisely Italy, became the next target. From Italy, Europe caught the fatal bug and from there the United States got a dose of it. Donald Trump, the garrulous American leader, who had earlier dubbed it a ‘Chinese syndrome’ now knows better. His nation, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, runs the risk of experiencing a worse outbreak of the pandemic.
In Africa, we had boasted that the ailment dare not come into a tropical environment like ours. That has since been proven untrue, as many African nations currently battle the mysterious plague. Take it or leave it, COVID-19, the 21st Century monster, is causing the entire world anxious moments as no terrorist organisation has ever done. The number of people who have died as a result of the pandemic globally now exceeds 20,000, with more than 432,000 infected in 158 countries.
This shows the massive impact the virus is having on the world. It has found a foothold on every continent except for Antarctica. Thousands of flight have been cancelled, music and sporting activities postponed and in some cases entirely cancelled. Some nations have been on lock-down for weeks, yet respite seems out of sight. On Wednesday, March 12, 2020, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
As it was with most Africans, Nigerians did not originally bother about the plague until a certain Italian arrived Lagos on February 24 via Milan, and ever since the centre no longer holds. Individuals hitherto thought impregnable now stand at the mercy of the rampaging virus. It is not surprising that Lagos, being the most populous state in the country and the nation’s centre of commercial activities, has been the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria.
Fortunately, the state has prepared for the virus. It has been building capacity steadily for any biosecurity threat. Its biosecurity facility, a level three laboratory, one of the very few in Africa with modern design, can handle very dangerous pathogens. The state government has been working tirelessly to curtail the virus from spreading. It has made effort in tracing over 2,300 people who were exposed to infected persons. This is no mean feat as the battle to curb the virus from spreading continues.
Cheerily, the situation is not all gloomy. The Italian who imported the infection to the country has since been discharged after weeks of intensive care. The index case reportedly appreciated the exceptional care and support given to him by staff of the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba and members of the Emergency Operation Centre, EOC. He also consented to donating one unit of white blood (plasma) which is rich in antibody proteins that target coronavirus.
Nevertheless, the Lagos State government didn’t relax on this feat, as it pronounced the shutting down of all schools and markets in the state. Currently, public gatherings of more than 20 stand suspended while the state public servants from GL 01-12 now work from home. The rapid spread of the pandemic necessitated all the precautionary measures. This is wise, considering the fact that the virus spreads faster when a person infected with it is exposed to a large group of people. Being densely populated, with over 20 million people, the virus can spread fast in Lagos if adequate measures are not put in place. The new social distancing policy is, thus, a right step in the right direction.
According to WHO Chief, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus: “If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response, those with a handful of novel coronavirus cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission”. So far, the level of preparedness and efforts of the Lagos State government in handling the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely applauded.
Dr. Ghebereyesus hailed Nigeria, and by extension Lagos, saying: “This is a true act of solidarity and an important step in stopping the Coronavirus from spreading further”. This is a testimony that the decision of the state government to spearhead construction of the Biobank and Biosecurity Laboratory at the Mainland Specialist Hospital, Yaba was timely and ingenious.
Through a clear and coherent communication strategy, the state government has aroused the consciousness of residents on the symptoms and preventive measures to take in avoiding the disease. It has also fought the scourge of fake news and rumours as it gives daily updates on the virus. Just like the case with the Ebola virus, with WHO hailing Lagos for a “spectacular success story” and commending authorities for their “effective coordination of the response”, we might be on course of yet another remarkable victory.
However, Lagos residents and, indeed, all compatriots need to fully come to grasp with the reality of this deadly virus. It is rather sad to note that many still carry on as if it is all a joke. People still congregate without regard to the social distance policy. Some bars and markets still carry on with business as usual. Ironically, the disease often spread easily at large gatherings.
In South Korea and Singapore, the disease spread largely through organised gatherings. From the experience of a few nations that have successfully curtailed its spread, strict adherence to social distance rules clearly played a huge role. Thus, the need to shun all forms of large gathering, and even stay at home cannot be over-emphasized. This is the most effective way to break the circle of transmission. This has worked quite well in a few places.
As in the case of Ebola, this tough time shall also pass. As Governor Sanwo-Olu rightly affirmed: “We have overcome more challenging situations in the past, and we shall surely surmount this also”. But then, we need to be on same page with government and other critical stakeholders by observing all rules and regulations. God bless Nigeria.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja