Crowded Computer village inside by Otigba street, compulsory of Nose masks with out Social Distancing, as Lagos state government easing lockdown, after Federal Government of Nigeria Six weeks lockdown of Lagos, Ogun state and FCT, Photo: Bunmi Azeez

•Relaxation is giving a lot of concern — Mamora
•We are not yet back to normal — Aliyu

By Sola Ogundipe

Few days after the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on Nigeria’s commercial and administrative capitals of Lagos and the FCT respectively, were lifted, the Federal government, was already considering the possibility of locking them down again. Indeed, if the disregard for social distancing was bad during the lockdown in the two cities, it was certainly worse during the lifting of the lockdown restrictions in the two cities.

From the crack of dawn on Monday May 4, millions of Nigerians in Lagos and Abuja emerged from their forced confinement with a mixture of relief and anxiety as the 5-week stay-at-home order expired.   The  gradual lifting over a six-week period of  the lockdown restrictions had been announced a week earlier by President Mohammadu Buhari to enable the people return to , but  with exceptions only for food shopping and health-related trips.

The residents were to abide with an 8pm to 6am curfew, social distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks in the public and a ban on non-essential interstate travel were slammed on the two states. But all that was confined to the background as  millions of people relished new-found freedom.  As the day broke, hordes of people took to the streets with vengeance.

The easing of restrictions to reopen Africa’s biggest economy had kicked off in earnest. Major and minor streets of the two bustling cities rapidly filled up with impatient and eager men, women, children and people of all groups and classes. The once-deserted and desolate streets, roads and highways came alive once again.  In the busting Lagos megacity the usual signature of heavy pedestrian and gridlocked vehicular traffic were quickly established.  The usual mingling, meandering, shoving, push –me-I-push-you scenario was back. So much energy was displayed as if to prove to the world that indeed Lagos was ready for the post COVID-19 era.

Mixed feelings

Generally there were mixed feelings. There was relief on one hand, because life was returning to normal for millions in the two cities; on the other hand, there was palpable anxiety because no one knew exactly what to expect. It wasn’t a long wait.

Few hours into the lifting of the restrictions, series of violations the Federal government recommendations for the relaxed lockdown were being recorded. It became obvious that the peculiarities of pre-lockdown life were still very much in vogue as all the careful preparation for the pandemic reopening went out the window.  While the eased lockdown was in favour of enabling Nigerians to get back some of their lost survival, it was bad for the primary purpose of containing the pandemic.

In several instances, the mandatory rule of wearing of facemasks was partially obeyed, but there was still cause for worry as the number of persons without masks was significant and even among those that wore masks, several were worn wrongly. At the bus stops, banks and market places, groups of more than 20 people gathered, even as commercial buses and tricycles flouted the recommended seating arrangement with reckless abandon. Worse still, the recommendation of a minimum of two metres physical distancing was largely ignored.

Before the end of the day on May 4, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, announced 245 new confirmed cases  out of which  76  were in Lagos,  and 19 in the FCT to give a  total of  2,802 cases and 93 deaths in 34 states and the FCT.

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By  Thursday May 7,  there 381 new confirmed cases for the day and 4 deaths, bringing the total to 3,526 confirmed cases and 107 deaths in 34 states and the FCT. Lagos had the highest figure of 183 while FCT has no recorded cases for the day.

Another lockdown inevitable

“I am not comfortable with what I am seeking, the relaxation is a cause for worry, and it is giving a lot of concern,” said an obviously worried   Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, the Minister of State for Health.    “It gives a lot of concern and cause for worry. Whether you talk of physical distancing, restricted access to markets, limitation of number of customers at the banks, wearing of face masks, hand washing, etc, there is violation. Buses and taxis  that were to carry fewer passengers were being overloaded. What the guidelines recommended were not obeyed with the relaxation. It gives cause for concern a lot,” he remarked. Mamora’s worry was not unfounded.

Recalling the guidelines and advisories of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, and other enforcement expectations, Mamora said caution had been thrown to the winds. “The truth is that we had preached to the people what to do and we will continue to preach that every individual has primary responsibility for their own health. Where advisories are given, it would be expected that people would follow them, and if not, there would be worry. We would expect that it is the way to go for the advisories to be obeyed by the people in their own interest.”

He said the advisories were developed to balance between the health and economic advantages. We thought that with all the messages out there, people would see the need to take responsibility for that which is needful. According to Mamora another lockdown might be inevitable if the trend persists.   “It is anticipated there could be another lockdown. “We anticipated that because as at the time this lockdown was relaxed, it was not as if the outbreak in the country had peaked, so we expect the figures would still rise. We are ready for that.”

Things not back to normal

In the views of the Coordinator of the PTF,   Dr. Sani Aliyu:   “Things are not back to normal, so we should not assume they are. Just because part of the lock down was lifted to enable people have some sense of normalcy doesn’t mean we are back to normal,” he warned.

Aliyu who gave a sobering assessment of the first few days of the easing of the lockdown, noted:   “We would continue to ensure compliance with the guidelines that we have set up. What is of importance are the key elements, which is, social distancing, use of face mask, hand washing, etc., all of which need to be done at the same time. You cannot pick and choose, all are essential and it is when they are done in combination that they would be effective.”

Aliyu was however emphatic that wearing a mask was not a guarantee of protection. “It does not matter if you are wearing a mask, if you continue to expose yourself to large crowds, you will get infected.

“With a mask, you can only protect your lips and nose, but not your eyes. If somebody is standing very close to you and is talking and shouting in your face, that person can infect you through your eyes. At the same time, you must avoid touching contaminated surfaces, you need to deliver the key elements together as a bundle. I know it is difficult, because you have no money, and you have to go out but at the end of the day, it is your personal responsibility to remain safe.

“We have preached and we will continue to preach that every individual has responsibility for their own safety. There are many people out there who are infected; you are strongly advised to keep away from crowds. If you see a crowd, keep away, maintain a safe distance. Keep your loved ones safe and if you have elderly, keep them safe. If you do not have to go out, stay at home.”



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