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Why more Nigerians risk COVID-19 infection

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By Dirisu Yakubu

 Lockdown in Nigeria to stem spread of coronavirus

Coronavirus, arguably, is the world’s most dreadful disease of the past few decades. Like the Human Immuno Virus, HIV; COVID-19 has in the past few weeks, driven a wedge of panic into the psyche of men and women across the world.

Since an unnamed Italian first tested positive to the virus in Nigeria on February, 27, 2020; the total number of persons infected has grown to an astronomical 1,728 (as at the time of filing this report), 307 discharged cases with 51 confirmed deaths across the country.

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As rightly admitted a few weeks ago by Health Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire that Nigeria was not prepared for the pandemic, the past few weeks revealed the sorry state of awareness or stark disregard for same by many Nigerians who continued to flout government’s directive to observe social distancing, work from home amongst sundry preventive measures.

In Abuja, the nation’s capital, things are probably worse as they are in rural dwellings. That may sound a bit hyperbolic but how does one explain the mad crowd in Kurudu, Nyanya and Karshi markets where sellers and buyers transact businesses as usual as if no one is aware of the deadly blows of coronavirus?

Penultimate Thursday, a Pickup Van stationed a few metres away from the Karu Market entry gate attracted a sea of heads who formed a semi-circular ring around the owner, to buy crates of eggs. Apart from the seller, a light-skin young man in his mid 30s, none of the buyers wore a face mask. They pushed and shoved, in flagrant breach of the social distancing campaign, as they rushed to identify which crate had the biggest eggs.

Same day, this reporter drove down to the second gate of the Military Barracks, Kurudu, settlement of the Abuja Municipal Area Council, where two Monetary Deposit Banks, Eco Bank and Union Bank for Africa, UBA, have their Automated Teller Machines, ATMs. At Eco Bank, a mammoth crowd of the young and old, each struggling to make a withdrawal, attracted the attention of yours truly, who promptly responded to the stimulus by moving some inches closer to see things for himself. One of the bank’s customers who identified herself simply as Sandra told Saturday Vanguard that there was a sense of order initially until the queue earlier formed was discarded due to what she attributed to the impatience of a lady who saw herself as a god because “she drove here in a big car.”

According to Sandra, “We kept a straight line even though I complained that we were not adhering to the social distancing campaign. We were making withdrawals and there was no problem until a Ford Explorer packed beside us and the driver, a middle-aged woman went straight ahead of everybody to make a withdrawal. We carefully explained to her to join the queue but she ignored us and said she had no time to waste. Those who patiently lined up abandoned the queue and that is why you are seeing this commotion now.” Needless to add, getting a chance to transact business became a survival of the fittest and those without the strength to compete, left to explore other avenues.

There are reports of people caring less about the measures to curtail the spread of the disease. Certainly, the awareness campaign appears inadequate.

Serial violators of the work-from-home directive of government are likely to make the quest to defeat COVID-19 pretty difficult. Apart from city centres like Wuse, Garki, Gwarimpa, Asokoro, Maitama and a few others; satellite town of Abuja are bubbling as ever.

Tricycle (Keke) riders, commercial drivers

Aware people are flouting the stay-at-home order of government, tricycles riders and taxi drivers continue to do business as usual. With four passengers at the back seat and two in front, taxi drivers plying the Nyanya/Jikwoyi/Kurudu/Orozo/Karshi axis are literally aiding possible spread of the disease we are all trying to run away from. It’s the same for keke riders who in addition to stubbornly carrying three passengers behind sometimes convey two others in front, one either side of the rider in total disregard to the social distancing campaign of government, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC and the World Health Organization, WHO.

If this trend is left unchecked, chances are that communal infection would be on the rise, particularly now that government has chosen to relax the lockdown earlier declared in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, with effect from Monday, May 4th, 2020.

Nigeria and Africa

For those who still bask in the euphoria of the country’s description as the “Giant of Africa,” the poor handling of the coronavirus awareness campaign coupled with the shoddy state of the health sector could probably make them to do a rethink today. In spite of billions of dollars earned from crude oil sale in several decades; the nation’s health sector is as bad as its education counterpart. This much was confirmed by no less a person than Secretary to the Government of the Federation and chairman, Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, who was recently quoted as saying that he never knew that the nation’s health sector was such in a mess until his appointment to lead government’s charge at curtailing and containing the virus a few weeks ago.

In the continent where Nigeria often claimed to be a giant over every other nation; two smaller countries are attracting global attention to their respective anti-COVID-19 campaigns. Madagascar, the East African country with a population of 26.3 million people (2018 estimate) gained independence, like Nigeria, in 1960. As at the time of filing this report, the country had 128 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with 71 recoveries and no death.

The story of Madagascar has become a continental pride so much that even the federal government appears to be flirting with the idea of importing herbs (can you beat that?) from the East African nation to augment present effort aimed at battling the spread of coronavirus.

Briefing health correspondents earlier in the week, Boss Mustapha said: “I want to assure you that whatever is happening in the world, we are mindful of it and we are keeping tab.

“I was reading of the experiences in Madagascar– of why everybody is drinking some solutions that have been prepared. This morning I was sharing with my wife, and I told her that probably I would request that Mr. President allow us import a plane load for a trial because we are all navigating an uncharted cause. Nobody has ever been on this road. So, every attempt to find solution that would bring succour to our people, be rest assure that this task force is very responsible and we would do everything to ensure that we get what will benefit our people, what will help them in the processes that we find ourselves today.”

Like Madagascar, the West African country of Senegal has attracted positive headlines owing to her effort at taming the ugly COVID-19. With 823 confirmed cases, out of which 296 have recovered and nine patients dead, the country has shown impressive effort in curtailing the pandemic, much to the admiration of the world. Dr. Abdoulaye Buosso, Director of Health Emergency Operation Centre of Senegal on Tuesday attributed the country’s story to a system that works, saying, “Senegal has very few severe cases and is taking care of its patients swiftly: test results are available within 24 hours, all patients who test positive are systematically hospitalized, whether they have symptoms or not, and their contacts are quarantined.”

For Nigeria to successfully wage this war against a virus aiming to kill the rich and the poor, old and young, educated and illiterate; she must intensify effort at enforcement of established rules including compulsory wearing of face masks at least in public.

Anything short of this is an invitation extended to the virus, which will be more than willing to strike deadly as it has done in the United States of America and the United Kingdom where 57, 000 and 21, 678 have died respectively from complications related to COVID-19. Testing centres should be replicated across the land and like in Senegal, contacts of confirmed cases should immediately be hospitalized.


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