By Dakuku Peterside
That Nigeria currently battles with a second, more deadly wave of Covid-19 is no longer in doubt. The numbers are dire. In the first week of January, the country had about 10,000 positive tests reported in just seven days obviously linked to the festivities. One in every six persons (16 percent) tested for COVID-19 during that period tested positive for the virus. As cases rise, so do fatalities. The country in just over three weeks had 146 deaths because of COVID-19 complications.
These numbers are alarming because the country’s capacity for testing is still poor. This is despite the fact that, according to NCDC,120 new laboratories have been activated since last year and a new private sector-led four-star laboratory Analytics Diagnostics will soon open its doors in Port Harcourt. It is believed that most fatalities resulting from Covid-19 go unreported. Clear evidence of the severity of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria is how our healthcare facilities are being overwhelmed. Bed spaces for those sick from Covid-19 are scarce, and government hospitals now admit only those with severe symptoms. Scientific knowledge available says novel coronavirus is a respiratory disease, and the most affected patients are usually short of oxygen. The booming black-market business for oxygen in Nigeria tells you much about the severity of the second wave of the virus.
There are reports about some hospitals charging as much as N5m as a deposit for Covid-19 patients. Some patients are spending as much as N500,000 per day on treatment, especially those in need of oxygen. No hospital seems to bother about those who test positive to Covid-19 but are asymptomatic as they are advised to go home and self-isolate.
Gone are the days of contact tracing, those days when if someone tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the government will trace everyone with whom he or she had met to ensure that they all self-isolate to curb the spread of the virus. These days, there is a recognition that community transmission drives this second wave, and efforts to curtail the spread seem rooted more in faith than strategy.
Despite the deadly second wave of Covid-19 upon us, most Nigerians carry on as if nothing is amiss. There seems to be a total abdication of individual responsibility in containing this virus. In the ever-busy streets of Lagos and other major cities across the country, people move around without facemask and do not adhere to social distancing procedures. Our markets operate with no or little compliance to the virus protocols. Weddings, burials, birthdays, and other events occur as if there is no pestilence in our midst. Our public transportation systems are as they have always been – people are cramped together in busses and taxis with no adherence to recommended safety measures against Covid-19.
Our churches and other worship centres are not left out. Religious services hold as they were pre-2020 with the pastors and other ‘men of God’ presiding over potential Covid-19 super spreader events in the name of church services. Many countries have shut down worship places for good reasons based on pattern recognition of the spread of the virus. God will understand if we must worship him from home if it is necessary.
The government and NCDC are doing their best to curb the spread, but the situation still seems helpless and hapless. The leadership of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and NCDC have so far demonstrated that Nigerians can get things done if they hand over the task to committed and competent persons. We are now faced with threats of another lockdown, but the attendant economic impact would likely be very devastating. The recent prevarication of the Federal Ministry of Education over whether to reopen schools across the country or not is a sign of the government’s predicament. University lecturers were pushing against the resumption of academic activities, but the federal government and most state governments have authorised the reopening of primary, secondary, and tertiary learning places.
The fact is that Nigeria’s current reality was not inevitable. There were warnings by scientists that without urgent action shortly after Nigeria relaxed most of its restrictions to mitigate the risks, this kind of current situation would likely happen. But the exigencies of governance and the contextual realities of the Nigerian socio-economic situation made the government either play the ostrich or downplay the imminent risk.
There are no easy solutions to the second surge of Covid-19 in Nigeria. Much has been said about a second lockdown. However, the coronavirus pandemic is a devastating blow for the world economy, and Nigeria is not an exemption. It is on record that Nigeria’s economy contracted by 6.1% year on year in the second quarter of 2020. The dip follows thirteen quarters of favourable but low growth rates. The 6.1% decline is also Nigeria’s steepest in the last ten years. By November 2020, the Nigerian government announced that the country has slipped into a recession, the second since 2015, after its gross domestic product contracted for the second consecutive quarter.
Economists believe that even though Nigeria’s long tottering economy risked slipping into recession even without the Covid-19 pandemic, the recession was exacerbated by the lockdown occasioned by the pandemic.
The fact is that while the initial lockdown last year across the globe was needed as an emergency solution to contain the spread of Covid-19. A second lockdown by all intents and justifications is not necessary for now, especially in the face of a sustained recession, which most world economies now face due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has also been proven that there may be no strong correlation between the spread of Covid-19 and lockdowns as a complete solution. Instead, the lockdown seems to have immense adverse effects on the global economy, affecting government revenue and consequently expenditures, and adversely affecting household incomes.
The summary is that the economic wreckage wrought by lockdown restrictions is usually devastating. However, the situation is worsened by mismanagement of the lockdown as economics, and human health hardly operates in isolation. When people die from the pandemic, they are not economically productive, and thousands of sick people in hospitals, quarantine, and isolation centres consume resources without participating in economic activities. Added to these, a substantial spike in the number of Covid-19 cases also puts people with other health issues at increased risk.
The most viable means to bring the Covid-19 pandemic to an end is through herd immunity brought about by effective vaccination. Reports have it that Britain has vaccinated 4.6m people with two doses of the vaccine under three months and Israel as at January 19 has vaccinated 25.6 percent of its population. These two cases are successful due to their vast advanced health infrastructure. Effective vaccines have been developed, but it would still take months to have them available in Nigeria and years to have them administered to a substantial population to ensure herd immunity and decapitate this deadly virus. Our vaccination case will not be helped by our nonexistent or decrepit health infrastructure.
The second wave of Covid-19 can only be checked by a determined and purposeful government and a responsible citizenry. It is a shared responsibility and we all have to be responsible. The government should re-instate bans on large gatherings like burials, weddings, birthdays, parties, and other social events. Our markets should only operate within Covid-19 safety guidelines; our public transportation should be Covid-19 compliant, and our worship centres should only be allowed to open if they observe adequate safety protocols.
Schools are potential places for superspreaders. As the government has allowed schools to reopen, they must ensure that school administrators comply with government directives on ensuring students’ safety. Regular inspection of educational institutions by NCDC officials is crucial, and they should sanction those who do not comply.
The government should also step up efforts on public enlightenment on safety measures to protect against the virus and the appropriateness and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine, which in the current milieu, will face serious challenges when it eventually becomes available in the country. Virulent superstitions and unfounded speculations around the virus amongst the citizenry are so high that most Nigerians will not take the vaccine whenever it is available if there is no social re-orientation.
On the part of the citizenry, the solutions are simple and straightforward. We should continue washing our hands, wear our face masks and maintain physical and social distancing. Get tested when you get sick or when you come in close contact with an infected person and make sure you self-isolate if you test positive whether you have symptoms or not.
Nigerians did away with large gatherings – burials, weddings, birthdays, etc., for an extended period in the Year 2020 with minimal impact on relationships. Why can’t we do the same in the Year 2021 until the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is over? One of the positives of the Covid-19 pandemic is that people began to appreciate the essence of virtual meetings, conferences, and other events. The effect of lack of physical interactions on productivity was not much.
The spike in cases and deaths from Covid-19 in the Western world is mostly because of the cold weather. Therefore, we expect that as the weather gets warmer and with increased vaccination, the situation in these places will get better. However, this is not the same case with Nigeria. The second wave of the COVID 19 spread maybe because of neglecting the gains made in the first wave or expanding on them and a citizenry that threw caution to the winds.
The solution to the pandemic requires governmental and individual responsibility. The government should proactively and intentionally provide information campaigns, and health interventions whilst individuals must adhere to all COVID-19 protocols. If the government and the people do not take adequate measures to curtail this second, more deadly wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, we may find ourselves trapped in a big mire when the rest of the world is already out of the woods. We must not let this happen.