Oops!!! We did it again… We played with our lives now Covid-19 has formed a long chain. As I write this article, I am fuming. Absolutely fuming, upset, angry, hurt, confused and petrified at the apocalyptic nightmare that is literally happening before our very own eyes.
After its gargantuan bloodletting in Asia and engulfing the new epicentre, Europe, Covid-19, a newly identified type of Coronavirus, which emerged in China in December 2019 and caused the recent outbreak of respiratory illness now has unfortunately made its presence known in Africa. As of the time I wrote this article, more than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in 43 countries in Africa. This is worrying because 10 days ago, there were just over 200 cases. The Virus is rapidly on the move and spreading.
In Nigeria, we have at least 40 cases of people who tested positive for Covid-19 and that number is likely to grow. It is baffling and absolutely ridiculous that we are in this position in Nigeria despite the warning that we had been given for over three months.
Our first encounter with Covid-19 occurred on Thursday, 27th February this year when Nigeria officially joined the growing list of countries with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus when an Italian flew into the country from Milan. The following day the Federal Government assured Nigerians of its readiness to strengthen surveillance at five International Airports in the country to prevent the spread of this disease. This obviously didn’t happen.
On 9 March, the second case was confirmed, a Nigerian who had contact with the Italian. In mid-March, the third case was confirmed, when a Nigerian returned to the country from the United Kingdom with the virus. Other people that tested positive to the virus were a Nigerian female who returned from France, a Nigerian male who arrived the country from Frankfurt, Germany.
It is important to establish this timeline in order to illustrate that Nigeria had fair warning of the disease. This shows how shamelessly carless we were from discovery of the Index case till now. Not only did we have fair warning, we also had a close shave with the infected Italian man. It beggars belief that Nigeria didn’t learn a very basic lesson and take the proper and adequate precaution of closing our border much earlier.
Many other countries, which didn’t have a recorded case or one or two cases shut their borders immediately it was confirmed that transportation of the virus from one part of the world to another through air travel was the primary route the virus was spread. In our characteristic laidback manner, Nigeria failed to act, apparently hoping and praying against the virus. Now look at what is happening.
No matter how we cut it, we were very much aware that Coronavirus was heading our way but what did we do? We left our borders open and waited for it to be transported into the country! We knew that if Covid-19 infiltrated our communities, it would be pandemonium because we do not have adequate facilities or medical personnel to respond to an epidemic, yet, what did we do? We left our borders open and waited for it to be transported into the country! Even when we had an early warning and scare with the infected Italian man who flew into Lagos, what did we do? We left our borders open and waited for another patient to be transported into the country! We watched other countries close their borders and we waited and waited with open arms, kept our airports open and waited for the virus to infiltrate into Nigeria. We waited until this outbreak of this deadly haemorrhagic fever, which can wipe out hordes of people began to take its place in our communities.
To get straight to the point; this issue is about suffering and death! Point, blank and period! Indeed, if this was Russian-Roulette loaded with a blank, as opposed to a real bullet, then going with the flow, in the manner we oft do in Nigeria, would be an option, despite what logic dictates. But this Coronavirus business is the real deal. It is not about party politics, or an insurgency by raving lunatic kidnappers; it is not about ‘my interest’ against ‘your interest,’ culture religion or tribe. This issue is about a ferocious disease, of which the outcome cannot be predicted.
I beseech thee do not get me wrong. It isn’t that one is irrationally and alarmingly trying to raise alarm or encourage the stigma of mildly sick people. My intention is not to unnecessarily advocate for people to give in to panic, because that ‘would’ be counterproductive to confronting the disease. One speaks in this manner based on the need for us to appreciate just ‘one-single’ feature of this virus and take precautions against it and try to prevent it from spreading.
You see the real tragedy of Coronavirus is that; just ‘one’ undetected infected person can provoke a regional epidemic and a global pandemic. Just one! We see this unfold everyday on the television; from China, to South Korea, to Iran, to Italy, to Spain, to Britain to America and beyond. We see how this strain of Coronavirus gorging on their communities and overwhelming them. Because of the potential of failing to detect that ‘one’ infected person, there is a need for the government to go beyond ordering the complete closure of all Nigerian borders; land, sea and air. Nigeria needs to go on total ‘lockdown!’
Putting checks on all airports across the country is not good enough anymore, not in this instance because it is too late for that now. The virus is already in our borders and spreading fast. Closing the borders was what we should have done before the virus was imported into Nigeria. Prevention is always better than a cure. We failed in the very duty of prevention when we failed to close our borders weeks ago, now we are scrambling to find a way to curtail this plague. And the only way to do that would be for the Federal government to go on absolute lockdown.
People need to remain in their houses for a minimum period of the Covid-19 incubation period of two weeks until their status can be ascertained. This is the only way we can detect those infected while stopping the spread of the disease. Nigeria still has time to do that successfully because the number of those infected don’t appear to be too high. However, this action must be taken now. The government cannot procrastinate in the same way it did with closing the border.
Taking into cognizance the state of our healthcare system, we really cannot afford to let the number of those infected get out of hand. After several years of neglect, our health system is in shambles and one would be very afraid if this metamorphoses into a full-scale epidemic, millions of Nigerians could die. Other advanced countries with capable health facilities are struggling to contain the virus, how will Nigeria fare when push comes to shove?
Almost from the onset of the health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) had warned of the risk that the coronavirus could spread to countries with weaker health systems, including in sub-Saharan Africa, where poor sanitation facilities, the proliferation of informal economy and urban crowding pose additional challenges in the efforts to combat the highly infectious disease.
Nigeria, a typical example of such a country in sub-Saharan Africa, with our epileptic healthcare system, does not even have adequate isolation centres across the country that possible vectors of the virus can be quarantined. Testing centres are also literally non-existent as test samples have to be taken to particular states to be analysed before it is sent back.
Furthermore, due to our communal way of living, if this virus turns to an epidemic, it will be very difficult to contain as it will spread like wildfire. We mostly live in cramped spaces and densely populated areas, and from the way coronavirus is spread, our clime is rife for it to spread and thrive. So, before the virus becomes an epidemic in Nigeria, government need to commence mandatory lockdown.
Government needs to act now, act fast and act decisively towards ensuring the spread of the coronavirus is immediately contained. It would be madness, literally, to wait for a full blown epidemic to happen before we take drastic action. It is commendable that some schools and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) have been closed. However, government must take proactive measures from the federal level and decree a total lockdown of the country to ensure that the pandemic does not do even greater damage to the country.
All public gatherings must be officially banned, particularly religious in nature. However, bringing our characteristic sensitivity to issues concerning religion, only a handful of the 36-States within the country have announced plans to stop religious congregations of more than 50 persons. This is appalling in the light of the public health emergency we are currently faced with.
In countries like Iran, Malaysia and South Korea, religious congregations helped and ensured the spread and mass infection of people with the disease in these countries. In Iran, Friday prayers have been cancelled in more than 20 cities. In Indonesia, Muslims leaders have told Muslims to pray at home, even on Fridays, rather than gathering in mosques and in Saudi Arabia, the annual Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina have been halted.
In Italy, Mass has been suspended and many Christians across the world are ceasing Sunday service and weekly meeting, instead, opting for online options. Other African nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Ghana have also banned gatherings at places of worship. An official pronouncement by the Federal Government of Nigeria banning all religious gatherings in the country has got to be made.
Also, teachings of Islam and Christianity are unanimous in this. The Bible in Roman 13:1-5 says “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.” While the Qur’an 4:59 state “O You who believe, obey Allah and the Messenger, and those in authority among you.”
Once government has issued the directive for the mandatory two-week mass isolation, there should be a massive federal intervention, which would introduce impactful measures that would protect the most vulnerable in the society, keep businesses afloat and those that would be hit most economically. A lockdown may very well lead Nigeria into recession but it is much better than the alternative,
At this point, if Nigeria does nothing and just let the virus run its course, we could see an uncontrollable disaster. We have to ‘flatten the curve,’ or reduce the rate at which people are becoming sick with Covid-19. And mass isolation is the key to do that. Nigeria must be vigilant, and willing to quarantine people with absolute diligence.
If we continue to procrastinate, the virus will likely run unchecked and tear through Nigeria in the coming months infecting a large percentage of us, killing millions and sending tens of millions to the hospital. To prevent that, Nigeria should shut down for the two week incubation period.
These are not normal times. The last time mankind faced a pandemic with this level of infectivity that was this dangerous, for which we had no therapy or vaccine, was a 100 years ago, and it led to 50 million deaths. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t unprecedented, but it’s not anything almost anyone alive has experienced before.
We have no choice but to decide to meet this challenge head-on. It is absolutely within our capacity to do so. If we quarantine everyone, and do so vigorously, we can let most people return to a more normal life in a fortnight. We can reopen schools and places where people gather. If we can be assured that the people who congregate aren’t infectious, they can socialize.
We can flatten the curve in stopping this disease from spreading any further. At least if not for anything, it buys us time until a treatment or a vaccine is found. However, that will only be possible if we do not make the senseless mistake we made in not closing the borders on time.
Now that we are where we are, there is only one way to go. We have got to start a two-week mass quarantine and lockdown… NOW!
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