Disturbing COVID-19 Wave: The onus on the Nigerian populace

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Worries over the threats that the second wave of COVID-19 portend to the Nigerian entity have become a subject of concern. While the Government is grappling with the reality of managing the spread of the virus amidst shrink in resources under an atmosphere of economic recession, the response of the populace to these efforts, according to the later, has not been commensurate and encouraging. The disturbing rate of cases now testing positive daily, has begun to raise fear over possibilities of another lockdown by the Federal Government. Any occurrence of such is indisputably known, with all indications, to be undesirable either for the Government nor the populace. Since the Government is handicapped to cater for the citizens under any occasion of a lockdown, and the prevailing economic conditions of the Country have economically incapacitated majority at the local level, it is paramount that decisive and more proactive measures be taken.

The Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 had last week identified States where situations may demand another lockdown, should the increase in the number of infections persist uncontrollably. The PTF National Incident Manager, Mukhtar Muhammed, had on Friday while speaking as a guest on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, described the rising cases of COVID-19 infections recorded in three urban areas – the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; Lagos and Plateau States – as disturbing. According to him, available data from urban local governments in the affected States recorded the highest cases of the virus during the second wave in the country.  He was quoted, “Mostly, the areas affected are the urban local governments in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Plateau. Even in most other states, it is the urban areas that are involved. So, if we are going to have any restriction, it will be in these areas. The urban areas are the most affected and that is why we have these superspreaders and that is where we are going to target. We have analysed that and we are advising the states based on the data that these are the focused areas where these transmissions are more than the others.”

In the light of the worry, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over the weekend had warned the Federal Government (FG) of the dangers that lie in imposing another total lockdown in the Country. According to the apex bank, such move would be catastrophic to the economy, and consequently Nigerians at large. In his comment on the subject over the weekend, the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele had noted, “While expressing understanding of the public health dilemma of the recent spike in infections (COVID-19), MPC encouraged the government not to consider a wholesome lockdown of the Nigerian economy so as not to reverse the current gains of the stimulus earlier provided in 2020. As long as we see that there is second wave of COVID-19   even in Nigeria, while we are trying to convince government not to adopt the wholesome lockdown because that will be catastrophic for everybody and the economy.”

It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had last week signed an Executive Order making wearing of face-mask anywhere in Nigeria compulsory with a prescription of a six months jail term for flouting COVID-19 protocols. The order tagged “The Coronavirus  Disease (COVID-19) Health Protection Regulations 2021” signed  on the 26th January, 2021, had protocols bordering on Restrictions on Gatherings, Operations of Public Places, Mandatory Compliance with Treatment Protocols, Offences and Penalties,  Interpretation and Citation, Enforcement and Application; all sequenced into 6 parts.

The Restrictions on Gatherings clause had directed that “at all gatherings, a physical distance of at least two metres shall be maintained at all times between persons. Notwithstanding the provision of Regulation 1, no gathering of more than 50 persons shall hold in an enclosed space, except for religious purposes, in which case the gathering shall not exceed 50% capacity of the space. All persons in public gatherings, whether in enclosed or open spaces, shall adhere to the provisions of Part 2 of these Regulations. The provisions of these Regulations may be varied by Guidelines and Protocols as may be issued, from time to time, by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 on the recommendation of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).”

The clause on Mandatory Compliance with Treatment Protocols had read thus: “The health and safety protocols and guidelines are issued by the PTF on Covid-19 on the recommendation of the NCDC and shall be binding on all persons. Persons confirmed to have tested positive to COVID-19 by an NCDC accredited laboratory, may not refuse isolation and or admission to a designated health establishment for management of the disease.  All public secondary and tertiary health facilities shall designate a space or holding bay for the initial triage or assessment of suspected persons with COVID-19 in line with the approved protocol for case management. All public secondary and tertiary health facilities shall establish sample collection centres, where test samples from suspected cases can be collected and transmitted to an accredited testing laboratory in the State. Notwithstanding the provision of Regulation 27, where a person confirmed to have tested positive to the COVID-19 is: a. Asymptomatic or has mild symptoms; and b. Proves able to make an alternative isolation arrangement that satisfies protocols issued by the NCDC, as certified by a healthcare provider and assessment by a medical professional;   such person may use such alternative arrangements, including supervised ‘home-based care,’ for self-isolation and adhere strictly to the guidelines, until confirmed by the healthcare provider to be no longer at risk of infecting others with the virus.”

The Offences and Penalties clause had read: “Any person who contravenes the provisions of these Regulations commits an offence. Any person who, without reasonable cause, contravenes a direction given under Parts 1 and 2 of these Regulations commits an offence.Any person who, without reasonable cause, obstructs an authorised official from enforcement of these Regulations commits an offence. An offence under these Regulations is punishable, on summary conviction, by a fine or a term of six months imprisonment or both in accordance with Section 5 of the Quarantine Act.”

Part five of the “Enforcement and Application” order had read: “Personnel of the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Federal Road Safety Corps, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, and other relevant Local Government, State and Federal Government agencies are hereby directed to enforce the provisions of these Regulations. Any officer of the enforcement agencies who fails, neglects, or refuses to enforce the provisions of these Regulations shall be subject to disciplinary action by the disciplinary body of his respective agency. The provisions of these Regulations shall apply throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria. State Governors may issue Regulations on further steps as may be considered necessary.”

The order had conclusively read: “These Regulations shall take effect immediately and remain in effect until otherwise determined. All other Protocols and Guidelines issued by the PTF, NCDC, and or State Governments, except as expressly provided, shall remain in force. These Regulations may be cited as the Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) Health Protection Regulations 2021.”

It is instructive that the struggle against the deadly virus requires a collaborative fight. Onus lies on the populace to reason with the Government and embrace the safety protocols dished out with warm reception. This is paramount to flatten the curve of the virus. A disregard to the safety protocols informed by some misinformed perception against the thoughts of the wave of COVID-19 in Nigeria, may not yield any good result for the entire Country and consequently the populace at the receiving end.

Beyond the health hazards and loss of lives that the spread of COVID-19 pose to every community and residents, the associated impacts on every other facet of life are no less desirable. While many may believe they are immune against the virus, the threats that an uncontrollable spread of COVID-19 portends to the entire society will leave no one out of the imprint of the consequences. The state of the Nigerian economy amidst recession has worsened living conditions in the Country. The need for the Government to give a full blown attention to matters of revamping the economy is indisputably alarming. The pressing demands of the present require nothing but a full overarching approach which may not afford any distractions. However, where the scourge of widespread of COVID-19 wave continue to ravage the length and breadth of the Country, it is practically impossible for the Government to dedicate such full attention to addressing other problems of depressing  economic situations and insecurity mayhem, among other decadence ravaging the entire fabric of the Country at the moment.

Reason, therefore, demands the populace at the local communities to, on their part, fulfill the obligations of abiding by the established safety protocols set to guide conducts in the fight to flatten the curve of the virus. Where a continuity of defying the established orders persist beyond the Government’s control, the brunt will practically fall back on the masses, who are largely experiencing the unsavoury nature of economic downturn. The demands of the present therefore call for every Nigerian to take responsibility for their safety by their conduct, bearing in mind the safety of others in the light of a nationalistic interest towards the one goal of the interest of all.