Government and economic activities resume on Monday amid fear of a spike as the federal government eases the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states that lasted five weeks to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Many of the remaining 34 states that took different measures to restrict movement have also keyed into the federal government’s template of directing civil servants from certain grade levels to resume work on Monday and granted banks, manufacturing and servicing companies to operate for certain hours daily.
The planned reopening of the Nigerian economy, just like what obtains in other climes has been trailed by mixed reactions with experts saying there would be a spike in COVID-19 infection in the event people refused to adhere to safety measures.
They stressed that public compliance was critical to maintaining the gains of the five weeks long lockdown.
There have been growing concerns that the opening of the economy may lead to further spread especially as the country continues to witness spike in cases.
The federal government and governments of Lagos, Ogun and the FCT have instituted measures to be observed in public places to protect the citizens from the disease.
- Easing COVID-19 restrictions: FG reopens offices Monday
- Further lockdown will hurt economy – Experts
Free face mask will reduce spread
A medical practitioner and Coordinator, Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN), Dr. Aminu Magashi, said the government should produce and distribute face masks to local people including cab and bus drivers.
He said the FCT and other state governments should also ensure all shopping malls have handwashing spots and sanitisers and direct them to avoid over-crowding in shops.
A virologist with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Prof. Sunday Omilabu, urged the populace to wash their hands regularly with soap and water or use hand sanitisers where handwashing was not possible.
“People should continue with the precautions they learnt during the lockdown. Avoid large gatherings, no handshakes and if there must be handshakes, both parties should wash their hands thoroughly. Don’t stay too close inside buses and offices,” he advised.
He advised the government to enforce compliance in order to check the spread of the virus.
People should be wary of going out
The Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in Ogun State, Dr. Ismail Lawal, has expressed worry that the federal government relaxed the lockdown when COVID-19 cases were on the increase.
He however, pointed out that the ease was a “political solution” to the lockdown when the federal and state governments lacked the capacity to provide for “those they asked to sit at home.”
Lawal said that the new cases were as a result of community transmission, adding that it could be curtailed if Nigerians adhered strictly to precautionary measures during the eased lockdown.
“Much work has to be done by the security agents to enforce compliance by the residents,” Lawal said.
The President of Africa Fertility Society, Prof. Ashiru Oladapo, said people should not be in a hurry to go out after the lockdown.
He said COVID-19 an asymptomatic person could transmit the virus to other people unknowingly.
“Every country wants to compare the difference between health and the economy. Unfortunately, if people don’t have life, there can be no economy. The smart countries are focusing on having a life.
“When a country shuts down quickly, they don’t lockdown for a long time; but when it takes a country a long time to shut down, that country will lockdown for a long time.
“Countries that opened up like Nigeria end up having a second wave of infection, which is even greater than the first one and that is the pattern for communicable diseases,” he said.
Giving an instance, the professor said in 1918 when the Spanish flu broke out, some cities including San Francisco were on lockdown.
“But while others continued to be on lockdown, they (San Francisco) opened and the infection came back with a vengeance and affected more people. Many lost their lives.”
President Muhammadu Buhari had on April 27 announced a phased and gradual easing of the lockdown in Lagos and Ogun states as well as the FCT from May 4.
Following his directive to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to provide implementation guidelines on the new measures to control the pandemic, the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, issued guidelines for the public, states and security agencies and description of the types of activities allowed under Phase one (4th -17th May, 2020) and other phases.
The advisory in the first phase had, among others, made the use of non-medical face mask/covering mandatory for all persons while in public spaces.
The order directed the prosecution of anyone without a face mask/covering, including those who violated the 8.00 pm- 6.00 am curfew as well as anyone attending a gathering of more than 20 people or violates the ban on inter-state movement.
Lifting of lockdown premature – NMA
Daily Trust recalled that the national leadership of the NMA had on Friday described the lifting of the lockdown as “premature.”
In a statement signed by its President, Dr. Francis A. Faduyile and Secretary-General, Dr. Olumuyiwa P. Odusote, the NMA said Nigeria should learn from its neighbour Ghana where the same action produced a 100 percent increase in infection rate in just a week.
“As the incidence of the COVID-19 hits the 2000th mark just seven days after hitting the 1000th mark, it figuratively tilts the epidemiological curve towards an upward spike,” it said.
The association said instead, agencies of state should intensify efforts through mass enlightenment campaigns beyond current attempts to explain the dangers inherent in easing the lockdown prematurely in the face of rising infection rates. The NMA also advised that palliatives should be tailored to reach the needy.
PDP kicks against easing of lockdown
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caucus in the House of Representatives has demanded the extension of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states for another two weeks.
In a statement signed by its leader, Kinsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), the caucus described the decision of the federal government to relax lockdown from today as unfortunate and unacceptable.
“Already, the situation in Lagos and Kano states is scary. These cases and more are enough to cause us even greater anxiety and concern. “We also take cognisance of the fact that the President Buhari-led federal government would undoubtedly be failing very woefully in its responsibility of preserving the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which he swore to defend and protect, which provides in Section 14(2) (b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’”
Chinda alleged that in the over six weeks of the pandemic, there was no clear government policy for public places like markets, work place, public transport among others, saying medical facilities were inadequate.
Nigerians divided over ease of lockdown
There are divergent reactions to the easing of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun.
A resident of the FCT, Ifeanyi Andrew, said he had gotten enough face masks for his family.
The businessman said he would start his business after closing it for a long time but would ensure his safety by “religiously following what the government has said on social distancing and sanitation.”
Ago Adeleye of Lokogoma in Abuja said the number of coronavirus cases in the country was increasing, saying the government ought to have flattened the curve before easing the lockdown.
“This is just a death sentence. Nigerians should be wise and careful because relaxing the lockdown is not a ticket to living carelessly,” he said.
Emmanuel Ossai, a legal practitioner advised Nigerians to be conscious as they go out from today.
He said this was important because some of the people moving around were sick persons or carriers of COVID-19.
He added that with few testing and isolation centres, the average Nigerian might not be able to access treatment when things go out of hand.
Ossai also called on the government to subsidise the cost of face masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) saying their current prices have gone beyond the reach of the common man.
Christopher Oji, who works with the Sun Newspaper, wondered what happened to the millions of PPE donated to various agencies of government by corporate organisations and individuals.
“Why is it that those in government are asking the poorest of the poor to buy while government officials and members of their families are using the ones donated by organisations,” he said.
An Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of one of the Area Commands in Lagos State, who does not want his name mentioned, said that efforts were ongoing by the different area commands in Lagos to produce their own face masks with the inscription “police.”
“We have taken it upon ourselves to produce face masks on our own since in enforcing the laws we are also expected to stay within the ambit of the law,” he said.
But a visibly angry mobile policeman attached to the Lagos State Taskforce claimed that they bought their face masks.
“We are among those in the frontlines and nobody seems to care about our welfare,” he said.
Authorities in Abuja said last week that they were passionate about the welfare of the officers and with time there will be improvements.
“Nigerians will see better police officers on the road on the coming weeks,” a senior officer said.
Some residents in Ogun who spoke with our correspondent expressed fear that the suspension of lockdown may compound the cases of COVID -19.
From less than nine cases before the lockdown began, Ogun now has 56 cases out of which eight have been discharged.
The Chairman of Community Development Association (CDA) at Iwoye Ketu in Imeko Afon Local Government Area, Ahmed Ismail, told Daily Trust that there was no need to ease the lockdown in view to the increasing number of cases.
While noting that the government caved in due to the pressure from some Nigerians, Ismail said, “It is better to stay home and stay alive. I am afraid the number may increase unless people abide by the rules.”
Another resident, Ola Adebisi said it was in the best interest of the poor that the president relaxed the lockdown.
“People are hungry. Hunger is already killing people silently,” he said.
He, however, urged people to adhere strictly to the safety measures in order to prevent further spread of the virus.