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Coronavirus: Is The Nigerian Government Doing Enough To Keep 200 Million People Safe?

According to data collected from at 3:05pm on Thursday, 12th March 2020,  the novel COVID-19 has affected 129, 587 persons in 125 countries and 1 international conveyance (the Diamond Princess cruise ship harbored in Yokohama, Japan) causing 4, 749 deaths. Of the more than 129 thousand affected, 68, 667 have recovered successfully while 50, 460 have their conditions under control even as another 5, 711 patients are believed to be in critical conditions.

China is the country worst affected with more than 80 thousand persons hit leading to 3, 169 deaths and 4, 257 critical cases. China is closely followed by Italy with 827 deaths and 1, 028 critical cases. Iran is next on the list with 10, 075 cases and 429 deaths.  South Korea and Spain have recorded 7, 869 and 3, 003 cases and 66 and 84 deaths respectively.  Germany, France and the USA have all reported cases of infection leading to 50 or more deaths.

In Africa, several countries in including Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria have all been affected. The World Health Organisation, WHO, yesterday announced that the virus had assumed pandemic proportion and a global health emergency. Many consider WHO’s action belated after it has declared in the first week of March that the situation was under control. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference on Wednesday that the virus had found a foothold in every continent except Antarctica. For clarity, a pandemic is described as the worldwide spread of a new disease.

Global reawakening  

US President Donald Trump banned all flights to the USA from Europe except UK

In response to the virus, several countries and organisations across the world have announced several measures and drastic steps to curtail or rather control the spread of the virus. Business in Europe and America are encouraging staff to work from home and new directives require that only those on essential duties show up physically at the office.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday made a public broadcast wherein he revealed that the US will be suspending all travels from Europe to the U.S. for the next 30 days. He however exempted UK from the ban. In China, authorities have placed more than 20 million persons within the Wuhan and Hubei province under confinement and this has been ongoing for more than 50 days.

On Monday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared the whole of Italy a “red zone” restricting movement and public gathering in the entire country. In Iran and Saudi Arabia, all forms of public gatherings including Friday prayers have been cancelled. In South Korea, people in cities across the county have been encouraged to stay home, some offices have closed, and many events are postponed. The nation’s schools are closed until March 22.

In Spain, authorities in regions with the most cases, Madrid, Basque Country and La Rioja, have ordered the closure of all schools, universities and day-care centres for two weeks. Flights between Spain and Italy have been suspended and large gatherings cancelled in the three regions. Soccer matches for Spain’s La Liga will be played before empty stadia for the next two weeks. France recently announced a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people, with exemptions for things like public transit. Germany, like its peers across Europe is also cancelling all public events drawing a crowd of more than 1, 000 people till October.

Japan has increased surveillance and policing of its borders to restrict immigrants from neighbouring China and South Korea from gaining entry into the country until May. South Korea in what seemed like a retaliation also banned travellers from Japan from entering the country.

Wither Nigeria?

Prof. Akin Abayomi, Lagos Commissioner for Health

While several countries across the world are putting in place, measures to halt the spread of the virus and associated deaths, attention must now shift to Nigeria- Africa’s most populous country. Beyond screening people coming into the country from various parts of the world, what is the government in Abuja and in the states doing to keep the citizens safe?

A few facts have to be presented to guide our assessment of the level of preparedness of the government to deal with the situation should we experience what has become a daily reality in China and several parts of Europe and Asia.

In the early hours of Friday, 28th February 2020, several domestic and foreign news channels reported that an unnamed Italian who flew into the country from Milan tested positive to the Coronavirus and is being quarantined at a medical facility in Lagos. Health officials in Abuja and Lagos addressed countless press conferences where they gave regular updates on the status of the Italian whose name nor face is yet to be shown to the public for whatever reason.

Akin Abayomi, Lagos state health commissioner was quoted a few days later as announcing that the Italian was recovering.  There hasn’t been much information on the status of the index patient after the initial potpourri of truths, speculations and fibs. A few other suspected cases of the virus in Ogun and Plateau states have since been tested and the foreigners, Americans and Chinese all tested negative.  Good news.

However, a few things are untidy and it is about time they are pointed out so that officials at all levels- assuming they don’t already know- can be informed and explore ways of doing the needful.

Is it not strange that while the rest of the world is readjusting its social and community lives, Nigerians carry on as it we are still in the world of 2019? Large gatherings across Europe and America are being banned, football matches are happening without the fans and schools are shutting down. In Nigeria, no serious effort is being made to even create awareness on the emergence of this new global threat.

Across the world, health agencies are sponsoring campaigns across media platforms to enlighten the citizens and share tips that can help keep the people safe. Sadly, no such campaigns are currently in place in most places in Nigeria.  In Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Vatican, traditional religious gatherings have been suspended but in our dear country, no serious conversations are ongoing to keep worshipers safe.

Buses in the urban centres are loaded daily with hundred of passengers and there are no efforts to avoid the spread of virus, no disinfectants and as you may have observed, everyone acts as if we were still living in pre-January 2020 world.

The weekend begins in less than 24 hours and the clubs will still be filled with revellers, there may be a few religious crusades here and there, entertainers will host hundreds of thousands at concerts; weddings (traditional and religious) will still take place, the worship centres will be filled and almost every town union group in the cities will hold their usual monthly meetings. Not many will ever think of coronavirus, the few who do will wave it aside in our customary “I don’t care attitude.” Everything will go on normal.

Also this weekend, every radio and TV station will spend hours playing hit and drab songs and the OAPs will raise a few topics concerning relationship crises and such mundane topics that fill the airwaves these days. Do you know the one thing majority of them will forget to talk about? The very thing they should have focused every minute of their airtime enlightening the public about- coronavirus. At any rate, a few radio hosts will say a few things about the virus but you know what, it will be watery, shallow and almost meaningless.

How about schools? Of course you know that except for the “regular intervention” of ASUU in the university system, everything has remained “fine” in our school system. A few schools bought containers of hand sanitizers when the Italian’s case was first discovered but many of them did not bother to buy new ones after the first containers were emptied. The school administrators are more likely to remind the students and pupils about unpaid school fees and invite them to inter house sports and PTA meetings than sensitise them about coronavirus and the havoc it is wrecking on the global economy.

How can you protect yourself?

Saudi Arabia has suspended the regular Friday prayers

So what can we do? The government appears to have fallen asleep, the media channels are trying but a lot more is still lacking, the religious leaders appear to be carrying on as if all is still normal and the community leaders are either ignorant or do not care. How do we survive?

Again the same we have survived every plague- both economic, political and social. Self help. Do I mean staying at home to diagnose your condition when you should be seeing a doctor? Hell no. Am I talking about running to the pharmacy or patent medicine dealer to buy “drugs for cough and catarrh?” Again no.

Now this is the time to realise that information is power. How much do you know about the virus? What new information do you have? Those in your circle, are they knowledgeable enough on the issue? How can you help them?

For starters, here is what you can do: read up all you can about the virus. How is it transmitted, what are the symptoms? Who is at risk? What do you do if you notice some symptoms? The bottomline is that you must take responsibility for educating yourself, sharing what you learnt with your family and friends and keeping safe by regular washing of hands, the use of hand sanitisers and disinfectants. Avoid handshakes and unnecessary body contacts and stay indoors if you can. This time around, it is better to, as former vice president Atiku Abubakar observed recently in a tweet, to err on the side of safety.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect ROOT TV's editorial stance.


Okafor Chiedozie
Okafor Chiedozie is an economist, political writer and amateur Igbo historian. He pursues these and other interests out of Abuja.