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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Covid-19 Prolonged Lockdown in Lagos: A Counter-productive Approach By Dr. Celestine Jombo

For some weeks now, Lagos residents have been groaning under an enforced lockdown of the entire state on account of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the outbreak of the disease in Wuhan, a Chinese city of about 11 million inhabitants and its torrential spread to continental Europe, Canada and the United States, leaving in its wake huge fatalities running into hundreds of thousands of loss of human lives, multiple measures had been deployed to combat or at least curtail the spread of the deadly virus. One of such is partial or total lockdown of cities across Europe, Asia, Canada and subsequently the United States.

The disease found its way or "was allowed into Nigeria" (to use the analogy of a Nigerian writer, Steve Awolola) enroute Lagos in the closing days of February, 2020 when an Italian national was confirmed to be carrying Covid-19. From that moment, the number of confirmed cases in state has been on the rise and had even spread to other states in Nigeria.

As the usual trend of 'copycats' syndrome characteristic of Nigerian lazy, lackluster and mediocre leadership, most if not all measures put in place to curtail the spread of Covid-19 are strategies copied wholly from other climes, including those handed out by Western institutions such as WHO, IMF, World Bank, etc. without recourse to the country's socio-economic, cultural inclination as well as economic realities. Nigerian leaders failed to look inward to invent a homegrown holistic approach to combat the pandemic. They have so far relied heavily on handouts from foreign nations on every move taken, including supplies of medical necessities.

Let's revert to Lagos. The state government in collaboration with the Federal government had for close to four weeks now forced down the throat of Lagosians a statewide lockdown, which they claimed, was a "stay at home measure" to slow down the spread of the disease. As indicated on the official website of the NCDC, the window of opportunities provided by the lockdown such as enabling prompt detection and treatment of cases; limiting transmission in areas where cases have been reported; improving samples collection; enhancing contact tracing and limiting its spread to other states or geographical areas, have turned out to be missed opportunities as it were. Using these parameters set by NCDC, one thing that is overtly evident is the reality currently staring us in the face that the stay at home measure had not been effectively utilized.

On the 31st March, 2020, about the time the lockdown commenced, the total number of covid-19 confirmed cases for Lagos was 81, FCT -25, Ogun -4; and the national total stood at 139 cases in 12 states and the FCT. However, as at today April 26, 2020, consisting of almost 4 weeks of the stay at home order, the figure for Lagos now stood at a 690 confirmed cases while FCT and Ogun state have 138 and 35 cases respectively. The national total now at 1,182 in 27 states and  the FCT, with nationwide figure of 35 deaths, 23 of which were recorded in Lagos.

One may be tempted to argue that the current figure would have risen beyond what is presently the case, save for the lockdown, but I will vehemently affirm to the contrary. Lagos by rough statistics is housed to about 21 million people and serves as the epicenter of trade and commerce not only for Nigeria but the entire West African sub-region. Over the years, one of the morbid challenges facing the city is inadequate housing for its teeming population, particularly those in the informal sector of the economy who formed over 60% of its inhabitants and depend on mostly daily incomes and live in clusters of overcrowded suburbs.

Most nations in the developed world identified and settled for lockdown of their cities as a veritable means of curtailing the rapid spread of the deadly virus having considered the living pattern, socio-cultural cleavages as well as economic structures of their societies. However in Nigeria, that policy measure was transplanted into the country by our leaders without considering the underlying conditions of the its own society and it's ailing economy, especially the socioeconomic realities of its disillusioned citizens.

In Lagos, for example, going by the rising figure of covid-19 confirmed cases, it is evident that continuing lockdown of the state is not only injurious to its economic health and stability but equally counterproductive as a measure in the fight against the deadly disease. This is Lagos where an average of between 10 and 15 human beings cohabit in a single room. In areas of high population density, a single building could have up to 20 rooms with each room having up to 10 occupants as family members, all of whom share toilets and bathrooms. The overtly implication of this 'regimented communal living' is that it becomes easier and faster for a single covid-19 carrier to infect an entire neighborhood in a short period in an atmosphere of stay at home order. This may be the reason why community transmission of the disease is on the increase in the state.

In related manner, as current realities have shown, the lockdown appears not enough to curtailing the rapid spread of the disease to other states. At the count, the virus has spread from 12 states at the beginning of the lockdown in late March to over 27 states in Nigeria as of April 25, 2020.

Besides Lagos, using simple arithmetic comparisons, places such as FCT, Ogun and Ekiti States which had been under lockdown for close to 4 weeks are continually experiencing upsurge in covid-19 confirmed cases. Over the period, the figure rose from 25, 4, & 2 to 138, 35 & 8 for FCT, Ogun and Ekiti States respectively. Meanwhile, Ondo State over this same period without lockdown, except for a dusk to dawn curfew had its figure risen from 1 to 3 confirmed cases.

For these reasons and so many more, I am of the opinion that relaxing the lockdown will reduce the negative impact of our regimented living on the fight against the deadly disease. This way of life is considered as parts of the multipliers effect of misgovernance in Nigeria as well as a byproduct of communistic African cleavage.

Time is ripe for the authorities concerned to consider relaxing the lockdown while intensifying efforts at leveraging other measures. Social, albeit, physical distancing works, wearing nose mask in public places where it is difficult to maintain enough physical distance may also limit our chances of getting infected, and should be propagated and enforced, constant hand washing with soap and water is strongly advised, while we safeguard against touching our faces with dirty or unwashed hands. Relaxing the lockdown at this period will not only aid the fight against covid-19 but also serve as a measure of salvaging the nation's economy as well as alleviating the suffering of the poor masses who depend on daily incomes to eke out a living.

Celestine Jombo, PhD
writes from
Akure, Ondo State.

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