More than three months after the coronavirus disease broke out in the Wuhan district of China in December 2019, the deadly virus has killed over 19,000 lives worldwide. The first case was confirmed after a man in his 30s tested positive for the disease; now codenamed COVID-19. As at the time of drafting this column 48 hours ago, statistics of cases in Nigeria showed that forty-eight active cases have been confirmed while two others have been treated and discharged. One death has so far been recorded.
Public health experts say coronavirus is an airborne virus that attacks the respiratory system, causing lung lesions. It is a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough, fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches. It is incredibly contagious and could spread through contact with anything that has the virus as well as infected breath, coughs or sneezes.
No pandemic has placed the entire world under health emergency, at least, in the last one century as much as COVID-19 did in the past ten weeks. Because of its mode and rate of transmission, COVID-19 is a novel ‘world war’ in which a hybrid ‘viral power’ irresistibly placed humanity on the defensive. It’s a wholesale catastrophe that is threatening every aspect of human life. COVID-19 is a disease that respects no race, religion, rank, tribe, civilization, gender or age. It is one infection that has united mankind against itself. Yet, scientists and laboratory experts in the world of modern medicine with its advancement in virology and cutting-edge sophistication in medical laboratory technology are finding it difficult to conquer this pandemic.
COVID-19 has forced many countries in Europe and Asia to totally lockdown cities and towns. While countries, which have the capacity to effectively fight many diseases are being overwhelmed but promptly rose to the occasion by taking drastic logistic and health measures, Nigeria in its usual way was waiting for an infected Italian national to arrive in Lagos on February 27, 2020 before it could give any truth to COVID-19. The manner in which Nigeria responded to that index case revealed the country’s ‘established’ culture of poor response to emergencies.
Nigeria had every opportunity to have promptly averted the index COVID-19 case from spreading in the country. Unfortunately, both government and citizens characteristically took almost everything about COVID-19 for granted. On Monday March 23, 2020 when COVID-19 claimed its first victim in Nigeria, China had already started closing down some of its emergency treatment centers including the 1,000-bed space facility which was built in nine days in the Wuhan neighborhood where the disease first appeared. There are enough reasons to suggest that Nigeria as a country yet remains a ‘joker’.
The country would have nipped COVID-19 in the bud, Allah (SWT) knows best, if airports were closed to international flights soon after the index case was detected. Before international flights into the country were banned, about 30 foreign airlines operated into Nigeria after the infected Italian arrived Lagos. Unlike Saudi Arabia that responded rapidly, some of the measures taken in Nigeria in the past three days could have been decided earlier. Even as more people including the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Alhaji Abba Kyari; Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State and many others tested positive for the disease, Governor Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai had to appeal to the federal government to suspend train services between Abuja and Kaduna.
Although the federal and many state governments announced the stay at home order for workers on grade levels 1-12 to curb incidences of crowded gatherings, the provision of protective items such as hand sanitizers, gloves and nose masks do not seem to have been made for senior civil servants who will be at their workplaces. More so, this is naturally the group of senior officers with low immune response to viral diseases. Many public buildings still lack hand-washing materials. Maybe we should ask authorities concerned of what has happened to the N200 million donated by Dangote Foundation to fight COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Our response generally to COVID-19 isn’t as sufficiently responsive and proactively coordinated as we collectively acted when Ebola virus was endemic in the West African sub-region. It was negligence on the part of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) for refusing to go back to an infected person, Engr. Sulaiman Achimugu, after samples taken from him by the NCDC officials showed that he was positive for COVID-19. What a dereliction of duty! A worse case of carelessness was when port health officials at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, failed to quarantine the infected Italian straight from the arrival hall.
With more Nigerians testing positive in recent days, there are widespread insinuations that active COVID-19 cases in Nigeria are under-reported because many of those who recently tested positive were not placed under any form of isolation. Their samples were rather collected and taken for test only after those with whom they had contacts tested positive. Now, with the COVID-19 test still a matter of choice, only God knows how many infected persons are living and mingling among us even though most people do not observe suggested protective measures such as social distancing, avoiding handshake and wearing nose mask.
Similarly, many of those who recently returned from high risk countries have neither been quarantined nor subjected to self-isolation; meaning that things could actually get worse with no cure for the disease at the moment. The management of COVID-19 with antibiotics instead of anti-viral drugs further brings out the mystery in the disease. As a country that routinely relies on foreign nations each time it is confronted with an emergency, we need to pray fervently against passing through the experiences of Italy and Spain. Let us consider COVID-19 as a trial from Allah (SWT) who states in Qur’an 29:2 “Do men think that they will be left alone on saying ‘we believe’, and that they will not be tested?”
Meanwhile, Nigeria has since received its consignment of medical kits donated by Jack Ma, Co-founder of Alibaba; a Chinese e-commerce company, to fight COVID-19. The Chinese billionaire had earlier announced a donation of 1.1 million testing kits and six million masks to fight coronavirus in Africa. Our wish is that the testing kits should not end up in the hands of street hawkers as was the case with treated mosquito nets that were supplied by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for free distribution to Nigerians under the roll-back malaria programme. Even humanitarian items meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were not spared by the deep-seated corrupt practices of government officials and their conspirators.
We call on all to comply with all restriction orders in the event government imposes total lockdown for the country as done India and Malaysia. Since COVID-19 can only be managed when contacted, we urge state governments to provide enough respiratory ventilators at all treatment centres for the management of patients. It would add value to existing measures if government offers all Nigerians easy access to compulsory but free test. May Allah (SWT) protect us against COVID-19, amin.