Medical experts have decried the relaxation of ban on gatherings and movement restriction to allow Easter celebration by some states in the country.
They also called for an extension of the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states.
They said reviewing the restriction could be dangerous as the country has not started witnessing a “downward trend” in the spread of the virus.
But some residents and business owners in the Federal Capital Territory have expressed concerns on the likelihood of extending the current partial lockdown of the city.
Speaking with Daily Trust last Friday, the medical experts expressed fears that relaxation of movement restriction and gatherings may affect efforts in curbing spread of the Coronavirus(COVID-19).
They also enjoined the federal government to extend the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states, but provide palliative measures for Nigerians and get more people tested.
The president of Nigerian Academy of Sciences, Prof. Kalu Mosto Onuoha, said rather than relaxing the ban, the state governments should have insisted that worship centres hold services in keeping with the existing regulation of a few people gathering and maintaining social distancing.
“I am not in support of the ban lifted in worship places. I support a situation where churches and mosques continue to find innovative ways of holding their services either through live streaming or they are can actually meet with regulated numbers.
“Where the law says a gathering of less than 50 people for instance, when they enter the church or mosque they can stay very far apart and ensure they don’t exceed that number.
“Social distancing works, it has been effective in China, South Korea and other places because transmission of the disease is by proximity.
“Even in the United Kingdom where they started social distancing late, they are admitting that it works .”
Prof. Onuoha said the increasing number of cases being recorded in Lagos and the FCT showed that the disease was still much around and there was need for an extension.
He said while the lockdown may not be a very comfortable experience, people should understand that it would not last forever.
Prof. Onuoha said though the number of people that have tested positive and died was not large compared to other places, the country was not testing enough.
He advised the federal government to extend the lockdown but increase efforts for Nigerians suffering its side effects.
Dr. Casmir Ifeanyichukwu, the National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (ALMSN), said relaxation of the ban for Easter celebration and allowing worship showed that there was lack of coordination between the presidency, the task force and the states.
While faulting the states for the relaxation, he said no life lost as a result of the spread of the virus could be recovered. He said whatever fanfare was lost in the celebration this year’s Easter could be recovered in subsequent ones.
He raised concerned about the number of people that have been actually traced and screened so far, saying one of the reasons for the lock down was to give room for tracing and tracking of suspect persons.
He said Katsina, Bayelsa and Rivers governments that lifted the bans could not state the level of mortality or morbidity of COVID-19 in their states because they are not doing any form of testing in the states.
“We are not testing enough, with all the hue and cry. In eight weeks we have tested less than 6000 out of a population of 200million, and out of that we got less than 300 in positive cases, we have not done enough in testing. I expected that the lockdown will provide avenue for up-scale testing, that also has not been done, we have not achieved much with two weeks lockdown.”
He said if government was thinking of extending the lockdown by any means it must come up with a strategy of sending assistance to Nigerians, adding that the Nigerian economy is largely concentrated in the informal sector, and would be worse if the people have no form of incentives while lock out of their daily earnings persists, with rent accumulating.
For its part, the Nigerian Medical Association has said that it is not yet time to relax the lockdown order.
It decried the declaration by the Cross River State governor that social distancing is not needed while wearing a face mask, a moratorium on the lockdown to allow mass gathering in mosques and churches starting from Friday to Sunday in Rivers State, the lifting of the ban on Friday prayers by Katsina and Kogi state governments.
It said it was aware that similar orders had also been given in Ondo, Ebonyi and Imo states which have approved mass attendance of Easter services.
In a statement signed by the president of the association, Dr. Francis A. Faduyile and the Dr. Olumuyiwa P. Odusote, they urged all authorities concerned to rescind their decision in the interest of safety of lives, and implored the police and other security agencies to ensure that such gatherings do not take place.
Also, the Health Sector Reform Coalition has said it is not yet time to start lifting the ban on public gatherings including markets, mosques and churches. The coalition said it received with shock, concern and fear, the lifting of ban on some gatherings by some states.
They also asked Nigerians to continue to listen to the advice of health experts represented by NCDC and WHO at this critical time.
“COVID-19 (Coronavirus) does not go to sleep at night, market days, Fridays or Sundays.
“Infected people without any symptom can still transmit the virus. Over 2,500 infections in France was linked to a single religious gathering while about 230 infections in South Korea were linked to a religious group where members continued gathering.”
‘Relaxing of restriction dangerous’
Dr Arinola Joda, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Biopharmacy, University of Lagos, said it is immature to relax the lockdown.
She warned that relaxing the lockdown could be dangerous at this critical time when community spread has already started.
She said, “It is immature for governors to relax the lockdown because we are not yet seeing a downward trend in the incidences of covid-19 as a country. Allowing people to go around freely is asking the virus to also move around freely.
“Also prior to now it is only Lagos, Ogun and Abuja that are on lockdown. The other states have not been on lockdown. The general advice has been for people to stay at home.
“But when a governor would speak to the media that people can go about their normal businesses because of the Easter celebration, that’s pretty immature.
“The Federal Government should have extended the lockdown around, that could be compelling on everybody to stay at home. Even Osun that is now number three has not been on lockdown. Ogun was just added because of its proximity to Lagos.
“Until we are sure we have got to that stage where there is a downward push in the incident before we can talk of relaxing the lockdown. What I know is that already community spread has started. Community spread becomes a big issue.”
Also speaking, A COVID-19 epidemiologist at the Africa CDC, Dr Olayinka Ilesanmi, said governments can prevent community spread of COVID-19 through partial lockdown after the 14 days lockdown announced by President Muhammad Buhari.
According to him: “I will suggest a partial lockdown after the 14 days. The truth is, people can’t just return to their normal lives until the outbreak is on the downward trend.
“By the time the number of positives is reducing and cases are no longer an everyday affair that is when we can say the lockdown can come to an end.
“The lockdown is almost over now and it has not really achieved much. Everybody is working hard but we have not achieved all that we planned to achieve during the lockdown.”
For community infection not to be widespread, the epidemiologist suggested an extension of the lockdown, but economically, he said, it has a lot of implications.
“Maybe it should be made partial in a way, that is what I think may work. People can work just like it happens in Oyo State where I heard there is a curfew from 7pm to 6am. We have to continue living but at the same time, reduce the likelihood of getting the infection transmitted.”
Abuja residents flay possible extension of lockdown
A few days to the end of the movement restriction, some Abuja residents are complaining of the biting effects.
A businesswoman, Bukola Dada, said patronage had been poor due to the restriction. She said she could only operate from a branch out of the six branches of her e-money transfer outlets in Abuja.
A teacher in Lokogoma, Abuja identified as Mrs. Udoh said she was yet to receive her March salary from the owner of the private school she teaches. She said an extension of the lockdown would mean an extension of hunger and suffering for her children.
She said the lockdown, though a good move in ensuring the safety of Nigerians, was poorly implemented without adequate concern and provision for the less-privileged.
A trader in Gwarimpa, Augustine Okafor, said the people might revolt against an extension of the lockdown if the government fails to make adequate provision for them.
He said his shop had been locked seven days before the lockdown so it was difficult for him to provide for his family.