For Nigeria and Nigerians, this past week has been the worst yet with respect to the global COVID-19 pandemic. What with the number of infected persons slowly rising by the day, with disclosures that VVIPs have been infected by the virus, and with the country steadily going into lockdown.
We recorded our first COVID-19 death this week, in the former managing director of the Petroleum Products Marketing Company [PPMC] Sulaiman Achimugu. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
All schools in Nigeria have been closed down. National Assembly has suspended sittings. Federal Executive Council [FEC] no longer meets.Civil servants in many states except those on essential services have been told to stay at home. Mosques and churches are closed to congregational prayers and services.
International flights into Nigeria are suspended. Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board [JAMB] hurriedly concluded its matriculation exams. West African Examinations Council [WAEC] suspended its school certificate exams. National Sports Festival was suspended.Markets in many cities are closed.
Many factories and private sector offices too are closed, including some banks. Many people have also gone into seclusion either because they recently travelled abroad or because they mingled with infected persons.
As at yesterday, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control [NCDC] confirmed 46 cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria. Compared to the disastrous statistics in many countries, this figure is relatively low. It is however nothing to beat our chests about.
Given our overall level of development and the state of our health services, even one confirmed case of COVID-19 in this country is very bad indeed. This is especially true given the highly contagious nature of the novel corona virus.
It may not be the deadliest of infections but the rate at which it spreads through human populations like wildfire is such as mankind has not witnessed probably since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and before that, the bubonic plagues of the 17thcentury.
NCDC has been very alert from Day One when this disease first broke out in China. All thanks to its efforts and those of the Federal Ministry of Health as well as the news media, virtually every Nigerian is now aware of this pandemic and the dangers it poses to our existence.
Countries much more developed than we are such as USA, UK, Italy and China, with what we regard as sophisticated and efficient health care systems, are visibly suffering from this pandemic and their systems are almost overwhelmed.
It is a dire warning of what could happen if COVID-19 spirals out of control here, so our best option is to try to stop it in its tracks when the rate of infections is still relatively low.
Even though NCDC has been up and doing from the word go, the same cannot be said of the Federal Government and the state governments. Instead of taking a cue when countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia were taking stern measures to combat the pandemic from their soil, we smugly continued to do things as usual until the arrival of the infected Italian traveler into Lagos hit us like a thunderbolt.
It was noticeable, for example, that Saudi Arabia took stern measures, including stopping the lesser pilgrimage and closing the two Holy Mosques before it had any COVID-19 case on its soil.
Now that we have recovered from our initial slumber and our authorities at all levels are adopting drastic measures to halt COVID-19, we urge them to take even more stern measures.
Only yesterday, the Nigeria Academy of Science called for a national lock down “now that the disease has invaded the highest level of our government and is threatening our national security.”
The Academy said in a statement by its president Kalu Mosto Onuoha that a four-week national lockdown, with uniform regulations and led by the federal government, “will help to reduce the number of new importations and provide the environment and condition for clear thinking and planning.
In four weeks, virtually all COVID-19 cases and contacts should have been discovered or should have recovered.”
The Academy saida lockdownwill also help Nigeria reduce transmission and even give time for case management and recoveries.
Lockdowns are painful and unpopular, but the real pain will come if we do not do something and the virus veers out of control.
The World Health Organisation [WHO] warned last week that even though Africa is so far the least infected region, we must rise to the challenge at this stage because [WHO politely did not put it this way] we have the least capacity of all continents to tackle a full-blown pandemic. Nor could we expect much help from abroad because COVID-19 is a literal case of every man for himself.
Luckily, COVID-19 could be halted in our land if, as a people, we stoically rise up and obey the instructions of medical and political authorities. The first one is to strictly observe the lockdown.
We know this is difficult because people must go out to get some essential supplies while many others have no food or supplies in their houses. Relatives, friends, neighbours and Good Samaritans should step in and help because the lockdowns stand between us and disaster.
Next to staying at home, we should regularly wash our hands with soap and, where available, with sanitisers. We should cover our faces with masks and avoid touching our faces with our hands because that is how the virus finds its way through our eyes, noses and mouths.
And we should maintain as much social distance as possible by stopping all large gatherings and by standing several feet away from one another. We should then promptly report all suspected cases of infection. If we do all these, coupled with prayers from inside our homes, we may just succeed in averting a calamity of a lifetime.