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How not to Ease Lockdown in a Pandemic, By Ahmed Maiyaki

As residents of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja prepare for ease on the lockdown, the nation continues to record more cases of COVID-19, with the disease spreading at an even faster rate than the previous weeks since the index case was recorded in Nigeria. Mortality figures too have risen exponentially. For instance, the number of confirmed cases and mortality as at the 1st of April stood at 151 cases and 2 death and these shockingly rose to 2170 cases and 68 death within a month.

Nigeria’s leader, Muhammadu Buhari had reviewed restriction order in Lagos, Ogun States and Abuja in a broadcast to the nation, which eases movement from the hours of 8 am in the morning to 6 pm in the evening across the country. The new order allows banks and other commercial activities to flourish. State Governors were reported to have pushed for the lifting of restrictions, and President Buhari apparently succumbed.

Kano, though currently on a two-week lockdown in the new presidential directive, the commercial nerve centre has led the pack with a bone-chilling rate of increase in the cases recorded so far. Kano has suddenly become an epicentre in the North with the widespread transmission in communities. In spite of this clear danger, Governor Ganduje lobbied the Presidency for a window to allow residents restock twice a week. For a place renown for its high population density and with many doubting Thomases about the reality of the disease, the curve is a long way from being flattened. 

Many have expressed concerns over what they see as an ill-advised decision by the President to ease a lockdown that appears the only remedy to curb or at least limit the spread of the virus at the moment. Though the new order bans interstate travel, states like Kaduna remain vulnerable not by the action of the State Government but by the inaction of neighbouring states to take measures against the spread of the virus and the influx of people who sneak into the state.

The state government had issued a further lockdown order extending restrictions for another period of 30 days to further mitigate spread in the state even before the presidential ease of restrictions order was pronounced.

Unfortunately, in spite of these enviable efforts, cases had continued to rise in the state due to lackadaisical posture of neighbouring states whose leadership appear to be mindful of political correctness and grandstanding, than the lives and wellbeing of their people. At least no fewer than 50 additional cases were reported in the state from Almajiri returnees from Kano, which signals a gloomy forecast of community transmission in Kano.

In a published article earlier (COVID19: Why Early Action Averts Fake News, https://t.co/gjEOPOuE6q), I had warned against inaction by leaders at a time of pandemic to curb a possible spread of the virus and misinformation among a vulnerable population.

Easing lockdown orders clearly appears inappropriate at a time new cases have continued to surge uncontrollably. Nigeria is expected to draw lessons from countries that hitherto lifted lockdowns but soon after reversed their decision due to rise in cases and death. Germany has had to review its earlier decision to lift lockdown due to rising infection and mortality rates from COVID-19. The country had to enforce new strict social distancing measures, limiting citizens to meet only one person from outside their households at a distance of 5 feet.

A similar move dashed the hopes of Britons who had expected a lift on restrictions. The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson who himself had treated the virus, urged citizens to bear a lockdown until June to avoid the threat of a second peak. The UK had suffered a huge rising number of cases of the virus and feared a reproduction in cases at the heart of the battle to curb the spread of the virus. It is clear that Britons would have to adjust their lives for a while to cope with restriction orders.

Notably, our next-door-neighbour, Ghana, had a 24% surge of new cases of the virus after barely 10 days of lockdown ease. Restriction on movement around the capital Accra and in the Kumasi area was later prolonged to curb the spread of the virus. 

“It is important that we stay the course, and bear with the difficulties that come with it,” President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a national broadcast. 

With the prediction by the United Nations (UN) of possible widespread of the virus and a mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria should not have contemplated a lift on lockdown when the danger of community transmission looms. Even more worrisome is the lack of sufficient testing to determine the actual infection rate. Our testing centres and other basic kits are grossly inadequate. The fragile health system with a huge shortfall in medical personnel also poses a major challenge to manage a possible health disaster when it strikes.

No doubt, Nigeria risks an economic recession and worsening poverty crisis among an already impoverished population if a lockdown subsists, but mitigating the spread of the virus under lockdown seems a better option to avert catastrophic results. Governments at the centre and sub-national levels must also design and implement palliatives to cushion effects on the people, especially the vulnerable groups. In the same vein, philanthropic organizations and wealthy individuals should also redouble their efforts of supporting the needy. 

In a clime where enforcement of social distancing, face-masking and other hygienic measures among citizens looks difficult while in lockdown, certainly, a lift on restrictions will spell doom. For now, the Federal Government must reconsider the lockdown order, which appears to be a better option, while enforcing social distancing, face-masking and hygienic measures among citizens. Easing restriction at this critical point exposes vulnerable groups to greater danger in the spread of the virus.

On their part, citizens must adjust to this painful reality since it is now the new normal. We must take responsibility to stay in our homes to remain safe.

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