Voice Of Reason hereby calls on the Federal Government to immediately provide leadership in this COVID-19 pandemic crisis. It is obvious that countries that have escaped the Italian and Spanish trajectory of this pandemic have had to take very aggressive steps to break the infection path. The only way to achieve this is to ensure that potentially infected people are not moving around and infecting all with whom they come into contact. The ideal would be to self-isolate without coercion.
Some high Government officials who should know better have come back to the country and mingled with other high Government officials and private sector moguls without observing the 14–day self-isolation advisory.
The large number of their primary contacts beyond their secondary and subsidiary levels of contacts underscores the need to go beyond voluntary self-isolation. Many states, in the absence of adequate action by the Federal Government, are embarking on a motley pattern of shutdowns to protect their citizens. It is time for the Federal Government and indeed the President and Commander-in-Chief to show leadership and rise to this emergency and truncate the calamitous trajectory of the infection in Nigeria.
To achieve this, we must adopt the best practices that have worked elsewhere. We are in a good place to ensure we never get to deal with the kind of crisis faced by China, Italy, USA and Spain. The only way to achieve that is to move immediately and effect a national containment strategy. Lagos State says it will not introduce a mandatory total lockdown until the number of infections reaches a yet to be defined critical point. Who can determine how soon such a critical point will creep upon us? Would this number be with or without testing? The geometric growth in infection in other countries suggests that no-one can predict when that tipping point will be reached.
While we applaud the efforts of Lagos State so far, we think delaying the deployment of a national strategy of containment would be a grave mistake. Apart from our inability to control the growth of infection, the low testing capacity throughout the country and apparent current low infection rates may be giving us a false sense of comfort. This was the case in the United States where initial low rate of infection has dramatically increased as testing capacity improves, sadly this is accompanied by high number of fatalities. There is need to borrow from the experience of others, and to suspect that such a ‘surge ‘ may indeed take place in our land if we don’t take appropriate steps. It is better to ‘over protect’ the society than to come back in four weeks and be lamenting about doing too little too late. Needless lives could be lost by delay. We should take a cue from South Africa and India.
We cannot move too fast. Our medical infrastructure and facilities, in scope, number and sophistication, are poor compared to any of the countries already overwhelmed by the burgeoning numbers of cases they are faced with.
It is noteworthy that both South Africa and India, two countries which have been choice destinations of Nigerians’ medical tourism, have this week imposed three-week national mandatory lockdowns. Admittedly they have higher infection numbers, but not necessarily higher infection loads in the case of India relative to our populations.
Until we decentralize testing and do much more of it, as we URGENTLY need to do, we cannot with certainty know our actual infection rate, or accurately chart the course of the disease and the impact of our interventions.
A national mandatory lockdown for two to three weeks will afford us room to identify those who are symptomatic and ensure they are treated.
It is not appropriate for us to live with a patchwork of restrictions across the country leaving room for people to be moving from one state to another and possibly spreading the virus. This is a national challenge and must be dealt with on a national platform.
Mr President let us act before we experience a surge. If we are able to avoid a steep surge, the price paid, painful as it may be, would have been worth it. It is better to be safe than be sorry.
We recognise that a significant number of our urban poor live on daily wages or income. For this group of citizens, we must make arrangements to sustain them throughout the period. No-one need die and certainly none should die of hunger in the course of the lockdown. Lagos State, the most urbanised state, is already working on a framework to address the needs of those who cannot stock food for long and those who are too poor to buy food without their daily wages. This initiative should be copied by other States, assisted by the federal government. It should be pitched at community level for maximum reach and impact. The private sector, CSOs and religious organizations should be encouraged to pitch in to make the food banks robust and sustainable, while minimizing bureaucratic bottlenecks and abuse. The resources and infrastructure of NEMA, likewise the strategic grain reserves and the logistics support of the Armed Forces should be deployed as and when needed.
Mr. President, it is time to act and you need to act NOW.