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Published On: Wed, Apr 29th, 2020

COVID-19: Creating the needed synergy

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WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER

info@medaner.com, justme4justice@yahoo.com

When the coronavirus crisis began in China late in 2019, we responded to it with sarcasm or rather with the unspoken attitude of “it can’t get to us.” While a good number of government world over were indirectly ignoring the red flags and delaying decisive, qualitative actions, the citizens, especially, in Nigeria, were also busy, as usual and in our characteristic manner, playing street games, jokes and casually dismissing the veracity as well as the spoken tendency of the virus to spread without border.
Our first and most expensive reaction to the current pandemic was a direct imitation of our dismissive attitude to issues of severe national consequences. We began by refusing to believe its reality and graduated to becoming adamant at refusing to submit to instructions from experts and constituted authorities that are necessary to paddle us through the crisis.
There was a time, over a period of about two weeks when we had just a case of coronavirus infected patient in the country – the reported first index case in Ogun state. We knew what we had to do then to keep it that way until it ended, but for some reasons beyond rational comprehension, we did everything that was the direct opposite of what had to be done. A section of the country, power brokers and members of the opposition, already sworn, for political reasons, to be anti-government, publicly underrated both the fact and veracity of the virus, at least in Nigeria; this attitude was passed to a section of the populace that form the support base of this group and another group was formed, emboldened within the population to disregard, disobey, make jest of and humiliate government actions towards handling the crisis. And then we have a third population of innocent citizens who have no access to needed information to understand what is happening and why some of their right and liberty should be temporarily suspended.
On the part of the government, as have been said umpteenth times, the decision to close the borders a little bit later than necessary was a first error in judgement. Though subsequent responses show huge commitment to responsibility and a big plus that is widely responsible for the very slow spread of the virus through the month of March, but a secondary failure of government is also very feasible and is currently very much responsible for the continuous rising of the figures and its spread to states all over the country. The awareness and sensitization drive as regard the crisis is so poor that we can comfortably declare we almost have none. In a nation where as much as 40 percent had no access to Television and hardly listen to radio, all the government had done was concentrate on television and radio sensitisation and in less efficient formats; and again, mostly in English language. That much, a great number of Nigerians are only been told they can’t go out about their normal routines because of what they don’t understand.
We have a National Orientation Agency, with offices cut across the federation. This agency was established for the only job they are never funded to do well. It is their responsibility to become permanently stationed across the rural areas and cities of all states, creating awareness and sensitising the people in languages they understand best until we all become equally aware of what crisis we are facing. Right now, this is not happening in Nigeria.
That is why despite ordered lockdown, except in city centers, businesses are going on as usual. People may not be able to openly go to church but they congregate as ever in neighbourhood store and local markets. What difference does that make? Most streets are as busy as ever, church services hardly stopped but now in smaller units where an infected person can easily donate the virus to one or two brothers or sisters; mosques still pray in all areas outside the main cities and towns Jummaat mosque Why? Because we want the people to comply to avert a threat they don’t understand.
How could we have risen from less than a hundred cases as at middle of March to well above a thousand as at the end of April? For posterity, to avoid taken the same route again and of course for the purpose of accountability, we must diagnose and establish what went wrong; we must know exactly what we didn’t do right well enough or at all.
As at the first week of January 2020, the World Health Organisation had already started rolling out known facts about the coronavirus. More than every other things, even when we were yet not affected, we knew how the virus spread; we knew the best and first response to the spread of the virus is self and community protection. Every one protecting himself and herself and also protecting their neighbour; we all knew social distancing is the first point of call to halt its spread; we all knew we must wear protective gears as a means to prevent spreading the virus if we are positive, but since it is difficult to decide who is infected until manifestation of symptoms, we should all wear one; we all knew all along that we must regularly disinfect our hand and surfaces around us as much as possible. But we aren’t doing them holistically as expected.
As Christians and Muslims, our faiths are not quiet about what our responsibility should be in a time like this when there is a pandemic in the land. Among several other directives is the direct injunction that we should play our part to not spread plague such as the current pandemic. The Bible book of Isaiah chapter 26: verse 20 says “Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.” The Islam equally, according to Sahil Bukhari, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was reported to have said that “if you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it “If the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.” But unfortunately, one of the major reasons we have grown to above a thousand cases today is because our very religious leaders, who should preach this to us are totally against closure of religion houses and the government imposed stay-at-home directive. We all know that in this country an average Christian would believe his or her pastor more than they would the government just as much the world of the imams would be translated as divine instructions by the Muslims; but unfortunately our clergy men are in the forefront of the disobedience to almost all the needed measures to stop the spread of the virus.
They failed in giving this much needed instruction and directive; rather, they were scheming to have the government reverse itself and open up the country so they can have their congregation and the benefits that accrue to them from those regular gatherings of worshipers. Very unfortunately, what is more paramount to them is the opening up even when the magnitude of the threat isn’t abated.
This altogether unpatriotic behaviours and selfishness on the part of all those who are in position to check the masses and made them conform to order become one of the major factors precipitating the spreading of the virus across the country as it is now.
How could we explain the growth of the infected population in the north now and kano to be precise ? How do we explain that despite the lockdown/shutdown and apparent ban on inter-state commuting, almost every state of the federation are now affected? The only feasible explanation is that we disregard the order and precautions which could have stranded the virus into the few states where they were earlier, we were travelling by all means across states with carefree attitude. The attitude goes like: “ the government cannot tell me what to do; the government does not feed me; it is my fundamental right to go to any where I want to go.” Today, we have all seen what is happening in Kano and other parts of northern Nigeria. We were the same people that blamed the government for not closing the international borders and the flights early enough; and we are still the same people fragrantly disobeying closure of inter-state movement and freely spreading the virus in the country.
If we have duly followed, examined the spreading pattern of the virus and we are reasonable enough, no one as at today would be on the front of the vanguard for the relaxation of the nationwide shutdown. In the last thirty days, we have recorded over nine hundred unique infections; unique in the sense that they had either willingly or mistakenly mingled with people over a period of time before they were admitted; some had known they were infected and yet chose to travel across states with other commuters, before they were admitted.
According to the expert model for the exponential growth of the coronavirus spread using log transformation, exponential growth and linear regression, it has been concluded that for every one established case at a starting time period that is not taking off to admission immediately after infection, minimum of two others are infected within twenty four hours and four in the next forty eight hours. At this rate in fourteen day, there could be potential 16,384 cases arising from the initial index case. That calculation is a scenario for one infected person and for fourteen days, but we have picked over 900 infected persons in the last thirty days across the country. The truth is that except scientific fact and projection do not apply to our case, we are currently seriously infected without knowing. This is very possible because we are not doing commensurate test number to actually affirm the number of infected persons among us. Till now, all we have been doing is confirming status of individuals already manifesting symptoms.
Except the entire coronavirus pandemic story is a scam or what is killing in those other countries that are filling body bags in thousands daily is different from what we are dealing with in Nigeria, then I can submit that we are already at the most deadly stage of the contagion; the community cultivation and manifestation period, two stages that coexist at a point when the virus begins to enjoy a bloom in its spread. This might sound like a doomsday prediction, but it is merely based on established knowledge of the virus behaviour.
We actually have a problem at hand but unfortunately what most of us are concerned with is for the government to relax the shut down so we could return back to our businesses. We are hungry; there is no doubt about that but when it is wartime, consideration for hunger is not even secondary; the only thing paramount is survival. We are at war right now. We are fighting an invisible army that we are yet to even fully understand and we are currently at the receiving end. The only thing we must want to know should be our safety, our lives, while our foot soldiers, those responsible for the rescue continue scheming how to turn the tide against the enemy.
I can’t understand how at this material time, learned men, who should be able to infer consequences of actions would be at the forefront of call for total lift of the lockdown. Two weeks ago, the people of Kano state were rebellious, disobedient, congregating in all ways possible against experts and government orders, but today the state is on its knee and national resources have to be moved to the state to salvage the situation.
I have read the submissions of professors who believed the president must not extend the shutdown any longer. I have heard of pastors pressurising their state governors to open up the state for movements. I have also heard of governors who are ready to relax or more precisely lifting the shutdown despite continuous warning from those at the forefront of the battle; those we all supposed to be listening to.
Before I prescribe what we need to do at this material time, I would give a scenario of the America case.
The country has a response and community behavior very similar to what we are doing currently. The United States of America recorded their first case of coronavirus on January 21; the advice for self -distancing, face masking and shutdown of business and mass gathering were given by WHO and a few states in the country but the population totally rejected it. Some governors and even the president ( Donald Trump) refer the people go about their businesses because they assumed the problem would soon go away. On January 24, the head of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci said “We don’t want the American public to be worried about this because their risk is low,” At that time of denial, the virus was spreading and the people were not showing symptoms. January 30, the country recorded it first person-to-person infection.
So with just two cases, on January 31, president Trump declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency, placed partial travelling ban on China. While the citizens were still going about their businesses, the country reported its community spread on February 26 with 15 cases. March 3, the USA figure surpasses 100; the country reacted by placing a travel ban against Europe in March 11. President Trump declare national emergency on March 13, most states went on lockdown but it was too late for the country. They are already with a well cultivated community spread of the virus and at that point, they had lost the initial battle. Today, despite lockdown of everything, America has the largest number of cases and death globally from the pandemic with about 970,000 cases and 60,000 deaths and still loading.
America is suffering today because they put their economy above the survival of the citizens just as much as we are all bother about our sustenance now at the expense of continue spread as we are already witnessing across the country.
I had the privilege to listen to the Germany Counsellor, Merkel submission on the debate for and against the rush to open up the country for normal business in the wake of continue virus attack; she said “What we have achieved is an interim success, and I emphasise is a fragile interim success. This has now determined our deliberations, there should be no rushing forward, even if it is with the best intention. We have to realise that as long as there are no vaccine, we have to live with the virus…” Despite that the curve has flattened for the country; they now record less infection per day and a higher ratio of recovery to infection and death per day, the Counsellor and her administration prefer not to be in a hurry to re-expose the nation and reopen it to the virus until they are triple sure they are safe from attacks.
Now, what do we have to do to continue and more effectively navigate our country out of this devastating crisis?
Our first point of call must be to redesign our awareness and sensitisation program across the nation. In the first place, the reason why quite a number of Nigerians were not complying to state orders is because they don’t understand why they should. Today, former president Olusegun Obasanjo has no doubt about the reality of the coronavirus because he has been enlightened by evidences he could not deny. We have a great number of our citizens that know next to nothing about the virus, its veracity and what it could really do to them and their loved ones if contracted. They don’t know how it spread or how they could prevent themselves against the virus; the only thing they know is that there is a disease in town and their governor want them to abandon their sources of livelihood. Sarcastically, many of them call it ‘bigman sickness.’ This is the reason why most of us are still moving across states already with cases and exposing ourselves with reckless abandons in market places, hidden religious gatherings and even quietly organising weddings and other social activities. If I know very well that I am risking death and exposing my wife and children to the same fate, there is no way I would go ahead with such dangerous decision. No one wants to become infected not to talk of putting their loved ones in danger. I just read the story of a staff of SIFAX group at Ports & Cargo Terminal, Tin Can Island Port, Lagos who unknowingly got infected and has also infected his wife and children. That is pathetic sad. No one wants to get to that scenario but the potential of it abounds all around us for as long as we refuse to obey orders.
The government at all levels must commence now an expanded awareness movement; the local governments , councillors, district heads, community based organisations e.t.c, can sensitive the people at the local level in their languages so they can understand this pandemic.
National Orientation Agency must be well funded so as to wake up to its constitutional duty ; Nigerians, regardless of their locations must be duly educated about the danger of the crisis that is engulfing us. For sure, positive response to expert instructions on the pandemic will improve and it would become easier for us to fight on a common front.
If we fail to get our awareness campaign and sensitisation right, then the doomsday projection of Bill Gate and his wife might just, in the end, become a reality.
Secondly, we are getting our response preparation wrong. All over the world, it has been established that mass testing is the way out. We must be able to identify and pick out all infected persons out of the population. Nations are engaging capacity to test in the order of tens of thousands per day; but till today, our testing system seems more of verifying statuses of suspected individuals with symptoms. In a population of over two hundred million, after almost seventy days, we have only 15 functional testing laboratories with the capacity to test 1,500 samples daily. In all ramification that is below what is needed by a nation that is serious with the fight against the virus yet we are musing the possibility of reopening the country. Governors across the country are busy impressing with magnificent isolation centers without testing capacity, without PPE for frontline health officers and ready to be deployed medical personnel to manage the centers. We must realise that testing is the key and we must do as much test as possible per day until we are sure the infection rate recedes. If need be, we should import as much as needed kit from wherever they are available. Reportedly, a state in the USA bypassed the federal government to acquire 500,000 testing kits abroad just two weeks ago.
Then after that, we must take the factor of personal protection serious. Some governors are already mandating the use of necessary protective gears by all their citizens. Yes that is the way to go but the problem remains that it is either that these gears are no longer easily accessible or they are no longer affordable. Ordinary nose cover that should be sold for 50 naira are now on sale for N400 if accessed. Hand sanitisers of N300 naira, some two months ago is now being sold for N2,500. That is definitely unaffordable for the citizens; not at any time and definitely not at this current period of time. The state governments and the local governments should rise to the occasion by facilitating mass production of locally standard facemask with specific consideration for safety, comfort and affordability before mandating the use of the gear by all citizens. In the same way, mass production of sanitisers and hand wash should be done and distributed freely or at an affordable price to all citizens. These scheme can be effected on a regional level to increase economy of scale.
When all these have been done, then will come the most important part of the enforcement. The government owes it to the nation to protect it by all means possible. If it would require the use of force to enforce compliance with the ongoing stay-at-home order, then without restraint, the government should unleash the military and the mobile police force to patrol the streets to totally enforce the order. If market is temporarily scheduled to open twice a week to only food vendors and essentials, then it must be only food and other essential vendors and by all means possible, crowds and gatherings must be prevented and be forced to used facemask then automated disinfectant/temperature testing machines must be deployed to the market’s entrance.
I am going to end with the Kano scenarios. There have been news of deaths amidst coronavirus outbreak in the state. Unlike what a sane society should do, we have not until now been able to established the remote cause(s) of the deaths in Kano state. By now, we ought to have had clinical confirmation of what is happening in the state – beyond any preliminary findings. Is it coronavirus or is there another ailment ravaging the state or people are coincidentally dying without linkages to the virus? These are what should have been established in the overall interest of the state, the entire northern states and the nation at large. If what is killing people in Kano is coronavirus and we are still comfortably discussing it like this, we are already in a mess. Unlike Lagos state, we cannot afford to play with the contagion in a state like Kano. The state is not only unprepared to handle such a pandemic but also more exposed to overwhelming spreading because of its unique population structure and high density. If we got it wrong in Kano, we should expect the worst across the nation beginning with the northern hemisphere.
Without hesitations, the federal government intervention should be qualitatively in the kano pandemic response even much more than is been done in Lagos. I will suggest that the Chinese doctors be moved to the state to support in anchoring the management and support in the isolation centers but much like said earlier, testing capacity must be boosted in the state as much as feasible in the shortest time. I would also suggest that the latest donation of N3.3 billion be channeled to engaging testing capacity and frontline responders preparation as a priority. The state governor must at this point in time realise it is no time for politics or political considerations. Must accept that there is a problem, put your house in order, ask for help and set up a coordination point to command the state response to the crisis. Kano is unique. The governor must have to go out of the way to ensure that the citizens comply with the pandemic protocols and orders. Do I suggest mass distribution of protective wears, sanitisers and hand wash? That may be necessary. The need to use air purifies such as RADIC8 and automated disinfectant machines to disinfect the strategic areas of the state; strategically placing those automated disinfectant/temperature testing machines in locations across the state, enforcing social distancing by all means possible and designing the best way to get as many tests done in the next few days and using ways and means peculiar to the state unique constructions and structures.
Nigerians, however you look at it, I don’t think it make any sense for us to prefer going out to our works when the possibility of ending in body bags is high. During the civil war, people in war torn areas had no jobs, no sources of livelihood, apparently no life for the entire duration of the war, yet the only thing they wanted more than any other was their life. It seems we are complacent right now because we have not fully assimilated the fact that we are at war; probably because we are not recording fatalities like the Americans, the Italians and others yet or probably because we have not been individually affected.
Whichever, I hope we don’t learn the hard way eventually.
I don’t know if you chose body bags but I don’t. I am getting hungry but I chose to be alive, so I will continue to comply with stay-at-home order until it is safe to do otherwise
God Bless The Federal Republic Of Nigeria!

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