The federal government recently announced new restrictions aimed at curbing further spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). The measures took effect Tuesday, May 11 in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Abuja.
Dr. Mukhtar Mohammed, a member of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, described the restrictions as ‘Phase IV’ of Nigeria’s COVID-19 containment effort. It restricts gatherings in public spaces to 50 people at any given time, with physical distancing measures respected at all times. No one would be allowed access to government institutions or facilities without a face mask.
All public sector meetings will be conducted virtually. Bars, event centres and nightclubs are to remain closed until further notice. Restaurants are to provide eat-in services at 50 percent capacity and provide take aways where available. The midnight to dawn curfew (12am-4am) which has been in place in several states since 2020, will continue until further notice. Only essential international travels are encouraged, and all existing COVID-19 protocols are to be strictly adhered to.
Intra-state travels are still allowed, however, but not beyond curfew hours. Religious gatherings and social events such as weddings and ‘Owambes’ would hold with 50 percent of maximum capacity. Security personnel have been mandated to dutifully enforce adherence to these and existing measures.
The new measures have been taken amidst fears that Nigeria could experience another wave of the virus, with death tolls in India and in other parts of the world spiralling out of control. Nigeria has confirmed 165,419 COVID-19 cases, 156,297 recoveries and 2,065 COVID-19 deaths as of May 9. It was confirmed a fortnight ago that the Indian variant had surfaced in some states though not as virulent here as in India.
The nation’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been put on hold after AstraZeneca’s four million doses were depleted because it has been difficult to get new supplies from major vaccine manufacturers in the developed world. The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that it was weighing the option of advising African nations to use expired doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the face critical shortages.
However, we advised against this option in our editorial of May 4. It read: “We do not support recycling of expired vaccines to solve the shortage problem in Africa. Yes, Covid-19 is a serious public health challenge in particularly Africa whose health systems are very weak. But we do not think a resort to expired vaccines will be a solution to the problem for exactly the same reasons that the WHO has given for delaying a decision on the matter. Africa should not be turned into a dumping ground for vaccines that have expired. The AstraZeneca vaccine is said to have led to blood clotting in some people who have received the jabs in the United States. Just imagine what further damage an expired vaccine will do!
“The WHO can help by underwriting part of the cost of the vaccine for African countries. In the longer run, those nations with the financial, scientific and technological capacities should explore the possibility of producing Covid-19 vaccines of their own.” This is our position still.
However, we do support the reintroduction of COVID-19 restrictions in this country. This is because there is still a large number of Nigerians who do not believe the pandemic is here with us. Their refusal to observe even the simplest of the WHO recommended protocols – wearing of face masks – is undermining the containment effort. They must not have their way, thereby endangering the health of other citizens. We dare suggest stricter penalties for violators of the protocols if doing so will increase compliance.