It is no longer news that the deadly coronavirus is steadily spreading across Nigeria and Africa with the number of infected persons rising by the day.
There have been desperate calls from many quarters for both the Federal and Lagos state government to lockdown activities in a bid to halt the spread and flatten the curve.
The call to lockdown everything makes a lot of sense especially when you consider that a country like China that has successfully dealt with its own outbreak had locked down their societies to achieve that feat.
In the cases of Italy, France, Spain and recently the UK that were eventually forced to lockdown due to the rising number of infections and casualties, many considered it a good move that came too late.
A number of companies and businesses around the country, especially in Lagos which is the worst-hit state so far, have started working remotely. Paga and Andela were some of the first. They were followed by PWC, Ventures Platform, TechNext and a host of others.
Working from home is a great idea for companies and staff who can afford to. However, the majority of Lagosians really can’t. A great many numbers of them live from hand to mouth and need to work every single day to earn their meals for that day.
Thus, as has been rightly mentioned in many quarters, hunger would quickly follow any lockdown, and with it, thievery, robbery and of course, chaos.
One thing is sure though, if the spread of the novel coronavirus can’t be checked now, eventually, it would come down to shutting down the country and forcing people to stay home, just as we’ve seen in China, Italy, France, UK, US, etc.
At such times, there will be an urgent need for last-mile deliveries, especially of food and medicine to people who need them.
The New York Situation
On Friday, March 20, just three days after he vehemently insisted New York city cannot be locked down, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State finally backtracked and placed the entire state under locks, except for essential services.
This came after nearly 2,000 people have contacted Covid-19 with 12 people dying of it.
For the City of New York, the time to act, however late it is, is now. And the City is adopting a new approach by employing gig workers to run deliveries as the city enters its 4th day of complete lockdown except for essential services.
Gig workers comprising mostly Uber, Lyft and other e-hailing drivers have been some of the worst-hit by the lockdown and to give them some income, the government, through its Taxi and Limousines Commission (TLC), has decided to put them to very ‘essential’ use.
“As we look at all possible ways to help you and as we assess needs citywide, we ask for your assistance and participation in the City’s response,”Taxi and Limousine Commission in a mail to gig workers licensed under it.
Thus, to avoid overwhelming available delivery infrastructure and resources which might prove inadequate in this kind of time, the city has decided to include gig workers, along with their equipment, into its network of emergency response systems.
The Lagos situation
Lagos is by far the worst-hit state in the country with 28 of the 40 confirmed cases in Nigeria (70%) located within the state.
With a population of over 21 million, Lagos is by far the most populated state in Nigeria. It is also by far the state with the smallest landmass with just 3,345 square kilometres. This gives it a population density of 6,871 persons per square kilometre.
It also makes it the most overpopulated state in the country.
This makes social distancing, or any kind of distancing for that matter, a problem. This also makes it a perfect breeding ground for an outbreak. The Lagos state government should, therefore, be making itself ready if that becomes the case as we have seen it happen in even less populated states like New York with a population density of 159 people per square kilometre.
The Lagos state government has supported direct medical efforts especially in its collaboration with the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as well as airport authorities. It has also done well in shutting down schools, the civil service as well as placing a ban on religious gatherings of more than 20 persons.
More recently, it promulgated emergency policies to guide meat handling in abattoirs across the state as well as those banning passengers from standing while commuting via its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
While these are methods put in place to quell the immediate spread, not much proactivity has been seen to go into the possibility of an outbreak. No plan for a worst-case scenario.
Like how do we evacuate seriously ill persons? How do we make sure our hospitals can care for as many victims as possible if it comes down to the Italian situation? How do we evacuate and cremate the dead?
While the government has expressed its willingness to help cushion the economic effects a stay-at-home policy could have on the vulnerable members of the public, HOW exactly do we ensure that these ‘cushions’ get to the people who need them is a most vital question.
Delivery systems and workers must be functioning 24/7 to see to the need of people locked up in their houses.
The rejected stones
It is almost doubtless that in such an emergency situation, Lagos’ emergency system will be quickly overwhelmed. Cities like Milan, Rome, Paris and Wuhan with far more superior emergency systems eventually found their systems inadequate.
We hope this isn’t our case. But we really can’t expect ours to fare better than these other cities with their far superior systems and far fewer population. All hands, therefore, need to be on deck.
Jumia has promised its last-mile delivery networks for African countries including Nigeria. While that is good news, if an epidemic breaks out in Lagos, it won’t be anywhere near enough.
Maybe, just maybe, the government would need to look to the same gig workers with Uber, Bolt it has hounded in recent weeks for assistance.
It might also need the assistance of some of the bike-hailing companies like Gokada, Max.NG and Oride which it had sent packing in February. Because in a lockdown due to coronavirus, other illnesses and medical conditions won’t go on break.
People would still get ill and people with pre-existing medical conditions, some of the most vulnerable to Covid-19, will still require medicine. Thus, while the emphasis is on containing coronavirus cases, there should also be a means of delivering drugs to people who need them for other medical conditions.
People will also require food and other basic necessities. So, in lockdown, the best way to get food across to people will be through deliveries. Death is death, whether from Covid-19 or from hunger. We can’t fight death by coronavirus and neglect others.
The Lagos state government could find itself needing every help it can get and a lot more. And due to the abject state of street roads in Lagos, there is a limit to where vehicles could go and how quickly they could get there.
Massive last-mile delivery workers will be needed if it comes down to it and the Lagos government would do well to seek the stones it rejected and cast away not too long ago.
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