President Muhammadu Buhari, in an address to Nigerians, announced an extension of lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun state by another 14 days. In what he describes as a matter of life and death, the president also announced that palliatives would be made available to families to help cushion the effects of the lockdown.
The extension, though expected, nonetheless has been met with discontentment. A major source of that discontent is the simple fact that most Nigerians can’t afford another 14 days lockdown.
A lockdown has different implications, from economic to health, and even psychological, among others. Virtually every business has had to cut down costs because of reduced or non-existent patronage. Most businesses either furloughed their staff or settle for a reduction in salaries to keep a sort-of financial balance.
As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic and its effects, some countries are trying different approaches.
How other countries are dealing with COVID-19
Sweden has taken an approach far different from a lockdown. The government has chosen to let people go by their own initiatives and make whatever choice is right for them, pertaining to the coronavirus.
Sweden’s approach has been to encourage people to practice social distancing of their own volition, as well as avoid crowds. Businesses are still being run as usual, people still go to shops for cappuccinos and meetups with friends, and life is allowed to go on as usual.
While the authorities recommend and encourage people to stay home if sick, and to wash their hands regularly, staying at home is by choice. This is largely because Sweden’s health agencies have not recommended stricter measures as a response to the pandemic.
The government is bound by law to not meddle in the affairs of administrative authorities, such as the public health agencies. As such, it cannot enforce a lockdown, except if recommended by the right quarters.
China, on the other hand, brought out the big guns of authority. Not only was a lockdown of major provinces enforced, intensive surveillance was carried out on citizens to curtail the spread.
While most are of the opinion that China could have taken the virus seriously much earlier and avoided the stringent measures, others, including the WHO in its report, have praised the response of the Chinese government to the pandemic that started in Wuhan.
Apps in China, including Wechat and Weibo, have hotlines that allow people to call for help if anyone is infected, or to blow the whistle on a neighbor suspected of being infected with the virus. Residents have their movements monitored and can be taken into quarantine if considered at risk.
In Nigeria, there have been many debates on whether a lockdown is an effective approach given our incredibly peculiar situation. Concerns also continue to rise over its impact on businesses and other areas.
Odun Eweniyi, Co-founder of PiggyVest, however, pointed out that the question is not whether or not a lockdown is the best practice. The question is if there are better alternatives to a lockdown to combat the pandemic.
We can disagree with the lockdown in Nigeria, but no one has been able to prescribe a real alternative solution that will work for the Nigeria, as is. Because that’s what you have to do. Not suddenly pretend that everything will become optimal – like the government, or even us.Odunayo Eweniyi
What alternatives are there to a lockdown?
Founder of Hotels Ng, Mark Essien, is of the opinion that having a partial lockdown is a good way forward. According to him, people below 45 years do not have a high fatality rate and therefore shouldn’t be rendered inactive.
Hence, restricting movement should be for the older population while the young ones with excellent chances of surviving and developing immunity afterward shouldn’t be restricted.
Suggesting an approach similar to that of China, he mentioned that the government could issue a means of identification to people to confirm if they were less than 45 before they could freely move around. Additionally, temperature checks should be carried out routinely.
I don’t think anyone younger than 45 should be affected by these lockdowns. Death rate is so low there. Focus should be on protecting the older population by isolating them. If the young get the virus and survive, it actually protects the older ones while leading to long term immunity in the population. The lockdown is turning out as fatal as the virus itself, and it will get worse. Africa does not have the savings to survive this lockdown for long. My advice – temp checks and ID cards for everyone to prove they are younger than 45.Mark Essien
From all indicators, Nigeria is not in a position to effect any of these, as the country’s structures have not shown a preparedness to handle any challenge of this magnitude. For example, one of the responses on Twitter was of someone who claimed that he had registered for a National ID card about 3 years ago and was yet to receive it.
Evans Osinaike, co-founder of Call-A-Physio, brought a different approach. In his opinion, safe centers can work. A safe center, according to him, will be a place that has been wiped clean of the coronavirus.
Taking a leaf from China, places like stadiums can be converted to safe centers or isolation centers where people without the virus can be relocated to.
“…Then begin to add virus-free people as they are confirmed.Evans Osinaike, Co-Founder Call-A-Physio
You can then expand the radius. Test people in surrounding areas. Everyone. Move them to the safe center temporarily, fumigate their abodes, then move them back. Note that the entire circumference has to be nonpermeable for this to work. It’s slow, expensive and tedious but it could work.”
Addressing the impact that such a move would have on the already weakened businesses in the country, Osinaike feels this could be an opening for other means of employment.
With the government’s aid, more people can be fitted with essential PPEs that are required for health workers and trained to complement the existing numbers we have in the country.
Providing financial aid for citizens in kind not cash will also require people. This can be a source of employment for some other set of virus-free individuals equipped with the right PPEs. His method, while requiring a stringent lockdown, comes with other measures that will take time, but may be effective.
As the lockdown is ongoing, a major concern is the effectiveness of the measures being put in place. People can not remain in lockdown indefinitely. And with the majority of the population living from hand to mouth, hunger or poor living/environmental conditions may force people out of their homes.
While a number of others suggest adopting the Sweden approach and lifting the lockdown, there are a number of challenges to Sweden’s approach in Nigeria.
The time to prepare was before and we didn’t. If we cancel the lockdown, it will be because we’re resigning ourselves to whatever happens with the virus spread and potential mortality rate, not because we can scale up medical services fast enough.Odunayo Eweniyi
The social benefits system in Sweden is present and active, while there is little evidence of the presence of any in Nigeria. If citizens get infected with the virus and have to stay at home, the social benefits plan kicks in from the first day of stay at home.
The reverse is the case in Nigeria, if the lockdown is lifted and citizens fall ill with the virus, there is no backup social plan in place to compensate for the financial loss.
Reports have shown that Swedes have a high level of trust in their Government. This is the exact opposite in Nigeria where there is open distrust of the Government and its initiatives, as revealed by reactions on social media from time to time.
The reactions of Nigerians when the office of the Accountant-general of the federation was razed a day after he was supposedly asked for reports of funds that had been disbursed to fight the COVID-19 shows a distrust for the government and people in governmental positions.
Equally, the reaction of people who felt that the FG introduced a travel ban some weeks too late shows the low level of trust Nigerians put into decisions made by the government. This is one of the reasons why the best bet for Nigerians is to stay at home and make the most of it until a better solution is proferred.
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