Today, President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to announce the next step the country will be taking in its fight against the novel Coronavirus.
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) members led by Boss Mustapha had earlier briefed the president on the effect of the current easing of lockdown. However, with the number of infection already nearly 6,000 and climbing, everyone is curious about the decisions the president will announce today.
We have given our recommendations to the President and we will wait for his decision on the next phase of ease of lockdown tomorrowSani Aliyu, National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19
Looking at the available facts, information and data surrounding the COVID-19 situation, I have collated a list of possible decisions the president could take and the possible effects they could have on the country.
Continuation of Partial Lockdown
Earlier in the month, President Buhari relaxed the lockdown that had been in effect for almost a month in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun. He went on to impose a dusk-to-dawn curfew. He also imposed a ban on inter-state movements and mandated the compulsory use of face masks, amongst other measures.
As the two weeks wind to a close, the number of infected in the country has risen to 5,959 cases from the 2,558 registered on May 4 when the lockdown was partially lifted.
This shows that the number of infections increased by more than 100% in the last two weeks of partial lockdown compared to the period during the lockdown. The number of fatalities also increased by more than 100% as the number rose from 87 to about 182.
Although the data from the NCDC shows an increasing rate of infection, the president may decide to continue the partial lockdown due to the immense benefit it has had on the economy and with the hope that infection may soon hit its curve and start to flatten.
There is also a strong possibility that President Buhari may decide on another full lockdown, seeing as the partial lockdown wasn’t a complete success healthwise.
However, it will be a strong choice between prioritising the safety of citizens and watching the economy collapse on one hand or taking the risk of re-opening the economy while trusting Nigerians to protect themselves on the other.
Nigeria’s gig economy and informal sector contribute 65% of its economic output. During the lockdown, restrictions on movement not only reduced the consumption of non-essential commodities, it significantly shut down the informal sector adding to the country’s economic woes.
Also, it caused a massive decline in stock prices, the worst performance recorded since the 2008 financial meltdown. The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the negative profit outlook of most stocks stalled investments.
However, after the partial opening of the economy at the beginning of the month, the stock exchange recorded a total turnover of 1.662 billion shares worth N18.205 billion in 28,791 deals in a week. This was almost double the total turnover of 1.012 billion shares worth N9.892 billion in 17,023 deals traded in the last week of April, during the lockdown.
This shows that while relaxing the lockdown has had negative effects, it has also displayed positives as the Stock Market is recovering and daily wage earners now have relief knowing they can provide for their families.
Partial Lockdown plus the partial opening of Hotels, Airports, Clubs and Churches
Although it seems highly unlikely, it is still possible that the president will further ease the lockdown. When the lockdown was relaxed, restrictions on interstate travel, schools, bars, cinemas, hotels and places of worship remained in place.
However, the president may opt to allow businesses like hotels and bars open partially under strict conditions. This is because the shutdown of many of these businesses has considerably depleted their cash reserves causing them to run the risk of bankruptcy.
With no end in sight for the pandemic, Buhari might consider a compromising way to let them operate safely.
Full re-opening of the economy
Many people are curious about when things will finally return back to normal. For Nigerians, President Buhari is the only person that can answer that question.
When the president speaks today he may begin the process of returning back to normalcy by completely re-opening the economy. This means the opening of borders, airport, seaports among others.
Although many people are divided as to if the country should be on lockdown or not in the country, each decision has its own benefits and disadvantages.
If the economy is totally re-opened, retail business especially those who have to import goods from foreign countries can restock their emptying shelves.
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The aviation and hospitality sector that has been crippled by the lockdown can now start their slow process back to profitability. Also, the naira’s valuation could start picking up again after dropping due to the steep decline in oil prices, Nigeria’s major source of foreign exchange.
The price of Brent crude was just over $26 a barrel on April 2, whereas Nigeria’s budget assumes a price of $57 per barrel
In summary, opening the economy isn’t so bad an idea if you consider that even with the loans Nigeria has gotten from the IMF, World Bank, among others, the probability of the country surviving an extended lockdown with oil prices down looks slim.
However, health is also very important. So whichever decision the president decides to take, let’s try to protect ourselves even while obeying directives.
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