Nigeria Extends Lockdown in Three Major Cities As Coronavirus Cases Rise

An empty road in Abuja during the COVID-19 lockdown of the Nigerian capital.

Nigeria has extended its lockdown of three major cities that are affected by the coronavirus, in continuation of efforts towards reducing the transmission of the virus in Africa's most populous country.

The lockdown imposed in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja in the last two weeks will continue for another 14 days starting from Monday night, President Muhammadu Buhari announced on Easter Monday, in his second national address since Nigeria confirmed its first case of COVID-19 late February.

He said the extension was to further check the spread of COVID-19 which has infected 323 people in Nigeria and caused 10 deaths.

President Buhari also said in the last 14 days, the cessation of movement in the three cities helped in slowing the spread of the disease hence the need for the extension.

"The cessation of movement, physical distancing measures and the prohibition of mass gatherings remain the most efficient and effective way of reducing the transmission of the virus. By sustaining these measures, combined with extensive testing and contact tracing, we can take control and limit the spread of the disease.

"With this in mind and having carefully considered the briefings and Report from the Presidential Task Force and the various options offered, it has become necessary to extend the current restriction of movement in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT for another 14 days effective from 11:59 pm on Monday, 13th of April, 2020. I am therefore once again asking you all to work with Government in this fight," Mr Buhari said.

The president said the previously issued guidelines on exempted services such as hospitals and stores selling essential food items, groceries and medicine shall remain.

Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria's commercial and political capitals are mostly affected because they are the major entrances into the country.

"Most of our efforts will continue to focus on these two locations," the president said.

"Majority of the confirmed cases in Lagos and the FCT are individuals with recent international travel history or those that came into contact with returnees from international trips."

Ogun was selected for the lockdown because of its proximity to Lagos.

Lagos remains the epicenter of the disease with 176 cases and 54 per cent of the country's total. When combined with the FCT that has recorded 56 cases as of Monday afternoon, the two locations represent over 71 per cent of the confirmed cases in Nigeria.

"By closing our airports and land borders and putting strict conditions for seaport activities, we have reduced the impact of external factors on our country," the president said.

Easing of Lock Down

Several states including Rivers, Kaduna and Anambra earlier imposed similar lockdowns. Schools, churches, markets and public gatherings were prohibited.

But because of the Easter Celebration, a host of states ordered partial or absolute relaxation of restriction of non-essential movements by residents.

The president in his national broadcast, however, said Nigerians cannot afford to let the guard down in complying with lockdown and safety measures despite the difficulty involved.

He said the increase in the number of states with positive cases are "alarming".

An analysis by PREMIUM TIMES showed that 104 new cases were recorded last week, many from contact tracing, amidst an increase in the number of tests carried out daily.

As of Sunday, 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have confirmed at least a case of the virus in Nigeria.

Mr Buhari said the repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action is unimaginable.

"This is not a joke. It is a matter of life and death," he said.

"Mosques in Makkah and Madina have been closed. The Pope celebrated Mass on an empty St. Peter's Square. The famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris held Easter Mass with less than 10 people. India, Italy and France are in complete lockdown. Other countries are in the process of following suit.

"We cannot be lax. This is a difficult decision to take, but I am convinced that this is the right decision. The evidence is clear."

Community Transmission

Mr Buhari also alluded to fears raised by several health authorities that community transmission had begun in Nigeria's overcrowded cities and countryside.

"The National Centre for Disease Control has informed me that, a large proportion of new infections are now occurring in our communities, through person-to-person contacts. So we must pay attention to the danger of close contact between person to person", he said.

Enforcing a total lockdown has been challenging for the authorities, especially in Abuja, Lagos and other cities across the nation where millions live in densely populated slums and rely on daily earnings to survive.

PREMIUM TIMES observed that several markets and slums in Abuja and Lagos went about their normal activities during the lockdown in a bid to make ends meet.

With an estimated population of over 20 million, Lagos poses enormous challenges to "social distancing". Even though Abuja is less crowded and in some areas has better infrastructure, the capital city is dotted with slums and overcrowded informal settlements.

"I am fully aware of the great difficulties experienced especially by those who earn a daily wage such as traders, day-workers, artisans and manual workers," the president said.

"For this group, their sustenance depends on their ability to go out. Their livelihoods depend on them mingling with others and about seeking work. But despite these realities we must not change the restrictions."

He urged security agencies to continue to maintain utmost "vigilance, firmness as well as restraint in enforcing the restriction orders while not neglecting statutory security responsibilities."

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