Nigeria: COVID-19 - Experts Back Buhari On Lockdown Extension

(file photo).
14 April 2020

President Muhammadu Buhari last night extended the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states.

In a nationwide broadcast monitored in Abuja, Buhari cited briefings and report from the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, as reasons for extending the restriction by 14 days.

However, the decision to extend the restriction has attracted applause by health experts and professionals, while some residents of the FCT, Lagos and Ogun kicked against it.

Also among the experts that supported the president's decision, some nonetheless said while they expected the restriction extended to other states that recorded coronavirus cases, they also questioned the successes recorded in the last two weeks in respect to using the lockdown period to test more people and stem spread.

Recall that when the president announced the lockdown of FCT, Lagos and Ogun on March 30, there were 131 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two deaths in 12 states.

But as at last night, the cases have risen to 343 cases and 10 deaths in 19 states and the FCT.

Buhari justifies extension

President Buhari in his speech made reference to the decision of some governors who also slammed restrictions on their states saying, "As your democratically elected leaders, we made this very difficult decision knowing fully well it will severely disrupt your livelihoods and bring undue hardship to you, your loved ones and your communities.

"However, such sacrifices are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our country. They were necessary to save lives. Our objective was, and still remains to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to provide space, time and resources for an aggressive and collective action."

Buhari said during the time under review, they took wide-ranging decisions.

"We implemented comprehensive public health measures that intensified our case identification, testing, isolation and contact tracing capabilities.

"To date, we have identified 92% of all identified contacts while doubling the number of testing laboratories in the country and raising our testing capacity to 1,500 tests per day.

"We also trained over 7,000 healthcare workers on infection prevention and control while deploying NCDC teams to 19 states of the federation. Lagos and Abuja today have the capacity to admit some 1,000 patients each across several treatment centres," he said.

Buhari, however, expressed concern over rising cases and deaths across the globe because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Daily Trust reports that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had also warned that lifting coronavirus lockdown measures too early could spark a "deadly resurgence" in infections.

WHO's chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries should be cautious about easing restrictions, even as some struggle with the economic impact.

Speaking at a virtual news conference in Geneva, he said WHO was working with governments to form strategies for easing restrictions, but that this should not be done too soon.

"Lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly," he said.

Buhari admits community level transmission

The President Buhari also acknowledged that beyond the index cases and their contacts in Nigeria, the COVID-19 was now being transmitted at community level.

"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.

"At this point, I will remind all Nigerians to continue to take responsibility for the recommended measures to prevent transmission, including maintaining physical distancing, good personal hygiene and staying at home.

"In addition, I have signed the Quarantine Order in this regard and additional regulations to provide clarity in respect of the control measures for the COVID-19 pandemic which will be released soon," he said.

While thanking the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Buhari cautioned clerics who insisted on holding congregations.

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

... Harps on palliatives for vulnerable

Buhari said no country could afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement on its economy.

"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.

"In the past two weeks, we announced palliative measures such as food distribution, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers to ease the pains of our restrictive policies during this difficult time. These palliatives will be sustained.

"I have also directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. This means we will support an additional one million homes with our social investment programmes. A technical committee is working on this and will submit a report to me by the end of this week," he said.

Extension good for Nigeria

Meanwhile, chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in Ogun State, Dr Ismail Lawal, has backed the extension of the lockdown.

He told Daily Trust that since new cases of COVID-19 were being recorded on daily basis, the extension became necessary to trace other cases lurking around in the country.

"I don't have problem with the extension. I think it is necessary. If you look at the sciences and the circumstances surrounding the transmission and if we are still getting new cases, there are a lot of contacts out there that need to be traced. Those contacts need to be prevented from moving around," he stated.

A public health and family medicine specialist, Dr Kunle Megbuwawon, said community spread would become an issue when the present lockdown was relaxed, noting that the extension would be of immense benefit.

He said if someone that has the virus failed to isolate and mingled with people in the community, it could worsen the rate of infections.

"For every time he speaks, he coughs or he sneezes, he is spreading the diseases," he said.

A virologist with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Prof Sunday Omilabu, said, "Government should look around partial lockdown that will be more effective so that the healthcare workers that are treating the cases within the community will go round. At the same time, people will be able to make their daily earnings to feed their families."

Professor Akpan Hogan Ekpo, an economist and chairman of the Foundation for Economic Research and Training (FERT) in Lagos, said it was right that the president followed the advice of experts.

"However, he should look at the impact on the unemployed, the underemployed and those who earn a living daily.

"Everything boils down to the effective distribution of the palliatives. Most adult Nigerians have bank account and using the bank verification number (BVN). Let the government pay between N5,000 and N10,000 to its citizens. We may say people with account are employed but they are just a working poor," he said.

Founder and Managing Director, Cowry Asset Management Limited, Johnson Chukwu said there were ways the government could reach out to the critical mass at the end of the ladder.

"We can use their telephone lines to determine who is poor and through the amount they recharge their phones, this can be easily determined," he said.

A public affair analyst, Malam Abdulraheem Isiaka, said the lockdown as being observed in Nigeria might not achieve its targeted objectives because there was deviation from the global practice.

"The way the lockdown is being observed in other parts of the world is different from ours. In Spain, England, Italy, the US and many other countries, people are indoors day and night but in our case, you see people crowding at local markets," he said.

Residents want end to lockdown

Residents of the FCT, Ogun and Lagos states have kicked against extension of the lockdown, saying there is no justification for it.

Mr Celestine Anafuwe from Abuja said the extension of the lockdown may not be the solution to the issue at hand adding, "We may not have idea of what some people are passing through because of this lockdown.

"As we speak, some people don't even have what to eat tonight. I'm afraid, now that the lockdown is extended, people might protest," he said.

Another resident, Mrs Rukayya Ibrahim, however, said it was better to bear the extension and stay at home so that the country does not go the way of the US and other European countries.

Daily Trust reports that the extension as announced was coming when Ogun State had not completed the first round of the 14 days lockdown.

While the lockdown became effective in FCT and Lagos same day, it took Ogun four days to begin the sit at home order following what Governor Dapo Abiodun termed as "lack of preparedness."

Speaking with our correspondent, a resident of Abeokuta, Abiodun Mudashiru, kicked against the lockdown extension, saying people have suffered in the last 14 days.

Mudashiru, an electrician, said many Nigerians who live on daily income were terribly affected, adding that he was worried that the federal government had not rolled out an enduring stimulus package that would encourage people to sit at home.

Another resident, Bolanle, said there was no justification for extension, noting that people "are already dying of hunger."

She lamented that many youths had resorted to robbery since the lockdown in order to survive the hardship.

Many residents of Lagos communities have continued to experience sleepless nights over rising attacks by suspected armed robbers because of the lockdown.

Some residents had been robbed at gunpoint while shops were burgled by hoodlums. The attacks had by Monday and yesterday spread to other parts of Lagos that included Iyana Ipaja, Ayobo, Egbeda, Agege, Iju, Dopemu, Alimosho and Bariga.

A resident of Iyana Ipaja, who spoke with our correspondent, said the armed robbers invaded many houses in the area and dispossessed residents of their valuables.

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