Nigeria: Lockdown Relaxation - Nigerians Storm Banks, Markets, Violate Physical Distancing Order

Victoria Island, Lagos

Abuja, Lagos, Abeokuta — As the phased and gradual relaxing of the COVID-19 lockdown took off yesterday, Daily Trust observed that residents within Abuja capital city and environs flouted the physical distancing order of the federal government to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Many people stormed banks and shops around Wuse 2 to make withdrawals, fix their gadgets while others carried on with normal activities oblivious of the need to observe the physical distancing requirement.

Some residents who spoke to Daily Trust expressed fear over the sudden presence of an overwhelming crowd that observed no decorum to the need to keep distance in the course of interactions. A graduate of Architecture, Sulaiman Abdul, who resides in Abuja, stressed the need for people to be sensitised on the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic and the implication of violating the basic rules in avoiding the virus transfer.

Also, Umar Bello, a phone repairer, while assessing the situation upon the relaxation of the lockdown, said people are desperate to have their handsets in good shape and rush without precaution on the need to avoid close contacts.

Lagos residents defy social distancing rule

As the gradual easing of lockdown began in Lagos yesterday, residents trooped out for their normal businesses so as to meet up with the 3 pm deadline when most business transactions are expected to be concluded. In the midst of the rush by residents, they failed to comply with the social distancing rule. However, a high level of compliance with the use of face mask prevailed with virtually every person adorned with different shapes, colours, and sizes. Residents, including commercial drivers, conductors, passengers, tricycle riders, and traders among others were seen adorning the masks, even though they complained of discomfort.

Daily Trust observed that commercial buses that operated very early in the morning were filled to capacity contrary to the social distancing rule, but after some hours, the number of passengers was reduced to comply with the directive.

Observation by our reporters showed that some BRTs were sighted with more than 21 passengers while the terminals were crowded with passengers waiting to board vehicles to destinations.

The Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Dr. Frederic Oladeinde, had explained that effective from Monday, May 4, 2020, all commercial and commuter operations within the State shall be between the hours of 6 am and 7 pm daily, asserting that it is mandatory for all commuters to wear nose covers, wash their hands with soap under running water and thereafter, use alcohol-based sanitisers before and after each trip.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had directed banks and financial institutions in the state to open their branches and offer their full complement of services to the general public because of the significant role they play in the economy. Long queues were observed at ATM posts without observance of the social distancing rule of two metres space between two people.

Most banks had hand wash basins and sanitisers at their entrance but it was observed that not all customers were complying with the hand washing/sanitising requirements.

Although all the banks closed at 3 pm, crowd control was a major challenge as many people struggled to gain entrance to the banks at a go. Security personnel at branches of commercial banks at Ojodu, Allen, Alausa, Oba Akran had hectic moments controlling the surging crowd.

There was heavy traffic on most of the major roads including Yaba, Island inward mainland, Iyana Ipaja and Apapa among others.

At a popular shopping mall in Ikeja, visitors were compelled to wash their hands before gaining access to the hall, while temperature check was equally carried out in line with the directive of the state governor.

The taskforce put in place by the Lagos State government to supervise the gradual easing off of the lockdown order yesterday arrested some residents who flouted the government's directives.

Those arrested were mainly commercial bus drivers who carried above the 60 percent capacity requirement, as well as people without face masks.

The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, after an emergency meeting with members of the task force, said it was resolved that the team would embark on persuasive means and not forceful method of enforcement.

"Before any arrest can be made, it will be after 8 p.m. We have gone around the city as early as 0500hrs, all the barricades have been removed and no police is stopping anyone anywhere. Before we will start stopping, it will be 8 pm.

"The enforcement is a persuasive one; we persuade people. To be realistic, all that we are avoiding is for people not to have coronavirus. We need to talk more to people's conscience. Let them know that this thing goes beyond doubt.

"We have also told bank officers to bring their security operatives to space out their customers to avoid the crowd. We spoke with bank managers on the need to space and I am sure by the first one week, people will adjust to it," he said.

Residents defy safety measures in Ogun

In Ogun State, residents have defied safety measures on the prevention of the coronavirus in the state.

Our correspondent who visited major markets in Abeokuta observed total lack of adherence to social distancing among customers and traders.

Some of the markets visited are Kuto, Omida, Lafenwa, Sapon, Olomore, and Ita Oshin.

However, there was partial adherence to the mandatory use of facial masks among residents, commuters and transporters.

Besides, taxi drivers, motorcyclists and tricyclists partially complied with adjustment rules on the number of passengers being conveyed at a particular time.

Our correspondent reports that similar scenario played out in Sagamu, Ijebu-Ode, Sango-Ota and other parts of the state.

A public health expert, Dr Babatunde Ipaye, told Daily Trust that adherence to physical distancing had become difficult in view of the age-long social interactions which people have practised for decades. Ipaye, who was Commissioner for Health in the state, said it would require re-enforcement of enlightenment campaign, using a traditional and multimedia approach to ensure that residents imbibe the culture of physical distancing among other measures.

He equally requested the government to ensure strict enforcement by making arrests and prosecuting defaulters to serve as a deterrent to others.

"In a time like this, public health takes priority above any social interactions. Government must go beyond rhetoric and enforce those measures.

"The government must penetrate communities and educate people, using interpersonal community and peer influencers among residents and groups on the preventive measures. Most of the cases now are community transmission. If we fail to comply, what we are going to witness in Nigeria in a couple of weeks will be calamitous," he warned.

Umar Shehu Usman, Christiana T. Alabi, Sunday M. Ogwu, Abdulateef Aliyu, Risikat Ramoni & Eugene Agha, Peter Moses

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