PREMATURELY, the Nigerian and people are moving on from the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite a sharp decline in COVID-19 infections and deaths, low vaccination, relaxation of COVID-19 protocols, and lack of daily updates by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, a renewed upsurge of coronavirus cases globally, especially in China, should dictate caution.
The National Primary Health Care Development Agency stated that as of April 27, just 20.5 per cent of the country’s total eligible population had been partially vaccinated against the disease, while only 13.6 per cent had been fully vaccinated. Concurrently, the Federal Government, through its Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, announced a relaxation of most COVID-19 protocols. In official circles and among the populace, there is a prevailing trivialisation of the threat. It should not be so.
Events around the world indicate that though a “COVID-19 fatigue” has set in, the pandemic is far from being over. It has rebounded in China, its place of origin. The communist state has re-imposed severe restrictions in parts of the country in response to a surge in infections. In the United States, the world’s most afflicted with 83.17 million infections and 1.02 million deaths by May 3, its vice-president, Kamala Harris, became the latest high profile personality to test positive to the virus. Undoubtedly, the pandemic is still in place.
The BBC reports that COVID-19 is still spreading with over 510 million confirmed cases and 6.2 million deaths reported across almost 200 countries. The US, India and Brazil recorded the highest number of confirmed cases, followed by France, Germany and the United Kingdom. As of April 26, researchers at Johns Hopkins University, USA, had recorded 2,441 deaths over the previous two months with over 500,000 new infections. Nigeria has been relatively less afflicted. The NCDC had confirmed 255,766 cases as of May 2, with Lagos (99,364), Abuja (28,653), Rivers (16,672), Kaduna (11,273), Plateau (10,253), Oyo (10,224) and Ogun (7,684) respectively having the highest figures. Some 3,143 persons have died from the disease nationwide.
The World Health Organisation has repeatedly warned that the pandemic is not over. Though conflicted by the imperative of revitalising their economies and the need to contain the disease, other countries have been trying new measures but not abandoning safety protocols altogether. But the Nigerian is confused and careless. Lacking coherent leadership, Nigerians have thrown caution to the wind, preferring to live in denial of the danger posed by one of humanity’s worst pandemics. It is a dangerous mix.
Leadership is critical in restoring prudence. Politicians are reckless and have refused to lead by example. They openly engage in campaigns, summon uncontrolled crowds where COVID-19 protocols are totally ignored. They hold ostentatious parties, enthusiastically aped by other Nigerians. Religious gatherings are overcrowded with worshippers dumping the use of face masks, hand washing, hand sanitisers and disregarding social distancing.
Workplaces, markets, malls, recreational centres are not left out in this folly, as sanitisers are no longer strictly provided, checking the body temperature of individuals is no longer done.
With the electoral season imminent, observers fear that rallies and other potential ‘super-spreader’ gatherings may trigger a new infection rate.
Nigerians should snap out of their slumber. Another outbreak could spell doom for a country suffering record unemployment, insecurity, near-bankrupt public treasuries and mass discontent. Moreover, the health care delivery system is shambolic, unable to handle any national health crisis.
Beginning with mandatory face mask usage, the federal and state should reintroduce and enforce the basic preventive protocols. Public institutions, business premises, worship centres, restaurants, canteens and entertainment outlets and others should be made to strictly comply with rules on hand sanitisers, temperature checks, face masks and social distancing.
Nigerians must be sensitised to imbibe vaccination. Public enlightenment should be accompanied by abundant provision of vaccines, storage and effective delivery of vaccination services across the country. By May 2, 23.59 million residents had been partially vaccinated and only 15.54 million fully vaccinated.
The NPHCDA has warned that low vaccine utilisation in the states may result in the expiration and wastage of over 30 million doses of vaccines. This should be averted. While a few like Nasarawa, Jigawa and Kano have ramped up vaccination coverage, many states lag behind. They should show better appreciation of the crisis. Still way behind the 40 per cent December 2021 vaccination target set by the WHO, Nigeria should make strenuous efforts to achieve the agency’s 2022 target of 70 per cent coverage.
The racket in fake vaccination cards should be smashed and its perpetrators apprehended and prosecuted.
The federal and state should aggressively pursue the vaccination programme. The focus of the NPHCDA and state should be on ensuring full vaccination for all. Most of the relaxed protocols have to be reinstated ahead of the electoral season. Senior officials who disregard COVID-19 protocols should be sanctioned. The UK has shown the way by penalising its prime minister, Boris Johnson, for violating the mask mandate.
Though the economy cannot afford a general lockdown, if necessary, however, localised restrictions could be temporarily imposed in areas of high infection. Apart from shutting down some cities, China’s ‘zero COVID strategy’ policy includes a raft of 50 restrictions imposed on its customs service for the import and export sector. Amid a general relaxation of rules, Germany’s municipalities and states have adopted new rules emphasising early detection, localised quarantines and prompt treatment of infected persons. The relevant bodies at federal, state and LG levels should mount sustained public sensitisation.
There should be greater education on the basic preventive options and non-pharmaceutical interventions that include wearing of masks, hand hygiene and social distancing to help minimise physical contact and thus prevent transmission of the virus. Opinion moulders, political, social, religious and traditional, should be involved in the sensitisation.
Political leaders, especially public office holders, should demonstrate responsible leadership by adhering to all safety protocols at all times. Violators should also be punished according to the law to serve as deterrence.
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