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By Ade Bakare
Widespread diseases are not alien to humans. One is a life witness of cholera epidemics. It is a dehydrating disease that showed itself with excessive diarrhea and vomiting. It kills in minutes. The story is that decades ago, the decease reportedly killed people with a speed of light. It reportedly wiped out the entire family and in extreme situation, a whole community.
Great-Grand mother had also talked about Olode (smallpox) which she blamed on Shanpona; the gods of diseases. According to her, no one dare help a victim of the dreaded disease. You do it at the risk of your own life. Victims of smallpox are usually taken to the evil forest for burial. The reward of wanting to give its victims a proper burial was death. The bereaved were not even allowed to mourn their dead or cry. Unknown to Iya ologiri, it was not Shopona or any unseen spirit but unseen bacteria transferred from one person to the other through contact.
Today science has advanced. Cholera and smallpox are treatable and are treated at any clinic. There are also vaccines for the diseases. I could recall that anytime there was an outbreak, our house, on account of my fathers work, often became inoculation centre. Everyone within the neighbourhood would come around to be vaccinated.
The coronavirus pandemic, that the entire world now faces, is not in the same league with Cholera or Smallpox. To the shame of science, there is no vaccine or treatment for now. Unfortunately, the news of the pandemic was taken with a pinch of salt when we heard that the virus was wrecking havoc in far away Wuhan, China. The notorious virus is believed to have its roots from the city that sounds like coughing. The China episode did not also create any serious concern in necessary quarters even though more than three thousand people were reportedly dead. There are claims that the fatalities were grossly under reported. Americans security allegedly unraveled evidence that more than twenty million people were killed due to complication arising from the virus in China. As at the last count more than two million people have been infected with huge number of fatalities across the world.
Many Nigerians have continued to dismiss it with a wave of the hand concluding that the virus was alien and would not survive the heat of the country. Some even came up with some antidote to the deadly respiratory decease including drinking and bathing with alcohol. There are also several popular cocktails of herbs.
In the Nigerias characteristic manner, we have also deployed our uncanny gift of turning serious things into jokes. We make fun of anything no matter how deadly it seems. Often than not, we take away our minds and eyes from the situation with a throw of hands that it will go away. God has our back, we often insist.
Alas! The first index case was confirmed in Lagos but we were not alarmed! An Italian businessman came to town on the 25th of February and was diagnosed of the virus two days later. In a saner clime, one would have expected a change of attitude particularly with the grievous stories of death we received on daily basis from elsewhere around the Globe. But what did we do? Some supposedly exposed senior citizens considered the situation a scheme by the health minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire to defraud the country.
Many ignorant citizens even demanded for the name and picture of the Italian to believe the story. The doubting Thomas in us is apparently oblivious that the identity of a patient is not to be disclosed unless with his permission or that of his family members.
From one lone person on Lagos hospital bed in February, the number is rising slowly and picking up the speed steadily. Twenty-four states and Abuja are now contending with the virus. Though, many states lay claim to the absence of the virus in their territories, NCDC recent public statement that all the states of the federation would play hosts to the virus make such claim untenable. It will be misleading to claim zero presence of the virus in any state of the federation. The only correct claim that can be made is that there are still about 16 states without a confirmed case yet.
As at the last count, the total number of infected is edging towards a thousand. About 190 people have been successfully treated and discharged, with twenty-two deaths.
There is also evidence to suggest that the relatively low number of infected persons in Nigeria, when compared to other countries, who recorded their first index case at the same time as the country, is a direct consequence of the countrys low capacity for testing. It was just recently that the country could provide test for 3000 persons per day. This is the lowest possible capacity even within the Africa continent.
One is not, by any means, unappreciative of the efforts and sacrifice by the authorities and the sweat of the medical team tending the sick in various centres. One is actually proud of the good show of many state governors. However, it is not difficult to conclude that there are more people in need of test who are sick but do not have access to medical service. When viewed against the statistic that not less than 3% of the entire population in countries with better capacity for testing are down with the virus, it will only be foolhardy to think we are on top of the situation. At the risk of being called an alarmist, the virus may take a new turn by assuming community transmission since it is more than likely that many infected persons without symptoms now move freely in the communities and having close contact with others.
Do not forget that most of the initial persons treated are returnees from abroad. The increasing number of positive tallies, particularly in Lagos, suggests community transmission. We are practically at the dangerous curve and may witness exponential increase in the number of infected.
As far as one is concerned, we may be moving to a grave stage of the pandemic. We have started seeing a pattern of spread; a guy relocated from Lagos in a commercial bus, mingled with commuters, to another state. He falls sick. It was discovered he has the coronavirus. Is there any state yet to receive a guest from Lagos, the epicentre of the pandemic in the last fourteen days? I am not in any way suggesting that everyone from Lagos has caught the virus. That would have been a lie. Ones concern is that, there are no effective ways of determining who has the virus, especially with the discovery that a good percentage of infected individuals do not experience any of the coronavirus symptoms. So with the best of effort at the city entrance of border towns an effected person may slip out of the hand and mix up with others.
Authorities in many states, including Bayelsa, are reluctant to order a total lockdown. This is consistent especially with the Prosperity Agenda of Governor Douye Diri, in the state, to pursue policies that will promote the well-being, businesses and economy of the state and the citizenry. This policy is buoyed by the fact that there is no confirmed case of corona virus in the state yet. This is not different with what is obtainable elsewhere.
However, some of the policies and protocol adopted by many state governments are suggestive of tactical admittance that some people may be carrying the virus. For instance, social distancing strategy is suggestive of the possibility of the carrier of the dangerous virus in the crowd. Worship centres have all been closed down while more than eighty percent of civil servants are on compulsory holiday. Markets are also put on partial lock, allowing only those who sell essentials. These are policies in advancement of social distancing protocol of WHO.
But is there actually a strict observance of social distancing anywhere in Nigeria? Every morning, people crowd bank entrances, pushing and shoving to be admitted into the banking halls. Several others are waiting at the ATM galleries to make withdrawals. Young men busy themselves playing football in every available space. Night crawlers are going about undeterred as if the virus does not spread at night.
Candidly, one is not persuaded that social distancing is a sufficient mechanism to curtail the spread of this deadly virus anywhere in Nigeria with abysmal testing capacity. Social distancing and observation of personal and environmental hygiene would have been enough with adequate testing capacity and sufficient hospital space.
The cheapest alternative is to do a total lockdown of the country for one month. However, at least a notice of one week should be given to the citizenry to enable them get adequate supplies. The vulnerable among us should also be provided for by the authority. One has had the argument that government wont be able to provide for the vulnerable due to the huge fund that would be involved. The argument contradicts the established prism that prevention is better than cure and cannot be sustained. Most governments are distributing palliatives. The argument one is pushing here it that government should ensure that the palliatives it has procured get to those who actually need them. It can then order a lockdown. Lockdown will ultimately be cheaper than playing the ostrich with the virus in the face of a grave possibility of having to contend with a pandemic that has no cure and provide medical services from a system that is already overwhelmed. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine. Let us lockdown now before it is too late. Lockdown the country know.
* Bakare, a Director in the Bayelsa state Ministry of Information and Orientation, sent this from Yenagoa