COVID-19: Before the next round of national lockdown

By John Okiyi Kalu

There is no doubt that locking down helps to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus especially when applied stringently with other measures such as regular washing of hands under running water, wearing of face mask and social distancing.

But it is not a silver bullet that ends coronavirus and also has other deleterious socio-economic implications that must be considered even while taking the necessary measures.

This note was provoked by an article I read concerning the projection that Lagos will likely record 120,000 cases of COVID-19 by July 2020. Of course, that projection must have come out of some modeling system being used by the authorities in Lagos State. Yet, I beg to disagree with the numbers and will later share my reasons.

While media reports suggest that the Federal Government is mulling another round of national lockdown, permit me to suggest what I consider the most urgent priority for us in the fight:against COVID-19 which is the availability of accurate testing facilities in all the senatorial districts of Nigeria as a minimum.

According to Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), so far, we have tested 23,835 samples from our population of about 200 million people. Out of that meagre figure tested, we have confirmed 4,151 cases of COVID-19 in the country with about 3,278 cases currently active. That means that 17.41% of those tested returned positive results. When we extrapolate to the national population it means that if we test 200 million Nigerians we MIGHT likely find about 34,820,000 positive cases in the country.

I capitalized the word might to show that other variables will likely come to play with regard to the numbers. For instance, the stringency of the case definition means that only those that are very likely to be positive would have been tested thereby giving rise to high positive outcomes. On the other hand, the stringent case definition might also allow many positive cases to escape the loop. For instance, if the stringent case definition existing at the time had prevailed with the two index cases in Abia State, who are above 70 years old, home bound with underlying medical conditions usually associated with senior citizens and no recent travel history, they would have been missed even though they had the virus.

It is my considered opinion that while locking down is good to slow down the spread of the virus, it is even more important to be able to test as many people as are willing to be tested to know exactly what we are dealing with in order to prescribe the right solutions and in time, too. On its own, locking down is not an end and indeed comes with numerous deleterious socio-Economic consequences.

Above all, I was personally taught in Business School to ensure I see the end before taking a dive. Where exactly is the end we are seeing with the lockdown strategy? We can’t possibly lockdown the country forever.

Before we declare the next round of national lockdown, let’s do the following:

1. Establish one testing center in each senatorial district of the country. That should give us 109 new testing centers or a little less because of the existing ones.

2. Ensure total closure of inter state boundaries to stop people from spreading the disease far and wide. Circle the disease wherever found and deal with it there. All our states need not record cases and, indeed, if we had implemented this measure earlier, we would have been dealing with lockdown in only Lagos and FCT whereas other states would have continued with production to support the entire country.

3. Fund large scale research on local drugs to manage patients of the disease. While COVID-19 is a novel disease, there are previous infections that mimick its biochemical attributes. A good starting point is to find out how those past outbreaks were managed with local herbs before the coming of the white man?

4. Enforce national wearing of face masks to minimize the spreading of the disease. If we achieve 80% compliance with face masking in the country, we would have reduced the likelihood of spreading the disease by more than 60%.

At the moment, it makes little or no sense to impose curfews when we cannot enforce inter-state movement restrictions. Granted that people need to spend as much time as possible locked down at home, our peculiar situation with absence of steady power supply and adequate security makes it a fortuitous measure, in the main.

It is also an indisputable fact that the number of cases we have recorded so far is directly proportional to the number of tests we have conducted. My private investigations indicate that some states recording low or zero infection rates may not have been testing as much as others like Lagos and Abuja. If some of those states do not start testing as many as need to be tested, let’s start building morgues and mass graves early enough.

Finally, it is laughable that we are yet to identify what exactly is killing Nigerians in Kano. The resort to paper surveys as against autopsies is a joke. If we say that it is unIslamic to conduct autopsies is it also the case that only Muslims in Kano are affected by this so called “strange” illness? Can’t we examine corpses of the non Muslim victims and use the result to pinpoint what is killing our people? And if, like many suspect, it is actually COVID-19 that is on rampage in Kano, Gombe and Bauchi, why won’t the authorities say so and then take measures to contain the situation before things nosedive further south?

In all these, I accept the risk of being called a fear monger if it will make us think harder as a nation, but what I am seeing is not good and it is not the product of malaria induced dream or “odumbaka” prophecies. I see tens of thousands of Nigerians being camped in open fields as isolation centers because no state can afford to build a 120,000 bed capacity isolation facility fast enough. Not even Lagos that is conservatively projecting the “meagre” infection figure of 120,000 by July 2020. Large swathes of residential areas might have to become isolation zones as we navigate through the months of June and July. Let’s wake up before it is late.

-JOK (John Okiyi Kalu) is the Abia State Commissioner for Information

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