Inching Towards a Lockdown

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Vanessa Obioha and Martins Ifijeh write that with the gradual closure of schools, offices, transportation hubs, hotels and event centres, the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies is already being felt in Nigeria

As the devastating news of economic meltdown faced by countries that are affected by the global pandemic, COVID-19 continue to reverberate round the world, Nigeria is steadily arming herself for the war-like privation ahead.

By global health prediction, disease outbreaks are only 36 hours away from potentially entering any country of the world irrespective of how farther apart the index country and the receiving nations are geographically placed.

However, it took Nigeria 59 days to get her first confirmed case of COVID-19, a new coronavirus disease which broke out from Wuhan city in China since December 31, 2019.

The country recorded the first case of COVID-19, a contagious airborne disease on March 5. The index case was from an Italian who exhibited symptoms of the disease shortly after his arrival in the country. The Lagos State Ministry of Health was quick to respond to the case, tracing individuals who might have been in contact with the Italian. Though the Italian has been discharged and out of harm’s way, the state has, however, recorded more cases of the deadly virus. As at the time of filing this report, the number of Coronavirus cases in Nigeria was inching closer to 35 with Lagos state having the highest number of infected persons.

That number pales in comparison to the rising death toll in Italy, which is now the epicenter of pandemic. On Saturday, March 21, the European country recorded 793 cases in one day, the highest so far.
Spain, Netherland and Canada has so far imported one case each into Nigeria.

The Blindfold Cases

During announcement of each confirmed case in Nigeria, the federal government, either through the Ministry of Health or the NCDC gives detail on the travel history of the patients.

They however didn’t give detail on seven cases. While it is certain they were not exposed to the virus through community spread, the country with which they imported it have never been mentioned.

The Nigerian government has not also mentioned whether any case was imported into the country through China, the epicenter of the disease despite Nigeria’s high trading partnership with the country.

Since the virus made its unwelcome entrance into Nigeria, measures have been taken to ensure public health safety, though, the response has not been as swift as many wish. For instance, international flights from infected countries were still allowed in the first week of the viral’s presence. Travel bans, however, have been imposed on 15 countries and by last Saturday, the Federal Government ordered the closure of international airports in Lagos and Abuja.

The Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja are the busiest airports in the country and will remain closed for one month according to the FG directive. Operations in international airports in Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt were also grounded.

In the wake of the pandemic in the state,
Lagos state government kicked off a series of safety measures to curb the spread of the disease. One of such gospels is social distancing.
The novel virus from the family of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is typically spread from one person to another via respiratory droplets produced during coughing. Medical reports also disclosed that COVID-19 may also be spread from touching contaminated surfaces and then touching one’s face.

Upon assuming the position of the Incident Commander against Covid-19 in Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu instituted a number of measures, including the closing of all tertiary, secondary and primary schools, suspension of religious gatherings, including church services and Jumat prayers, among others.

Yesterday, the governor also called on bus operators including BRT and ‘danfos’ to cut down on the number of passengers they carry, saying this was necessary to minimize contact.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu said from today, the police force was going to implement the Lagos law against public gathering and religious activities.

Social distancing has been the common safety practice by nations to contain the contagion. The state government barred social gatherings that exceeded 50 attendees and over the weekend, the number was whittled down to 20. Organisers of sports, entertainment and culture events were forced to reschedule their events to curtail the spread. The state government also ordered schools to shut down while the Federal Government called for tertiary institutions to be closed. The Kwara State government as well ordered all primary and secondary schools to be closed and advised civil servants to work from home. On Sunday, Lagos State ordered civil servants from grade level 1-12 to stay home for 14 days. Many corporate organisations already asked their employees to work from home and hold virtual meetings.

North-west Governors Close Schools

The North-west Governors’ Forum has directed that schools within the region should be closed for 30 days.

Rising from their meeting last week in Kaduna, the governors said the decision was to prevent citizens from contacting the COVID-19.

The Chairman of the forum and Katsina State Governor, Hon. Bello Masari, announced the decision of the governors in a communiqué he read at the end of the closed-door meeting.

Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Nigeria
Despite the low turnout of the disease in the country, Nigeria is gradually aiming for a lockdown. Moreover, the global impact of the pandemic on economies is already felt in the country. As one of the biggest suppliers of oil to Europe, the inevitable dip in crude oil prices has affected the country such that the President Muhammadu Buhari announced a reduction in the pump price of fuel. But that directive is yet to be obeyed by marketers. The Nigeria Stock Exchange is not immune to the pandemic effect. Like crude oil, stock values have plummeted. According to reports, the All Share Index (ASI) has been on a free fall since the outbreak of the disease, with the banking sector recording the highest loss followed by consumer goods and the oil and gas sector.

Perhaps, the sector that is most hit by the pandemic is the trading sector. Nigeria imports a large number of goods from China. With the threatening pandemic resulting in closure of airports and borders, the effect is adverse in the trade and consumer markets. The crippling of socioeconomic activities also affects the hospitality business which is a major source of revenue to states like Lagos. Eko Hotels and Suites, home to most upscale social events in the state announced recently that it will be temporarily closed.

The restrictions on movement of people and goods will inadvertently yield privation in a country where a large percentage of the population live on less than $1 per day.

No Stimulus Package from Nigeria
The Federal Government is yet to provide stimulus to keep the economy afloat while the battle against the pandemic rages on.
However, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has announced that N1.1 trillion will be injected into the economy to fight Coronavirus.

The Governor of the bank, Godwin Emefiele said the bulk of the money will be used in funding intensive research and training in order to contain the pandemic.

“First the CBN is directing all Deposit Money Banks to increase their support to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries in local drug manufacturing, in increased bed count in hospitals across Nigeria, in funding intensive care as well as in training, laboratory testing, equipment and R&D.”

He also called on the private and public health sector to take advantage of this in tackling the dreaded outbreak.

The Federal Government has banned all foreign trips for government officils, and has advised Nigerians against travelling abroad until the outbreak is defeated in the country and across the globe.

Yesterday, it banned all rail transportations as part of measures to ensure Nigerians remain at home.

The Federal Government has also ordered the immediate closure of the ongoing NYSC orientation camps nationwide over COVID-19 fears.

The Director General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brig-Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim said the closure became necessary following the outbreak of the disease in the country.

He confirmed that no corps member, staff or camp official had contracted the virus, urging corps members to ensure personal hygiene in their places of primary assignment.

In addition, the Central Bank of Nigeria has adjusted the foreign currency exchange to keep the Naira value and announced a credit relief of N59 billion to businesses affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. It also granted a further moratorium of one year on all principal repayments. Furthermore, it cut down the interest rate on loans from 9 to 5% per annum for one year. The apex bank will fund 12 pharmacists in drug production while providing loans to pharmaceutical companies intending to expand or open their manufacturing plants in the country.

The Federal Government, however, is yet to announce any relief plan for citizens who are shut in. Workers working remotely are confronted with the challenge of unstable electricity and high cost of internet.

The inability of the presidency to provide a clear path to sustain the country during this pandemic will increase panic among citizens. It may have to study China’s model in providing funding for citizens during the nightmarish outbreak.

It is still unclear how much preparation the Nigerian government has made should there be large outbreaks of the disease, especially as it relates to mass testing, number of isolation centres, and treatment facilities across the country.

Laboratory Capacities

For instance, the federal government presently has only five level-3 laboratories across the country; the National Reference Laboratory Abuja, University of Benin Teaching Hospital Laboratory, Edo State, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Laboratory in Enugu, the Central Public Health Laboratory in Lagos State, and the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital Laboratory, Zaria.

The Director General, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu said in addition to the five facilities, the national health security body has mobile laboratories capable of testing persons for COVID-19 in states or regions without the level three laboratories.

The Nigerian Governors Forum also said earlier that each state has agreed to build laboratories, as this will ensure all states have the capacity to test for diseases.

Lessons from America and China

In countries like the United States which is seeing a steady rise in the virus spread, there have been efforts by the government to help citizens as well as businesses that will be affected by the pandemic. Senate Republicans unveiled a rescue package that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to big corporations and small businesses, large corporate tax cuts and checks of up to $1,200 for taxpayers. The plan would also place limits on a paid-leave program to respond to the crisis.

Chinese policymakers have targeted vulnerable households and looked for new ways to reach smaller firms—for example, by waiving social security fees, utility bills, and channeling credit through fintech firms. The authorities quickly arranged subsidized credit to support scaling up the production of health equipment and other critical activities involved in the outbreak response.

Interplay of Political Forces
As more and more states initiate measures that will keep the disease at bay, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly monitor federal and states’ spendings on coronavirus.

“Your government ought to move swiftly to increase spending on efforts to combat coronavirus in the country and provide funding support to Nigerians that are most affected by the crisis, by presenting COVID-19 budget/spending plan to the National Assembly and setting up a COVID-19 trust fund to which wealthy individuals and others should be encouraged to contribute.

“The proposed increase in spending of funds on COVID-19 means accountability for those funds should be top of your government’s list of priorities, if it is to remove opportunities for corruption that can undermine initiatives to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

SERAP noted that the EFCC and ICPC should prosecute and punish anyone found guilty of mismanagement or stealing public funds meant for addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Presidential candidate in the 2019 national elections, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili urged the leadership of the National Assembly to invite President Muhammadu Buhari to address the lawmakers and the Nigerian public on his administration’s strategies and account of efforts at containing the Coronavirus pandemic and the global economic shock.

Through her Spokesperson, Mr. Ozioma Ubabukoh, she stated that “at a time Nigeria is at war against a rapidly escalating pandemic of Corona virus and an increasingly distressed, deteriorating and declining economy, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Buhari, is missing in action.”

Ezekwesili, who is also a Co-convener of Bring Back Our Girls, declared, “Fellow Citizens, it is grossly irresponsible of Nigeria resident, General Muhammadu Buhari, to hide away from addressing and assuring his citizens at a time like this when leaders of other nations are doing much more.”

A couple of days ago, members of the House of Representatives made a quick retreat, after Nigerians took to Twitter and other social media platforms to condemn their intention to adjourn plenary for two weeks to reduce chances of contracting the deadly COVID-19.

The lawmakers had unanimously adopted a motion of urgent public importance, titled, ‘The Need for Emergency Response and Tackling of Deadly Coronavirus (COVlD-19) in Nigeria’, moved by Hon. Idem Unyime, and granted the prayer by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu.