By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
The spread of the Delta variant of Covid19 pandemic across many states of the federation has sparked off fear of another shutdown among stakeholders, particularly the business community, BusinessHallmark findings can reveal.
The Federal Government, it would be recalled, had imposed lockdown twice in the heat of the pandemic in 2020 to stop the spread of the virus.
Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief from months of lockdowns and its negative effects towards the end of 2020 when the government lifted restrictions after cases of infection crashed.
However, the sigh of relieve has been cut short with the confirmation of entry and spread of the disease in the country last week by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The Director-General of the centre, Dr Chike Ihekweazu, disclosed that the country recorded 553 positive cases on Thursday, August 5, 2021, the nation’s highest daily figure in over five months. Also, the nation recorded 11 deaths from COVID-19 on the same day, raising the total death toll from Monday to Thursday to 29.
Further breakdown shows that 11 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) contributed to the total infections recorded on Thursday, with more than half of the infections, 283 cases, coming from Lagos.
Other states with confirmed Covid19 cases are Akwa Ibom 88, Oyo 62, Rivers 62, FCT 18, Ogun State 12, Kwara 11, Plateau 6, Zamfara 6, Kaduna 2 and Katsina State 2 infections.
This, according to the NCDC, brings the nation’s total number of confirmed cases to 176,577 and death toll 2,178 as at August 5.
According to data uploaded by the NCDC on its website, Nigeria witnessed massive surge in cases since the beginning of July.For instance, while 1,276 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in Nigeria between May 27 and June 27, 4,261 new cases were recorded between June 27 and July 27, an increase of 2,985 (233.93%).
However, the NCDC noted that the nation has tested just over 2.5 million samples out of its over 200 million population, leading many health experts to argue that the actual infections rate will be higher than official figures.
Also speaking on the dreadful development during the week, Lagos State Governor, BabajideSanwo-Olu, revealed that the state records six deaths daily and about 30 deaths since the COVID-19 third wave hit Nigeria last month.
“From the beginning of the outbreak in February 2020 to date, Lagos State has recorded a total of 64,032 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of this number, 56,336 have recovered in the community, 2,755 are currently being managed actively in the community.
“Over the course of managing the pandemic, about 5,029 patients have been admitted into our various COVID-19 care centres in Lagos. We have, sadly, recorded 390 fatalities in Lagos, 30 of which have taken place in this current third wave of the pandemic. Essentially, we have recorded on average six deaths per day since last week.
“As of August 1, 2021, the positivity rate in Lagos is 8.9 per cent. This is an eight-fold increase over the recorded figure a month ago, and it should rightly alarm all of us. This has resulted in 4,300 confirmed cases in July alone and 352 admissions into our isolation facilities.
“But let me make it clear that this necessary sense of alarm should not be responded to with panic, but instead with a firm resolve and determination to reverse the trend.
“We have done it before and we can do it again. We dealt with the first and second waves and did our best to prevent a third wave,” the governor assured.
Troubled by the rising cases of infections, the Chairman, Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, warned that the Federal Government might introduce strict measures to contain the spread of the new variant.
“It is no more news that the Delta variant has made its way into Nigeria. The PSC is particularly concerned about the situation in Lagos, AkwaIbom, Oyo, Rivers, Kano, Plateau and FCT as this variant has made its way into these states and accounts for the rising cases in these states and across the nation. Lagos alone accounts for over 50 per cent of the number of cases.
“This development calls for great caution because the virus is very virulent and raging in so many other countries.
“Nothing is off the table. Let me say very categorically, nothing is off the table when it comes to protecting the lives of the people of this country. We will not hesitate in taking measures that will be considered quite stringent.
“All the countries of the world are applying different measures, countries that were adjudged to have successfully dealt with COVID-19 suddenly realised that they had to impose certain measures to ensure that they continue to balance lives and livelihood. And like I said, nothing is off the table. We’ll continue to study the situation,” Mustapha had stated.
Already, many public and private institutions have introduced dire measures, including shutting down of facilities, to halt the spread of the disease.
On July 14, the University of Lagos (UNILAG), ordered its students to vacate the halls of residence to check the spread of the COVID-19 on the campus.
The Senate of the university while stating that it took the decision to close the hostels to check the spread of the virus on the campus, also noted that classes for the rest of the second semester of the 2020 academic session would hold virtually.
The university management took the decision after many students and staff of the institution who reported at the University of Lagos Medical Centre with flu-like symptoms tested positive to the virus.
“The University of Lagos commenced physical classes at the end of May 2021 when the positivity rate of the COVID-19 infection dropped to about one per cent.
“The University Management continued to enforce the COVID-19 protocols in all the teaching and learning spaces as well as the student halls of residence.
“In addition, the COVID-19 vaccination was made available to the staff and students through the support of the Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council. Lately, some students have tested positive. These students have been sent to the appropriate designated facilities in the state and contact-tracing has enabled us to identify those who have had exposure and directed them to isolate.
“The situation is, indeed, worrisome especially noting the reluctance of the majority of students to comply with the COVID-19 prevention protocols.
“To avoid the escalation of cases on campus, the University Senate at an emergency meeting held on Wednesday, 14th of July 2021 approved that all students vacate the halls of residence by 12.00pm on Thursday indefinitely. Lectures for the rest of the semester will continue to be delivered virtually with effect from 26th July 2021,” the school management had said in a statement.
The Covid-19 third wave also forced the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba SikiruKayodeAdetona, to cancel the 2021 edition of the Annual Ojude Oba Festival usually held in Ijebu Ode.The cancellation makes it the second time the annual event would be called off. The first cancelation was in 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.
“This is the second time in its known history of more than one century that the festival that unites Muslims, Christians, and adherents of other faiths will be cancelled. The Ojude Oba Festival is normally held two days after the Eid-el Kabir (Ileya)”, said the Coordinator of the Festival, Baagbimo of Ijebuland, Chief (Dr) Fassy Yusuf, in a statement.
Also, the Federal Government, sources told our correspondent, is considering the possibility of canceling the ongoing ‘Batch B Stream 1′ Orientation Exercise of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which kicked off in the 36 states and the FCT last week after at least 109 corps members tested positive of the virus.
The cases, BH gathered, were detected following mandatory COVID-19 tests conducted on reporting corps members. The identified cases were immediately moved to isolation centres in the respective states.
A source in the scheme confided that there are concerns that some corps members who are likely positive but escaped detection since they were in the early stages of the disease during testing, could spread the disease among their peers and NYSC officials.
According to the source, pressures are been mounted on the government to suspend the orientation exercise.
“However, a strong camp opposed to the cancelation seems to be having the upper hand as their argument that the corps members have completed two out of the three weeks orientation exercise and should be allowed to complete the remaining week has received the blessing of top officials in government.
“But I can tell you that the situation is been monitored and a decision to close the camps can still be taken if the virus gets out of hands,” the source disclosed.
But an infectious disease expert at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr.OluwafemiAkinpeloye, urged the government to curb the spread of the virus by shutting down the orientation camps.
According to him, the best way to control the spread of the disease is to suspend the programme until the country gets a grip on the disease.
He warned that a single confirmed case of the virus means the outbreak is imminent because of the closeness of the youth corps members to each other on parade grounds and the sleeping arrangements.
According to official figures,17 corps members tested positive for the virus in Edo, 26 in Plateau, Gombe 25, Sokoto 14, Ogun 6 and Taraba 2.Surprisingly, not even a single case of the disease was recorded in Lagos, the epicenter of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, some stakeholders have advised Nigerians to adhere strictly to approved measures put in place by the federal and their respective states governments to forestall the spread of the disease, warning that the country could not afford another round of lockdown and restrictions.
Speaking on the matter, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) warned that while another lockdown will further crash government revenues, the private sector and ordinary Nigerians would be worse off as they will experience tougher times.
The chief executive officer of the group, Mr. LaoyeJaiyeola, admonished Nigerians to embrace all measures that could protect them from the dreadful virus, warning them to take their destinies into their own hands as the government does not have the capacity to provide Covid-19 vaccines for all.
“The country cannot afford another lockdown. It will shrink government revenues, affect the private sector and the common citizen.
“The Delta variant is dangerous and has led to so many deaths. We need to be serious with wearing masks and complying with social distancing guidelines.
“The government needs to be proactive with setting up our manufacturing capacity for the vaccines. We should be able to pull resources together to produce our own and distribute them effectively,” Jayeola advised.
Also speaking, the President, Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Al-Mujtaba Abubakar, advised Nigerians to avoid another lockdown of the economy, while urging the government to enforce all safety protocols against the spread of the virus, instead of shutting down the country’s economy the way it did in 2020.
“We call on government at all levels to enforce existing safety protocols to avoid the possibility of a lockdown that destroyed many businesses in the past.
“Enforcement should henceforth be a matter of priority as Nigeria cannot afford another lockdown. The vaccination campaign should also be intensified just as there should be no slowing down on the awareness campaign.
“We are making this appeal because the growing wave of infection and fatality is a source of concern. We need to act urgently as our economy is fragile such that mass infection can complicate the slow process of economic growth.
“If we act urgently to stem the tide of infection, Nigeria will escape the possibility of lockdown which is now the trend in many parts of the world,” Abubakar warned.
In his own contribution, the Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Chinyere Almona, warned that another lockdown would hinder the growth of the nation’s economy.
“With the level of worsening insecurity, scarce foreign exchange, and falling foreign direct investment inflows, a third wave of COVID-19 pandemic that may lead to any form of lockdown will be inhibitive to the growth projections for Nigeria.
“With the 0.51 per cent growth recorded in the first quarter, we need to achieve a real GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate of at least three per cent for the remaining part of 2021 to achieve the latest projected growth rate of 2.5 per cent year-on-year by the International Monetary Fund.
“Recall that the Nigerian economy exited recession in the fourth quarter of 2020 with a modest 0.11 per cent growth, followed by a marginal increase in growth rate to 0.51 per cent in the first quarter of 2021.
“Any further disruptions to the production output in our economy may result in dismal growth rates in the third and fourth quarters of 2021.
“Nigeria cannot afford a third wave COVID-19 lockdown in 2021. The government’s plan to reduce poverty means that we need growth that supports job creation and fiscal policies to drive more revenue generation. A lockdown will simply disrupt these plans’, the LCCI boss warned.