Ihekweazu

By OBINNA EZUGWU

The death of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari from Coronavirus on Friday, was the major highlight of the growing danger posed by the pandemic in Nigeria.

The past few days have seen an astronomic rise in the cases of the virus in the country, prompting real concern of massive outbreak, which Africa’s most populous nation, with very limited health infrastructure, is least prepared to deal with.

On Sunday, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reported 86 new cases of the virus, a leap from 41 and and 51 reported on Saturday and Friday respectively, while 35 and 34 new cases had been reported on Thursday and Wednesday. A total of 21 people have now died, while 170 have been discharged.

Compared to other advanced climes like the United States, Italy, Spain and so on, where the number of deaths are in thousands, with hundreds of thousands infected, the Nigerian figures may seem modest, and not enough reason to panic as much yet. But the modest number may be deceptive. It’s a country of an estimated 200 million people, out of which only 7153 had been tested as at Saturday, at test capacity of 504 daily, according to figures from the NCDC released at the weekend.

This means that less than 0.01 percent of the population have been tested.

In his broadcast to the nation last week, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari his government was working to double the number of testing laboratories in the country “and raising our testing capacity to 1,500 tests per day.”

He also noted that, “We also trained over 7,000 Healthcare workers on infection prevention and control while deploying NCDC teams to 19 states of the federation. Lagos and Abuja today have the capacity to admit some 1,000 patients each across several treatment centres.”

But observers were quick to point out that even the test capacity of 1,500 a day, if attained, will still be grossly inadequate. Should the country eventually attain the capacity, while it would be an improvement, it would only mean that in a whole year, it would only have been able to test 547,500 people.

“Obviously, when you look at the number of people tested daily, you don’t need any research to tell you that there are probably much more infected people than have been detected,” said Dr. Sunday Ezeugwu, Abuja bases medical practitioner.

“A huge number of those people are possibly asymptomatic, which means that they are spreading it without even being sick. We face a real danger of a massive outbreak.”

It’s a possibility that could prove disastrous. Lagos, the current epicenter of the pandemic is a state with about 20 million people. With relatively few hospital bed spaces, the state is grossly ill-prepared for a huge outbreak. Yet, its figures are lot compared to other states.

Various state governments are adopting frantic and extreme measures, including complete lock down to contain spread. States like Osun, Enugu, Rivers, Delta and so on, in addition to Lagos, Abuja and Ogun under Federal government lock down, have been on lock down for two weeks. And almost all extended same for another two weeks last week.

On Thursday, after their virtual meeting, governors of the Southwest zone, under the aegis of Southwest governors forum, barred all entry into the six states of the zone.

“Entry Points of our six States be closed forthwith_* to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic,” Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State and chairman of the forum had announced in a statement at the end of the meeting.

“The State Governors agreed that people involved in *essential services* or dealing in *medicine, water and consumable items in particular Traders and market men/women should endeavour to wear nose masks while outside plying their trade* to minimize the spread of the deadly virus.

“The Governors further agreed that wearing of nose masks will be made compulsory for everybody coming out of their homes effective from Friday 24th April, 2020 in their respective States.”

But amid the lock down, a new pandemic is brewing: hunger pandemic. Desperation is growing. Armed robbery and looting are on the rise. There is the concern that as the lock down continues, there might be total breakdown of order in the coming days.

“If this lock down goes into Monday next week, there is going to be total breakdown of law and order, and you cannot blame the poor people for that because as it is right now, the rich are looking after themselves, they don’t care what happens to the poor,” noted Dr. Bongo Adi, senior lecturer, Lagos Business School.

But even more worrisome is the rapid spread of the virus in Northern states, with the region’s relative worse economic indices.

Kano, the region’s commercial hub already has nearly 30 cases and one death. Katsina 9 and Bauchi 6.

On Thursday, governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, said that although the state has recorded cases of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would not enforce a total lockdown as part of measures to curb the spread of the disease because people would have to eat.

The governor who was the index case of the COVID-19 in the state before five other persons who came in contact with him were later confirmed to have tested positive, came out of isolation last week.

Earlier on Monday, governors of the 19 states of the North under Northern Governors Forum, decided, after a meeting they held via teleconference, presided over by the chairman and governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, that they could not afford lockdown, as doing would come at a high cost.

“We agreed that at the moment, each state would adopt the measure suitable to its setting because total lockdown of the region will come at a very high cost since most of our citizens are farmers who need to go to farms since the rains have started,” the governors said in a statement.

“Among other decisions taken at the meeting was the setting up of a 7-man committee chaired by governor of Kebbi State Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, to fashion out the way forward. Other members are governors of Kaduna, Sokoto, Kwara, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Gombe and Nasarawa states.

“The committee, among other issues, would look at the economic impact of COVID-19 on the region and take a holistic look at the economic prospects of the region, with a view to repositioning it for less reliance on federal allocation and to prepare for the future by diversifying to areas of comparative advantage, such as agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and human capital development.

“The meeting, which was conducted via teleconference and chaired by the Forum’s Chairman, Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State, also discussed the various measures put in place to curtail the spread of coronavirus and how the pandemic has affected their people as well as experience sharing on measures adopted by individual states to curb the spread of the virus.”

With total cases in Africa nearing 30,000 and death figures in excess of 1,000, there are mounting concerns that the continent could be the next epicenter of the virus. And with poor infrastructure, this poses acute danger.

Speaking to CNN last week, Melinda Gates, wife of billionaire Bill Gates warned that if the world does not act fast enough, then there will be dead bodies all over the streets of Africa.

“Its going to be horrible in the developing world. Part of the reasons you are seeing the case numbers still do not look very bad, is because they don’t have access to many tests,” she said.

“Look at what is happening in Ecuador, they are putting bodies out on the streets, you are going to see that in countries in Africa,” Mrs Gates noted.

She was vilified for being a prophet of doom, and even accused of having ulterior motive. But looking at the health infrastructure of the continent, a massive outbreak will almost certainly produce such outcome.