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Nigeria and global challenges of coronavirus

By Chris Chukwubuzor Azuka
In December 2019, in a far away Wuhan, a suburb in China emerged a terrifying, high-flying infectious respiratory disease, the "novel" Coronavirus. Apparently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has ascribed the prefix "novel' to indicate that it is a new species of an existing disease. It has also codenamed the disease as "COVID-19' which apparently stands for Corona-Virus-Infectious-Disease-2019.
COVID-19 is a deadly virus in all its ramifications. It is immensely destructive and disruptive. Its transmission and fatality rate is alarmingly frightening. The COVID-19 has brought the world to an abrupt halt. Stock markets, major businesses, sporting events, markets, schools, worship centres, etc. have all been shot down indefinitely across the globe. In fact, the world has been turned upside down. About three million people have so far been infected worldwide, with over two hindered thousand casualties. A disease that appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019 had quickly become an epidemic spreading like wildfire within Wuhan and its environ such that by the middle of January 2020,  tens of thousands of people were cut up in its web, with the disease spreading to other parts of the world. 
Quite significantly, on March 11, 2020, a "pandemic" status was officially ascribed to COVID-19. The World Health Organization had to accord it such a status because it was then spreading from continent to continent. It was then in six of the world's seven continents though now in every corner of the world. A pandemic status indicates a "significant and ongoing person-to-person spread in multiple countries around the world. It means that a disease is active worldwide unlike an "epidemic" which is when a disease is spreading in one place or around a few places. 
Exponentially, the world had seemed absolutely unprepared for COVID-19 despite some eye-catching advancement in medical sciences in recent time. This virus has brought unprecedented chaos, disruption and carnage across the globe. However, the world is now fighting back against the disease and the unseen "enemy", and it's doing so with extreme rage. 
Many world leaders have blamed their lack of decisive response to COVID-19 on the misinformation or doctored reports coming out from China at the early stage of the outbreak. For instance, despite being allegedly armed with vital information about the deadly virus, the WHO had sometime in January 2020, downplayed the virulent nature of the virus and the danger it poses to the world just as China had claimed. The WHO also wasted ample time before declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. Mr Donald Trump, the president of America would accuse the organization of being China-centric and for cover-up with China and has pull funding for it. Mr Trump said that they are monitoring the situation and that if China is culpable, it will have to pay for her sin against the world.
Today there is widespread opprobrium in the West against China with the leaders now breathing angrily on its neck. Some say that the disease may have started earlier than claimed by China; and that the actual number of infected persons, as well as the fatalities, was systematically suppressed by the Chinese authorities. Goodwill has now been supplanted by anger as the call for reparation echoes.
On February 27, 2020, Nigeria's index case was discovered in its commercial capital, Lagos. An Italian businessman had flown into the country with a dose of the virus in his stream. Following the acknowledgement of the presence of the deadly virus in Nigeria, the country would declare a total, unbridled war on the disease after initial hesitation. Airports were shut down and the nation's borders closed. Nigeria is currently prosecuting the war with unmitigated aggression. The nation's leader, Mr Muhammadu Buhari had responded swiftly by constituting a national task force on the pandemic which is been headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha. Since its inception, the Boss Mustapha-led committee has been working round the clock to keep the country safe.
In the course of his first national broadcast over the pandemic on 29 March 2020, the president had ordered an initial two-week lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja which are the hotspot of the disease in the country then. The president had stated the three cities were singled out because Lagos and Abuja were already grappling with the disease, but for Ogun State, it was largely based on its proximity with Lagos State. Most state governors had followed suit in imposing lockdown on their states. In times of national crisis, such shrewd application of wisdom and resources becomes not only apt but incredibly pertinent. The Nigerian president, Mr Muhammadu Buhari was on April 23, 2020, appointed the COVID-19 response "champion" in West Africa by the West African leaders.
Although efforts to produce a curative vaccine have reached an advanced stage, in immediate absence of any approved vaccine for the virus, lockdown remains the most potent antidote to its spread across the globe. From America, Italy, Spain, Portugal, India, Japan, etc. the trend is "lockdown" The initial two-week presidential lockdown order in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja were extended for another two weeks shortly before it lapsed on 12 April 2020 and which has now been extended further to 4 May 2020 when it's expected to be relaxed. However, the relaxation of lockdown restrictions is coming at a time the infection rates are on the rise.
Another critical element in the containment war against the virus is "social distancing and strong personal hygiene. The principle of social distancing and strong personal hygiene (keeping a calculated distance from people and constant washing of hands, etc) has been preached fervently across the length and breadth of the nation.
The lockdown has come with many challenges. No doubt, keeping people at home for weeks often without any sources of livelihood has become a highly excruciating and tormenting experience for most people. However, while keeping the people under lockdown is painful and distasteful, the consequences of not doing so and doing it at the right time would have been utterly devastating as it is the case in some countries the West today. Its huge human and economic cost can only be imagined. Interestingly, leadership is not a popularity contest but the ability to define and provide a direction for the people on critical issues on an ongoing basis.
The Federal Government had introduced some palliative measures in order to cushion the effect of the lockdown on the people. The palliatives have since been distributed to selective individuals (poorest of the poor) in the country by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs leaving a majority of the citizens scampering for safety from acute hunger in their confinement under a government-imposed lockdown. Controversies have also risen over the pattern of identification of the beneficiaries and the method of distribution of the palliatives. Evidently, the disappearance of the middle class in the country over the decades now means that most Nigerians are deprived and would need palliatives as well.
The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has been at the forefront of the war against the new Coronavirus disease. Since the centre detected the index case, it has engaged in a relentless and ceaseless pursuit of the war on Covid-19. Critics have however pointed to its limited testing capacity which they say is far behind that of Ghana, Egypt, and South Africa, etc. Of course, this is one area the centre needs to improve on quite tremendously. Even though the centre has not been quite impressive with regards to its testing ability, consideration should be given to the environment, infrastructure and logistic related challenges it faces in the discharge of its duties. The centre according to report has now established about 15 functional test centres across the country with the capacity of conducting about 2500 test a day. The key to winning this war lies largely on "aggressive testing" as it will halt (community spread) person-to-person spread in our communities.
Expectedly, more testing kits and other critical logistics will arrive in the country soon thanks to WHO, UNICEF and others. The Chinese billionaire, Mr Jack Ma has already sent test kits, face masks, ventilators and other COVID-19 related equipment to the country. The European Union has offered a grant of 50 million Euros to Nigeria to support the country's effort. The United States of America has also offered about $ 26 million while some Nigeria's high-profile business leaders have contributed over N30 billion to the COVID-19 Fund. The state governors have also been incredible. Isolation centres have been established across the states. Once a case is identified contact tracing follows up immediately with astonishing precision and persistence. But lack of functional testing centres in most states means that the war itself has often been slow and arduous.
On the other hand, the country is amazingly gifted with incredibly talented and committed health workers who have dedicated their life and limb to the war on new Coronavirus. These health workers have inevitably become our frontline soldiers against the willful, dangerous, merciless and life-threatening enemy, the COVID-19. Nigeria has done well in the containment war against the disease considering the rate of infection (2000) and fatality (75) to its huge population of about 200 million people although the war has only begun. Governor Sanwo Olu of Lagos State has been totally outstanding. The success of the ongoing war will depend largely on what happened in Lagos which is in many ways, Nigeria's own China as well as the development in Kano, the nation's most populated city now ravaged by the virus.
COVID-19 has an incubation period of 14 days. Within this period, a carrier is likely to be asymptomatic (not showing any sign of the disease). The government has the utmost duty of ensuring that these foot soldiers are not only adequately rewarded, but that they have adequate personal protective equipment in the course of their duties. The seeming embarrassing and inexcusable dearth of infrastructure and equipment in the country's health sector should be a matter for serious concern to everyone.
Medical experts have indicated that the strain of the disease that appeared in the country is usually mild and that it does not often require a patient needing a ventilator. COVID-19 appears to be more critical for children, the elderly and patients with pre-existing health conditions. Its symptoms include running rose, sore throat, cough, difficulty in breathing, etc. It is very likely that the defining moment for our country on the war on COVID-19 will come between the middle of June and middle of July 2020 even though the battle itself will continue in the weeks and months to come.
While the war on Covid-19 rages, the attention of the government is now shifting to the economic challenges which the pandemic has brought to our country. No doubt, life after the pandemic will be a tough one with the impending economic recession in the country. The Covid-19-induced global economic recession means that the collapse of crude oil prices in the international market will remain low for a while as the global economy recovers. Being a crude oil-based economy; this will lead to a forex crisis due to the limited inflow of foreign exchange into the country. Thankfully, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) says it already has an economic package on the table.

 Chris Chukwubuzor Azuka, FCIDA
National Coordinator,
Save the Dream Nigeria-Project,

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