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Proactive measures to live with COVID-19 while ensuring health safety, socio-economic progress

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As the raging pandemic necessitates lockdowns to curb disease spread and mortality rates, majority low-income populations, struggle with biting hardship as daily wage earners and employees who have lost their jobs struggle to feed and meet other basic needs. Though the government has provided palliatives, (which may have been better managed), and the private sector generously contributed to feeding the poor and ensuring a rapid increase in the number of isolation centres available, there is need for more proactive measures to prevent contagion. Majority of Nigerians live in high-density, low-income neighbourhoods, which are amplification points for disease spread because they are crowded and usually have no running water.

Considering that this situation is not a sprint but a marathon, we must find ways to live safely with this new-normal. The following points summarise proactive measures that can be taken to ease economic hardship while mitigating disease spread. Also highlighted are some of the job opportunities created by the new COVID economy. These jobs can engage restive youth. If the suggestions below are implemented, lockdown may be safely lifted.

1. Disseminate awareness on the Coronavirus pandemic in local languages to facilitate behavioural change.
2. Boost immunity: Considering Nigeria’s low testing capacity, we have to use what we have to get what we want. Our local immune boosters are said to be both preventive and curative (see Prof Iwu and Prof Kemi Odukoya, Prof of Pharmacognosy, Univerisity of Lagos, for well-researched herbal remedies and dosages). Use part of the contributed funds to disseminate information on immune boosters like bitter kola. Commission the local manufacturing of herbal immune boosters in measured doses in satchets.

3. Improve sanitation in high-density, low-income neighbourhoods: Commission engineering companies to put running water taps in high-density low-income neighbourhoods and market places. Set-up toilets and showers that can be easily cleaned to reduce the pressure on existing inadequate toilet facilities in these locations. This will reduce chances of disease spread

4. Facemask policy: Compel the use of face-masks in public spaces. Use part of the contributions to make facemasks and sanitisers available for free.

5. Create job opportunities: Opportunities exist in Agriculture (farming, processing, packaging, warehousing), Construction, logistics and IT industries There should be a national and state driven strategy to assign restive youth to these jobs, to allow them earn). Nigeria needs to aggressively pursue food sufficiency as food imports will reduce, hence we cannot afford idle manpower. (An article with a detailed action plan on, “Job opportunities during COVID-19 pandemic” will follow this one.

6. Create shelters for the homeless: Use public schools to house the homeless, providing running water and good toilet facilities: This will thin out population density and reduce disease spread.
7. Use biometric data: For proper planning and palliative distribution: Commission IT coders to make biometric wrist bands to verify people who come for food. This will also ensure proper accountability. This is being done in Kenya to feed poor school children.

8. Reduce cash handling: Gradually eliminate the use of cash, which easily amplifies the spread of the virus. Use the opportunity of monetary palliatives to get the poor registered with BVN numbers by distributing palliative cash transfers through debit/ATM cards.

9. Public transportation safety: Buses and taxis should gradually transit to using ticket/card/POS payment (already being done in Rwanda). Enact a policy to this effect.

10. Compulsory hand-washing at bus-stops and sanitizing before entering any form of public transportation or public building: Have sink–stands at every bus-stop. Compel handwashing and sanitizing hands before entry. Sanitize all forms of public transportation daily. Compel all taxis to have sanitisers for passengers.

12. Public buildings safety: All buildings (offices, apartment complexes, schools) should have wash-hand basins and sanitizers placed at the entrance for all to wash and sanitise hands before entry.

13. Testing students and teachers before re-opening schools: Testing should be done in all major organisations and schools before re-opening to ensure only healthy people are allowed to resume (this is however not completely safe as a healthy person today, could be infected tomorrow and not show symptoms for a while. However, with facemasks, immune boosters and compulsory handwashing, chances of infection may be reduced).

Funding for the above can be achieved through public-private sector partnerships. For example, government can support pharmaceutical manufacturing companies to create immune boosters at a lower cost by waiving their tax liabilities. They can also get the water taps and toilet/shower facilities established by allocating build-operate-and-transfer (BOT) contracts to the private sector companies. The services can be provided free to vulnerable communities by selling advert spaces on each of these features.
More ideas are contained in the article: “Surviving and thriving through COVID-19 and beyond”, on the LBS website: https://www.lbs.edu.ng/lbsinsight/surviving-and-thriving-through-covid-19-and-beyond/
Dr Henrietta Onwuegbuzie, Senior Lecturer, Entrepreneurship is the Director, Owner-Manager Programme at Lagos Business School
Email: honwuegbuzie@lbs.edu.ng


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