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Fear as COVID-19 cases rise amid relaxed lockdowns

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PHOTO: Audu MARTE / AFP

The COVID-19 pandemic appeared to have outwitted containment efforts at the weekend as the country recorded its highest daily figure at a time Nigerians were heaving a sigh of relief from weeks of lockdowns.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had on Saturday announced 553 new infections, bringing the nation’s total number of confirmed cases to 9,855.

The disturbing numbers came after President Muhammadu Buhari had announced the relaxation of the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States, a move that has been replicated by some states across the country.

The Lagos State government yesterday disclosed it would begin the Register-to-Open initiative, which would feature guidelines for reopening the economy, especially religious and social centres.

At a press conference, the director general of the Lagos State Safety Commission, Mr. Lanre Mojola, noted: “A committee has been set up by Governor Sanwo-Olu, headed by the Hon. Commissioner for Special Duties and Intergovernmental Relations, Mr. Tayo Bamgbose-Martins, consisting of other ministries including the Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture, and Home Affairs. The other ministries are Physical Planning and Urban Renewal, Economic Planning and Budget to ensure that the process of reopening is done effortlessly.

“The commission has met with various stakeholders in the hospitality and tourism sectors and will be engaging more stakeholders in the coming week on the best approach to the gradual reopening of the economy and registration of entities within the various sectors. The process is not tedious and time consuming. It takes into account all religious centres, event centres, gyms, night clubs, bars, lounges, spars, cinemas, restaurants, etc.”

Also, Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi yesterday relaxed the lockdown in his state further, directing residents to pursue their businesses Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Beginning today, public officers on Grade Level 8 and above would resume work while those on Grade Level 7 and below would remain at home till further notice.

“It is quite a thing of concern that despite government’s efforts to control COVID-19, more cases are still being experienced in the country,” said Dr. Chinedu Idoko, Director General of Enugu State Agency for the Control of AIDS (ENSACA) and former Chairman, Enugu State Hospital Management Board.

He advised: “The important thing for us to do is to reduce the disease ‘prevalence’, which is actually a product of the incident cases and its duration. Once we deal with the incidence by breaking the chain of infectivity while isolating and treating the confirmed infected cases thereby shortening the duration, we would have been doing a lot in reducing the COVID-19 prevalence as well as combating its associated morbidity and mortality.

“When the right things are continually done, these cases will only get to a peak and then start falling. Hopefully too, a vaccine would be discovered along the line that would ultimately break the chain of infection.”

A virologist/vaccinologist, Dr. Simon Agwale, told The Guardian: “The reopening has only been here for about a week. So, the more likely explanation is increased testing. As more people get tested, we should continue to see more cases because this is the pattern the world over. However, if in another week we see a sharp increase, it could be due to opening up and having more exposure. But right now, it’s increased testing.”

To reverse the trend, Agwale, who is also Chief Executive Officer of Innovative BioTech Limited, Keffi, Nasarawa State, said: “We should pay more attention to fatalities and do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable among us (that is the elderly and people with underlying disease conditions). We also need to invest heavily in research and development to better understand the dynamics of transmission in our population and discover new treatment modalities by strengthening our clinical research base.”

From the director general of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Dr. Babatunde Salako, came the warning: “Those who have done the test and are negative should not think that they are completely immune from getting infected, because if they engage in risky behaviour they can get infected. So, being negative is only as at the time of testing.”

Explaining why the figures are rising, Salako said: “We are doing more testing, with private facilities getting involved in diagnosis and management of cases. So, that provides an opportunity to test many more people than ever before.”

Prof. Obinna Onwujekwe of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Enugu State, described the latest results as “interesting.” He however clarified: “The results that were announced were not COVID-19 cases that were found yesterday. They were the results of samples that were collected over a period of time, with the tests completed yesterday. And considering the turn-around time for tests, some of those cases could have occurred two weeks ago. Some may actually be dead.”

He added: “Our primary healthcare centres and general hospitals should be equipped to take blood tests and provide quick active referrals for positive cases. Strict enforcement of restriction on inter-state movement and increased testing and community involvement, among other strategies, are important.”

The Chairman, Expert Committee on COVID-19 and pioneer Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said: “I do not think we have seen the highest daily number of positives. Wait till we have enough labs in operation, all the labs are functioning efficiently, samples are being timely shipped to labs and there is no shortage of test kits and reagents…then we may hit 1000 positives a day. Why not? We are breaking all the rules of prevention and spread of the COVID-19 disease.

“Our life is in our hands to keep away from COVID-19 or to give to COVID-19 on a plate of close contact without face masks and unwashed dirty hands. The government will collude with COVID-19 through the discordance between state and federal governments, inconsistent enforcement of guidelines and an inequitable distribution of palliatives. As we continue on this path, expect the number of positive cases to rise faster than our population growth.”

He also explained why Africa is recording fewer cases and deaths unlike other continents: “We have a predominantly younger population compared to other continents. In Americas, Europe and Asia, you have an average life expectancy of between 70 years and 83 years while the average life expectancy in Nigeria and most African countries is between 45 and 55 years. Check the figures, the number of people who have died of COVID-19 are the aged and those with other diseases such as diabetes. So, we are not doing anything right in Africa.”

Meanwhile, the newly elected president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Innocent Ujah, has called for the establishment of the office of a surgeon general/chief medical officer.

The consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and former Director General of the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) Yaba, Lagos, told The Guardian: “COVID-19 has shown us how uncoordinated we are. Our public health has collapsed. We need a chief medical officer that is a surgeon general, just at it is obtained in the United States and some Western countries, to better coordinate activities especially during emergencies and epidemics.”


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