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COVID-19 Response: Medium and long term recommendations – Part 2

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Continued from yesterday
Why do we continue to have mixed signals from government especially in the area of monetary palliative?
How do we reconcile our advocacy of cashless society and the prescription of social distancing with the distribution of bales of uncovered heavily recycled and therefore possibly contaminated currency notes to people in crowded locations?

Considering that there is hardly any household in the urban areas where we would not find someone operating a Bank Account and possibly an ATM card, shouldn’t we be bringing in such data and technology-based instruments like the BVN and National ID to the palliatives distribution matrix?

The limited effectiveness of the mitigation prescriptions and guidelines of Lockdown, Social Distancing and Hand Washing has begun to raise doubts in the minds of the populace that Government actions appear to be playing to the international gallery when indeed we should have fashioned out our own responses based on a critical assessment of our national realities, namely: Our national Demographics; Citizen Perception of the Virus; the National Economy; Food Security; Individual Survival of the over 70% of the population in the informal sector whose ability to survive to the next day is contingent upon what they are able to make today; and a large population of unemployed restive youth who are prone to excessive agitation under lockdown.

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Our national realities
Our national demographics, especially in terms of income and spatial distributions is one in which over 60% of the population live in the high density and ultra-high density urban shanties that are devoid of expected basic amenities of toilet and potable water. Such a set up makes a mockery of social distancing as a strategy.

There is a divergence of Covid-19 concerns perception among the population, as the low income earners and resource poor segment of the society do not feel a connection with the disease. They see it as a disease of the elite. They therefore see the prescription of Lockdown and Social Distancing as an unfair punishment/sacrifice that they are being made/forced to undertake to save the lives of the affluent/privileged class. Indeed, a few among them are of the rather sad extreme view that Covid-19 is God-sent to teach the elite some lessons.

Our National Economy is heavily tied to the vagaries of international market price of petroleum which is currently facing a heavy slump due to the price war of Russia and Saudi Arabia and the Covid-19 inflicted low global demand. Arising from the same reason is the slump in the activity of our the industrial and manufacturing sector as well as in revenue collection. All of these have further placed the national budget, which even before Covid-19 was being kept afloat on heavy deficit and international borrowing, in the precarious situation of consequential gloom in State allocations from the Federation account.

On Food Security, with the strategic grains reserves already depleted in the nation-wide distribution of palliatives, the emerging threat that the planting season might be missed for subsistence and commercial farming was beginning to raise concerns of a looming danger in food security as from August 2020.

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Individual Economic survival of the daily wage earners, petty traders, petty food vendors etc in the formal and informal sectors of the economy, for whom Government has rightly identified cash support and palliatives was coming under threat as many of them were yet to receive the palliatives.

There is a large population of unemployed youth in perpetual restive mode for whom a lockdown can trigger a devastating emotional reactionto inflict injuries on themselves or the community. The consequences on mental health in this group cannot be dismissed easily

Effectiveness of the Lockdown
Respect for the Lockdown has followed the social demographics of the nation, with above average to high compliance by the upper and middle class in their neighborhoods while there is a prevalently low compliance by the low income earners and resource poor residents of urban communities.

Given that the Lockdown is the reason for the palliatives its non-effectiveness is a loss to Government on several fronts, namely, the number of Covid-19cases is likely to escalate, Government resources deployed to fight the virus and serve as palliatives would end up being depleted, while in the meantime the avenues to generate new resources are yet to be activated.

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Covid-19 in Relation to other national Health Emergencies
There is the debate over the data of Covid-19 death being low compared to deaths from other diseases like malaria, typhoid, Lassa fever etc and non-health related causes of death in Nigeria and, arising therefrom, whether the sudden mobilization of all resources towards the containment of the Covid-19 by our Government is justified.  In this regard, one notes that the developed countries like the United States of America where the Covid-19 is taking toll is one where citizens and residents suffer flu at this time of the year up till late summer. While their type of flu is far more debilitating than the type witnessed in Nigeria and does result in disproportionate deaths every year, such common flu related deaths are still not anything compared to what they are currently witnessing from the Covid-19. In other words, for the US Government, mobilizing every effort and available and special intervention-invoked resources to combat it is not just very understandable but an inescapable undertaking.

Covid-19 Risk among Low Income Earners
Some reports from India suggest a possible linkage between BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) vaccination and the degree of susceptibility to Covid-19, even though this is yet to be supported by the WHO. Given the history of compulsory BCG infant immunization for tuberculosis in Nigeria and the resilience and survival of the very poor and low income earners in Nigeria within the condition under which they live, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of their being more immune to the Covid-19. This group of very poor and low income earners has, for a reason, constituted the bulk of the populace that have not being obeying social distancing, because they are the same group who by the high population of their household, the crowded layout of their neighborhoods and their lack of access to potable water, make social distancing an impossible undertaking and regular hand-washing an unaffordable luxury.

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If the epidemic has not exploded by now in such communities and does not in the next 2 weeks, there is a good chance that we may never witness an unmanageable upsurge in the epidemic in those communities. There is also a groundswell of evidence to label Covid-19 a cold virus, with limited ability survive in hot mediums and environmental conditions of warm temperatures and high relative humidity. This should further hamper its spread in those communities where either by the poverty or the lack of electricity the chilling effect of air conditioning is nearly an impossible dream. If however, God forbid the converse is the case, it would be the fool-proof evidence to make residents of such communities feel connected with the Covid-19 efforts and willing to abide by Government mitigation guidelines. As it is right now, they are basking in a feeling of entitlement, of doing Government (not themselves or their communities) a favour for which they are obliged to be paid by Government, and no amount of money or volume of palliatives will satisfy them.

The Way Forward
Going forward in our setting, we have a lot to appreciate in the approaches that have been adopted in Germany as well as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

To be continued tomorrow.
Adegoroye is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary.

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