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Covid-19: Why we must panic

By Ray Ekpu
24 March 2020   |   3:23 am
Every day the number of confirmed cases and deaths arising from the dreaded coronavirus nicknamed COVID-19 is rising uncontrollably.

Every day the number of confirmed cases and deaths arising from the dreaded coronavirus nicknamed COVID-19 is rising uncontrollably. By Saturday evening there were 304, 035 cases and 12, 978 deaths globally. By the time you get to read this piece the numbers would have climbed to uncomfortable heights. We have had all kinds of viruses in the past including Ebola and SARS but there has been nothing like this in medical history. The germs can stay in the air for a few minutes but on surfaces for days. The transmission is swift and so is its ability to kill its victim. The German Chancellor Ms Angela Merkel described this contagion as the Third World War. The Second World War was limited in scope and did not reach every country on this planet. This virus, or the fear of it, has covered the globe. No country in the world is immune from its impact or the fear of its power to cause havoc. The world’s economy is flat on its back. The price of crude oil has plummeted by more than 50% of its price in December. Stock prices of blue chip companies are tumbling. Factories are shutting down. Workers are told to stay home. Children are sent back from school on an unscheduled holiday. Pubs, restaurants, shops, libraries, swimming pools, nightclubs and other public places are padlocked all over the world and people are told to stay home and not to shake hands with or hug people. There is an entire rearrangement of how people live and relate. Nigerians like to shake hands a lot and to give each other a bear hug in an exhibition of comradeship and familiarity.

What will they do now without a handshake or a hug? They can try these inferior alternatives. They can simply wave with one or two hands. If you wave at someone with two hands it may be the equivalent of a hug. You can also give a smart salute like a soldier or simply bow like a slave. You can try an elbow bump, a foot bump or a hip bump depending on which one turns you on. As at last Saturday there were 21, 000 reported cases with 266 deaths in the United States. The American President, Vice President and their team of medical personnel spent about two hours talking to and answering questions from the media. Italy where the virus is most severe outside of China has recorded 627 deaths in one day. Everyone not involved in essential services in that country is asked to stay home in order to stem the spread.

In England there were 39 deaths within twenty four hours. In South Africa, public swimming pools have been closed; beach-bathing is forbidden while community halls are barred from hosting functions with more than 100 people. Even the number of people at cemeteries is limited to only family members and officiating priests. In India, all international passengers arriving on Indian soil are forcibly quarantined for two or three months. Spain has set up a temporary hospital with 5, 500 beds for emergency management of those infected with the virus. The United States embassy has cancelled all visa appointments in Nigeria until further notice. The Federal Government of Nigeria has listed about 15 countries where Nigerians are advised to refrain from travelling to at this time. Nationals from those countries are not to visit Nigeria now.

The Lagos State Government has advised churches, mosques and party goers to suspend their activities once these activities involve more than 20 persons. By Saturday afternoon the Federal Ministry of Health had confirmed 10 new cases of coronavirus in Nigeria. Of this number three of them are in Abuja while seven are in Lagos. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Nigeria to 22. All the 10 new cases are Nigerian nationals. Of the number, nine of them had travelled to Canada, France, Spain, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

They all returned to the country within the past one week. All of them are said to have mild to moderate symptoms and are being treated at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Yaba. While we would like to commend the Federal Government’s medical team and the Lagos State Government it is important to state that there is still a lot of room for improvement. We are informed that a lot of travellers from some countries in Europe are flying to Nigeria to utilise the Delta Airlines flight to America. This means that some of the people from COVID-19 high risk countries could easily transit through Lagos or Abuja to wherever they want if there are no stringent checks in Nigeria. Apart from Lagos and Abuja I think there is a tepid response in most of the states to the crisis. Yes, some states have belatedly closed their schools now and banned public gatherings. It seems that many states live in denial. They think that it is a problem that concerns only Lagos and Abuja. It is not. Even though the 22 cases reported so far have been discovered in Lagos and Abuja no one knows exactly how many people these persons had contact with and where those persons have travelled to within Nigeria.

What of people who come into Nigeria by sea and by land? Do we have facilities for identifying and quarantining them at the various entry points such as seaports and motor parks? Do we also have enough personnel to do the needful? Are they well-equipped for the job? Even at this time of global emergency some doctors are talking of going on strike. It is a big shame that such fellows chose to be doctors. No one says that doctors should not, like any other group, ask for their rights. They should whenever the need arises. But at a period of global emergency their threat to go on strike is an unpardonable blackmail from people who are in a profession of mercy. Coronavirus is a death sentence. Do these errant doctors want to contribute to the number of the dead by their absence from work at this time? They should do a rethink in the interest of humanity otherwise they will demean their noble profession and bring it to disrepute. Nigerians are making wrong assumptions about the prevalence or otherwise of this virus. They think that if our population is 200 million and there are only 22 reported cases it means that we are safe, that the threat is so negligible that it can, and should, be ignored. That is a fallacy. No one in this country knows the exact number of people moving about the country with the virus.

Our land borders are porous and they are manned by people who are sometimes compromisable. So take it from me that we do not truly know how many people are infected in Nigeria today. Secondly, our medical facilities are decrepit. We have very few screening centres.

Nigerians who have it may go into hiding thinking that people will stigmatise them if they know that they are being treated for the virus. This makes the level of its spread uncertain. Many business outlets even in Lagos do not do the needful. On Friday I visited two big supermarkets in Lagos and they did not administer sanitiser on their clients eventhough they sell the liquid in their stores. Kobo wise naira foolish, you would say.

In many offices in Lagos sanitiser is dispensed; in many others it is not. Some people are busy telling Nigerians that they should not panic, that everything is being done to protect them, that there is no cause for alarm. My message to Nigerians is: PLEASE PANIC. This virus is no child’s play. Please panic. Please be paranoid. It is better for us to err on the side of panic than to err on the side of complacency. If we err on the side of panic we lose nothing if nothing happens to us, if everything is in place, if we are sufficiently catered for medically. If we err on the side of complacency and something goes wrong we will be in deep soup, we will be wondering why we did not panic and do something to save our skin.

So my advice is please panic if that is the way to protect yourself. Seek help; seek information; restrict your movement; use sanitiser; wash your hands regularly with soap; don’t shake hands; don’t hug; take vitamin c to boost your immune system; don’t tell yourself that it is only old people who are vulnerable. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just issued a warning to young people not to be complacent. It said: “Young people, you are not invincible.” My advice is panic but do something to help yourself while you panic. Complacency is not an option, not a viable option in this critical medical crisis. If you don’t know what to do please call these advertised emergency numbers: 0800970000-10 (NCDC); and in Lagos call: 08023169485; 08033565529; 08062817243. Thank you for panicking.