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Lockdowns should be measured with support for people

By Luke Onyekakeyah
31 March 2020   |   3:57 am
The easiest measure authorities around the world are imposing to checkmate the ravaging coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic is to declare a lockdown on business, social and economic activities...

The easiest measure authorities around the world are imposing to checkmate the ravaging coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic is to declare a lockdown on business, social and economic activities, which automatically restricts people indoors and to their immediate environment to buy food and other basics.

The lockdown in Wuhan proved effective, especially, as it was imposed early enough as soon as the virus was detected in the locality. The Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, and nearby cities encompassing roughly 50 million people in Hubei province were placed on lockdown almost immediately the authorities noticed that the virus was spreading fast.

The lockdown was not based on sentiment or emotional outburst of political leaders. It was based on accurate information (with facts and figures), which established that the virus infections emanated from Wuhan’s Wholesale Sea Food Market. There was no denial or cover-up by anybody.

Even at that, the authorities did not just slam a lockdown on the people without considering their welfare. Since the battle was against the ravaging plague, the authorities embarked on the provision of adequate healthcare facilities to treat infected people.

In just over a week, China built two hospitals, fully equipped with supplies to help combat the virus. The 1,000-bed Huoshenshan facility and the 1,600-bed Leishenshan Hospital broke ground January 25 and began receiving patients. Thousands of healthcare personnel were shipped to Wuhan from across the country to boost first-line responders.

A man carries bags of rice on his head at a border between Abuja and the Nasarawa State on March 30, 2020, as he leaves to neighbouring states after Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari called for a lockdown to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. – Over 20 million Nigerians on Monday scrambled to prepare for lockdown in sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest city Lagos and the capital Abuja, as the continent struggled to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a two-week “cessation of all movements” in the key cities from 2200 GMT in a bid to ward off an explosion of cases in Africa’s most populous country. (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP)

Having ensured that adequate hospitals facilities were in place, the authorities then activated food supplies to the stuck populace. It was not easy supplying food and groceries to Wuhan’s over 11 million population, but the unparalleled dedication and commitment to survive the crisis energised both the government and the people.

Food courier companies were engaged. One of them, Meituan, the biggest player with 440 million customers and 700,000 daily riders, used its vast network and adapted technology to help support Wuhan and the wider province of Hubei during the crisis.

It is not surprising that the quarantine is now slowly being lifted, as the authorities watch to see whether cases will rise again. New infections in Wuhan have died down and the authorities have fixed April 8, to lift the lockdown that literally imprisoned the people for months.

The world is shocked that what started as an epidemic in China has now become a truly global pandemic. Available statistics show that there are now over 451,355 confirmed cases and 20,499 deaths, according to the John Hopkins Covid-19 dashboard. The disease has spread to more than 196 countries and territories, with Italy, the US and Spain experiencing the most widespread outbreaks outside of China.

With the tone set in Wuhan, countries in Europe and America that are in the throes of the virus have adopted the same lockdown strategy. In Italy, which was experiencing the largest outbreak outside of China, the government took the unprecedented step of extending a lockdown to the entire country. Cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs are under lockdown. Funerals and weddings have been banned. In the UK, there have been 8, 077 confirmed cases. The numbers are still rising. The government has shut pubs, restaurants, bars cafés and all non-essential shops.

In all of these places, the steps being taken by the authorities are systematically measured to avoid collateral damages. The foremost thing is to ensure that medical facilities and supplies are intact to treat infected people and the other is to assure people of the provision of foods and other basic necessities.

Having done that, the etiology of the coronavirus is being researched aggressively in order to establish more facts on how to combat it. The trend of the deaths is being analysed with regards to the age of the victims as well as possible weather/climatic inhibitions of the disease.

For instance, investigations into why Italy overtook China in the number of deaths has shown that most of the victims are old people who are mostly above 80 years or people with health conditions that lowered their immunity. Only a handful is below that age bracket.

Curiously, America has overtaken both China and Italy with 85,505 infections as of March 27, while China and Italy were recording 81,782 and 80,589 respectively.

Covis-19 easily ravages people who are weak and with low immunity. That explains why Italy and Spain have so far recorded 7,503 and 3,434 respectively above China’s 3,281deaths. America has recorded 819; Iran 2,077; France 1,100 and UK 433. The virus has killed more than 22,000 people and infected more than 480,000 worldwide.

Besides, the contribution of winter cold season to the deaths cannot be denied. Covid-19 burst out at the onset of winter in December 2019. Researchers have shown that the virus thrives more in the cold season but is inhibited in temperatures above 27oC.

Winter season presents a challenge to the old and weak in temperate regions. Surviving winter is a challenge in cold countries. In Italy, for instance, my investigation shows that on the average about 400 old and weak die annually from the winter cold.

It may be argued that the deaths in Italy spiked as a result of winter cold but everything is now attributed to covid-19. The onset of spring and subsequently summer is bringing relief to China and the other cold countries that have been in winter.

With regard to Nigeria, the government is joining the rest of the world to apply measures to combat the virus. It is good that the government has woken up from slumber after the damage has been done, which is the usual attitude here.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday, March 29, 2020, belatedly, slammed a 14-day lockdown on Lagos, Abuja and Ogun State. It is not clear why the president singled out the three locations while leaving the rest of the country. What special provision is made for people in these places?

Since we don’t have Wuhan or Hubei Province in Nigeria, the epicenter of coronavirus in China, the president’s lockdown at this stage is curious, especially, after the virus has already been imported into Nigeria. Curtailing the spread will depend on how effective the healthcare system is to handle those already infected. How many well-equipped health facilities are in place to combat the virus?
The trend of the virus should be monitored daily to ascertain the effectiveness of the lockdown. Close monitoring would enable the government to determine the next line of action. State governments closing their borders are not helping matters. How would food and fuel and other basics be supplied to states in need of them?

It is not just enough to slam a lockdown on the people without caring for their welfare; otherwise, the endemic poverty and hunger will kill more people than corona virus. Millions of Nigerians daily live from hand to mouth. Slamming restriction without welfare provisions will do more harm than good.

It is pertinent, at this juncture, to ask what measures are in place to cater to the people. Nigeria is not China, Italy or America where the living standard is high; where people have food and other necessities stockpiled in their houses; where freezers are filled with meat, fish and other food products. In those countries, people can stay indoors for weeks/months without lacking food. Most Nigerians are malnourished.

Here, we face dare challenges. There is no power supply; most people eke out a living and can’t survive long lockdown. How to ensure that people are not unduly subjected to suffering should be uppermost in government.

Finally, I would like to state that the pandemic should be seen as a war situation and corona virus as an enemy. In a war situation, the enemy is out to kill people and the people must fight back. The battle line has been drawn. It is a battle that must be won.

President Buhari said on Sunday in his broadcast that the whole instruments of government have been mobilised for coronavirus fight. That should be the attitude. Nigerians are counting on that.

In a war, you don’t underrate or overrate the enemy. While underrating is dangerous, overrating the enemy gives him the upper hand.

Worldwide, corona virus is being overrated. The yells and screams that the virus is going to overrun countries are not encouraging. It creates panic among the populace and panic is an instrument of warfare. Newspaper headlines screaming over the weekend that corona virus victims in Lagos may hit 39,000 are unhelpful.

If corona virus bursts in Nigeria the way it is being hyped, people will die in millions because we are least equipped and prepared to fight the virus. The battle is winnable. If Wuhan and Hubei Province in China could survive and now lifting the restrictions, Nigeria and indeed every other country will overcome with concerted effort.