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Covid-19, contact tracing and social distancing

Published by The Nation on Sat, 04 Apr 2020


Emmanuel OladosunSIX thousand contacts were on Covid-19 Wanted List, as it were, at the beginning of the week. That was the figure given by the health authorities on Monday. It is huge and frightening. If one quarter of the number are carriers, the gravity of the situation is better imagined.Yesterday there was a relief as the media reported that 3,550 had been traced. The remaining 2,450 still underscore an awful figure. The apprehension can hardly subside.Where are they now' How can they be traced, or motivated to voluntary submit themselves for medical test'Is it even in their own interest to deliberately disappear and intensify the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic'Definitely, the number would have increased since then. It could even double within few weeks, to the detriment of the bewildered country. Not finding them in time has negative multiplier effects.The present gloom; the daily rise in the number of infected persons; experts warn, may be the baseline for unmitigated doom, unless reason prevails. Prevention is better than cure.Had Nigeria learned from the Ebola challenge, perhaps, it would have prepared better for the current problem. During the Ebola outbreak, states were asked to set up isolation centres. Where are they now'Coronavirus fills the consciousness of humanity. It is a global disaster; the greatest public health concern at the moment, The rich and poor are not insulated. It appears no country has any time for another as it fights to conquer the disease, or limit the horrors it unleashes on citizens, the economy and the entire social order.The least countries can do is to compare notes on the degrees of devastation and learn from management, or bad management, of their intervention strategies.It is relatively easier for the government and its agencies to learn fast now and mount interventions. But, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people who are targets of the interventions to give maximum cooperation.In a largely subsistent country, where people have to struggle to get their daily bread, they misunderstand the stay-at-home appeal and the strange directive on social distancing. Thus, many Nigerians still ignore the preventive measures to their peril.The government is rising to the occasion in tackling three challenges-containment, treatment or care and prevention. If precautionary steps were taken when the virus was still exclusively domiciled in Asia, perhaps, the story would have been different. But, there was a shortfall in scenario building.There is a relationship between the herculean contact tracing and spread of the virus. Statistics is now difficult to arrive at. Nigerians boarded aircrafts to their country. Unlike Europeans, Americans and Asians who demonstrated patriotism by submitting themselves for testing, they started dodging the authorities after they were requested to come for the initial medical check up.To the consternation of the authorities, they submitted fake addresses and phone numbers, making it difficult for the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Disease Control to track them. They went home, or other locations to continue with their normal businesses in an abnormal way. Not all of them would be carriers of the virus. But, their refusal to show up for medical scrutiny is a great disservice to the anti-covid war. It has sparked national anxiety.Similar to this scenario are cases of big men, who after returning from Europe, decided to self-isolate, without prior information to the Ministry of Health, NCDC and other relevant agencies.Self-isolation, which is the first critical stage in assessment, is for 14 days. It is challenging. Do these categories of people have the training and skills required for self-isolation' Would it have been out of place for these laymen in medics to inform the relevant authorities about their travel history before embarking on self-hiding, which they have uncritically confused with self-isolation'What is the assurance that they will not infect few aides and family members who minister to their needs in the corners of their rooms where they are self-isolating' Dont they need medical advice in their self-imposed solitary confinement'Also, despite concerted efforts by governments at disseminating information to the populace about social distancing, many have continued to flout the directive.On the first day of temporary lockdown in Lagos, many youths converted the expressway into free football fields, shouting, hailing one another and sweating. Markets in rural areas remained opened and traders and customers carried on trading activities as if all was well.In Katsina State, there were reports about restless youths who burnt down police stations and other public buildings. They were protesting that they were not allowed access to mosques by security agents.Also, at Agege Central Mosque, some worshippers attacked officials of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) and Lagos State Safety Commission, who were monitoring and enforcing the lockdown order.Some lawyers and rights activists, grossly demonstrated the curious ignorance of the wise as they criticised the federal and state governments for imposing lockdown, or curfew, without consulting with lawmakers, some of who are in self-isolation. They know the law, which cannot translate into vaccines to halt the spread of the disease or drugs that can cure the ailment. They were playing to the gallery.Read Also:COVID-19: Supermarkets ban couples from shopping togetherMany Nigerians have continued to trivialise the pandemic. It is because the mortality rate is still low in Nigeria, unlike United Kingdom, United States, Italy, Iran and China, the cradle of the disease.In the social media, there is an information overdose that is counter-productive. Quacks are prescribing self-medication without test. Many jesters have turned themselves into emergency medical experts and analysts.In their ignorance, they spread falsehood, saying that Coronavirus cannot withstand the African or Nigerian weather, and that the black man has a thick skin, and hence, a natural immunity, to conquer the dreaded virus.Despite governments concerted efforts in this moment of emergency, the rot in the health sector has remained a major obstacle. If the viruses hit the communities, as Information Minister Lai Mohammed had warned, the primary health centres can hardly play any supportive role. They are in shambles.To underscore the challenge in the health sector, the President of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr Francis Faduyile, lamented that 80 percent of General Hospitals in the country lacked pipe borne water.Senate President Ahmad Lawan broke into tears when he saw the condition of patients in Gwagwalada Hospital, Abuja. Government is planning about 2,000 daily test capacity. How far can it go in a country of almost 200 million'The onus is on government and other stakeholders to sustain the enlightenment and sensitisation programme. It is because prevention is better than cure. Unfortunately, despite the awareness programmes, the distance between the information and people is still wide, unlike what happened during the global anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns and the Ebola epidemic. There is need for more pamphlets and billboards, radio and television jingles in local languages.In the rural areas, traditional and community leaders can spread the message in the languages and dialects understood by locals. The various Community Development Associations (CDAs) can also assist in disseminating the information about prevention.The long term measure should also be considered. The surveillance system should be sustained, particularly at the primary health centres.Social distancing is hard, but possible. Lockdown is burdensome, but t could be temporary. So far, there is no known cure for coronavirus. Nigerians have two choices; follow the stay safe directive and prevent it, or ignore the advice and face the consequence. To embrace the latter is greater wisdom.
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