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COVID-19 Pandemic: mulling precision lockdowns

Published by The Nation on Sat, 04 Jul 2020


By UnderTowFollowing the 4-week gradual easing of the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, accompanied by Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, and Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chike Ihekweazu, briefed President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday of their findings and recommendations. Addressing a press conference afterwards, Mr Mustapha declared, among other things, that they were recommending a precision lockdown in about 18 local government areas of the country.He said: For the precision lockdown, we have identified 18 local governments out of the 774 local governments that are considered to be high burden with this infection and they account for 60% of 24,077 infections. The reason for the precision lockdown is to place specific measures that will be administered by state governments and local authorities. It is not for the federal government, its the responsibilities of states and local authorities.Overall, what we are trying to do is to put out the small fires across the country rather than trying to fight (the) raging fire across the whole country, which will be very difficult and will also be damaging economically for us. For those areas that we know have high burdens, that the numbers are increasing rapidly, where we have high positivity rate, we will be introducing specific precision measures working with the state governments to make sure that we get on top of this. This will be a job that we will continue to review regularly. We expect some local government areas to drop after the interventions and some to be added.After the last lockdown, it is mystifying that the PTF is still contemplating lockdowns. The value of the last lockdown must be weighed by pitching its merits against its demerits. It is true that the last lockdown slowed but did not completely halt the rate of transmission of the coronavirus. It is also true that it was due, in part, to the lifting of the lockdown that the transmission rate of the virus increased. But the PTF will recall that it was also during the lockdown that the spread of Covid-19 progressed to the community transmission phase.Worse still, the lockdown affected the countrys economy so badly that the World Bank projects that 96m Nigerians will be extremely poor and living on less than a dollar per day by 2022. Ninety percent of the countrys 206m population is employed in the informal sector. Both they and many of those in the formal sector had their entire means of livelihood suspended as a result of the mass retrenchment that attended the coronavirus lockdown declared by the federal government on March 30.Notably, many Nigerians did not strictly adhere to the movement restrictions put in place during the lockdown. People philosophised that they would rather succumb to the ravaging coronavirus while trying to make ends meet than starve en masse while cowering in their houses to prevent coronavirus infection. For many Nigerians, their next meal depends on how much work they can put in during the day. They have no savings and hardly any additional source of income, so their position is compelling enough to be taken with all the seriousness it deserves.Read Also: VIDEO: Lagos faces another lockdownThe lockdown has been costly and of doubtful utility. Nigerias already fragile economy had its crutches yanked from under it by the imposition of a lockdown. Without forethought to the effects a lockdown would occasion, the federal government, emulating many of the developed countries of the western world, declared one of its own. Its subsequent stop-gap measures to address complications arising from the lockdown were always going to spiral out of its control. Crime rate in many areas increased alarmingly and people had to resort to their own neighbourhood vigilantes. Post-independence Nigerian governments have in fact fared very badly in addressing the countrys security challenges. Security officials simply turned the lockdown into a bazaar and would, for a consideration, allow some people access to enjoy their derogated right to freedom of movement.The country would be burdened beyond measure if a second lockdown of any kind was declared. Neither a total lockdown nor its hinted subspeciesthe precision lockdownwould be of any benefit to the country. The PTFs report asks many questions of itself, including the value of allowing only exiting students to resume schools.To where, it must be asked, are they graduating' If the PTF had truly and duly observed the countrys reality, it would have found that even among well-established schools, the educational sector had been completely grounded by the lockdown. It is pointless permitting graduating students to resume while other students remain unable to receive tuition either due to lack of appropriate technology or lack of resources to sustain usage of such technology.The PTFs report notably maintains its faith in the curfew declared from 10pm to 4am. Although not a security emergency, the curfew has so managed to temper the nocturnal tendencies of many Nigerians to gather in unsafe numbers, revel and indulge in public consumption of substances that may lower their guards and lure them into a false sense of health security. Many Nigerians may frown at it, but it remains a useful and significant tool for limiting social revelries.Going by Mr Mustaphas disclosures, while the federal government will be responsible for recommending, or even in some instances declaring, lockdowns, the onus of enforcing the precision lockdown would fall on the state governments and local authorities. It is not yet clear how the PTF expects the state governments and local authorities to manage that task, especially as its report notes that it would be difficult to execute the measure in some places due to the absence of clearly defined boundaries. It is even more doubtful that the PTF consulted state governments before coming to this far-flung resolution.Until Nigeria scientifically and deliberately tries to seek more understanding of the pandemic, the PTF will continue to clutch at straws in a bid to provide answers to the questions COVID-19 is asking of every country and nation in the world. While the questions are the same across each country, the correct answers are different and peculiar to each nation.If the Nigerian government continues along its current path of adopting answers recorded by more developed countries, it will soon find itself choking and unable to breathe under the stifling pressure of economic doom on one hand and a badly-managed public health crisis on the other hand. Indeed, while a combination of lack of proper funding and policies has done its utmost and unrelenting best to cripple the quality of tertiary education in the country (Academic Staff Union of Universities is currently locked in a protest against federal policies by means of a strike), the PTF, acting on behalf of the federal government, should still be able to assemble teams of qualified experts to properly access and proffer precise solutions beyond simply recommending treatment options.The uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in the country needs specialised study and management, not guesswork policies and convoluted measures. By now, the PTF and the federal government, having by the formers admission observed the effects of the initial lockdown on the countrys economy, should be moving on to more innovative ways of controlling the spread of the virus.It was with regret and mortification that many Nigerians observed the blatant abuse of human rights perpetrated in many states during the lockdown. Some of the more laudable health-related regulations such as circumscribing commuting, use of facemasks, mandatory washing and sanitisation of hands, and social distancing should be more meticulously enforced. The PTF and the federal government should be seeking more effective ways of policing measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19.Indeed, the country became entrapped in the COVID-19 pandemic spiral because of its initial lethargy, for which the people are now being punished. But rather than cry over spilt milk, and since mistakes had been made, it may be time to review not just the measures to curtail the spread of the disease, but also the methods and instruments by which the government has enforced its measures and protocols. As desirable as the interstate lockdown was, for instance, it was undone by appalling inefficiency of law enforcement agencies, most of which worked synergetically to undo the little progress that was made during the early outbreak of the pandemic.If the government could not find an answer to the criminal complicity of law enforcement in the war against COVID-19, and has proved embarrassingly impotent in policing general interstate lockdown, how could law enforcement agencies be trusted with policing precision lockdown, especially in contiguous territories and huge conurbations' By now, the PTF must have gauged the competence and capability of the countrys law enforcement and security agencies in the face of modern challenges.They have become grossly antiquated, demotivated, poorly equipped and predatory. Any measure, especially one that is complicated, will be degraded by a security system that is struggling to find its moral compass and come up to the demands of the 21st century. Having refused to restructure and modernise its health, education and security systems for decades, the country is now finding it hard to respond adequately and scientifically to the challenges of the times. The PTF is of course not expected to provide the needed remedies, and can indeed not try even if they can, but they must take into cognisance the stifling environment in which COVID-19 is forcing them to operate, if not suffocate.
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