COVID-19: Lockdown can’t stop the virus; change strategy

Dear Editor,

Recall our discussion yesterday on the efforts of the Federal and State Governments on stopping the spread of the Coronavirus in Nigeria. While we both agreed on the sincerity of the Presidency and government on the programs reeled out to combat the disease, we agreed that the lockdown and social distancing program can only work in places where there is infrastructure and planning, where the people live in decent houses, where there is an identification program in please, and where there is a social security program in place.

However, in underdeveloped countries such as Nigeria where over 70% of the urban population live in overcrowded unplanned slums, and the people are living below subsistent level and are daily paid workers without any form of social security program, the program is not capable of achieving much.

Majority of the people in the depressed neighborhoods (and I am sure most of us have not been to the ghettos on the outskirts of our cities to see how deplorable they are) will mingle amongst themselves, they will still sleep together in overcrowded rooms, and since they are not allowed to move from their neighborhood, gather under the mango tree in the evenings to share stories.

If we are not careful, if this lockdown persists, our people who live in the depressed areas will move en mass to where the middle class and the affluent live and break down the doors and loot food and properties they find and harm each other in the looting frenzy that will follow (this already started in South Africa yesterday). This is just common sense o!

As for the virus, we need to reappraise the effect on us, and going forward, redraw our strategy as a nation. What to do differently, and going forward, steps to take now and in the immediate future. Serious and genuine national development programs for housing, taking the national identity card serious so we can track ourselves in future, introducing eLearning so in future our children can learn from anywhere, making the internet available to all now that we see the advantages of a virtual world, providing a health program and infrastructure that everyone can be proud of now that the doors of foreign hospitals have been shut on us. And of course all the infrastructure defects that we can now see are important for us to develop meaningfully as a nation.

Do not let us deceive ourselves, the Coronavirus will spread beyond our wildest imagination. We cannot stop it and we will have to wait for a vaccine to be developed to save the aged and those most susceptible to the grave consequences of contracting it. In the meantime we should develop our own test kits or else China and the others will fleece us and sell to us at ridiculous prices.

Regarding the vaccine, we should join the world in developing a vaccine for the coronavirus. Our scientists should also be able to develop the vaccine. We have bright scientists, all we need to do is to motivate them. Let us provide our scientists some of the billions donated and anyone or group that develop a vaccine can be given an additional grant for innovations as an incentive for saving the world.

It is not all bad news, the virus is not known to kill all. The virus has only about 5.7% mortality rate compared to other infectious diseases like Ebola with over 35%. The virus kills more of people of our age group and above, and it is known to be more dangerous to people of over 70 years of age especially those with pre existing health conditions. These are the people that should be advised to watch how they interact with others. Let’s concentrate our efforts on a massive health campaign for all. What is our National Orientation Agency doing? They should be encouraged to do more if they are doing anything now.

People will over the time develop antibodies and some immunity. Trust me this coronavirus thing is going to be here with us for a long time like malaria. Don’t forget, Africa has for years been contending with other infectious diseases even before we were born and we still have no solutions for them. Annually over 250,000 Nigerians die yearly of HIV, over 200,000 die of tuberculosis, over 90,000 die of malaria. You can check the statistics on the World Health Organization website. Now is the time to pay attention to our health sector. When the sky falls, our fathers tell us it is not on the head of just one but all of us. Let’s reappraise our plans for dealing with this COVID-19 situation now.

Locking down is like double jeopardy, what Fela Anikulapo Kuti called “double wahala for deady body, and the owner of deady body”, it will destroy our fragile economy, it will bring hunger and hardship to our people, it will lead to social disorder. We can see it now, it is not working and it cannot work. For the over 70% of the population who belong to the under privileged, who live in the worst slums you can ever imagine , and who believe the coronavirus is a disease by the wealthy for the affluence, it is impossible to social distance or lock down, let’s rethink our strategies. Selah

Tola Ogunnubi writes from Abuja. tolaogunnubi@yahoo.com 08034711367

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