As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads fiercely across the world, the overwhelming impact is having negative effects on individuals, friends, and communities. Tracking the number of confirmed cases as at 2 April 2020, the virus has affected 203 countries, 946,875 cases and 48,135 deaths, while 202,888 have recovered, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There is grief, sorrow and tears and exile across the world.
Some religious adherents think the Creator has forgotten them. No! He is a faithful Father and it is by His grace we are alive and not consumed by this monstrous virus. This era shall come to pass by His grace. But we must play our parts as individuals, communities and governments by obeying the stay-at-home order. Although, some medical experts say that the COVID-19 era may continue for a long time, what we are witnessing in the most immediate sense is a human rights crisis. It reminds one about our common humanity and that we are all equal in dignity and human rights.
Today, human rights are central to the challenge we face irrespective of religion, race and political party affiliation. At the heart of human rights are both a protection from the power of the state, and a demand that our governments must protect our lives and wellbeing using reasonable level of state resources at their disposal.
So, all nations are out there adopting different strategies based on their capabilities to combat the deadly virus. When one looks at the way coronavirus has dealt with humanity; how governments and people have reacted to the threat posed by this common enemy globally; this writer is tempted to ask: Where lies the burden? Does the burden to combat the virus lie with governments or individuals? Frankly, I will say that the burden to combat this common enemy called COVID-19 lies with all Nigerians and the entire world. You do not have to be in government to be an active “warrior” in the fight against COVID-19.
The government anywhere in the world cannot do it alone. We have seen the organised private sector and a few high net-worth individuals in the corporate world donating generously towards the efforts of the governments. The welfare package must therefore get to every Nigerian especially those who are poor.
We have seen how developed societies whose citizens are disciplined, educated and organised fail woefully in the fight against COVID-19. We know our own sectoral challenges in the country, starting with poor infrastructure, poor health and education facilities, manpower shortages, weak industrial linkages, poorly funded R&D institutions, poorly implemented constituency projects, corruption, etcetera. The problems are many. But if the battle against COVID-19 is to be won, we should proffer suggested solutions to combat and defeat the virus, and not lament. This is not a time to look at the past. We need to be in the moment and map out strategies to mitigate further spread of the pandemic ravaging humanity.
COVID-19 is potent and lethal. Seats of government with sophisticated security gadgets worldwide have been penetrated by coronavirus. The virus is globetrotting and some of us are busy demanding our rights. Yes, we have a right to live and be protected. But this is not the time to argue or lament about what we do not have as a people. This is time for action.
The preventive measures to combat the disease by the World Health Organization (WHO) is that we should stay at home; wash our hands with soap and water; avoid shaking of hands; avoid sneezing into the air but our elbows; and maintain social distancing between ourselves. The above stated prescription by WHO is global and to the best of my judgment not difficult to achieve.
What should be our coordinating strategy?
Those charged by states and federal governments with the responsibility of distributing welfare packages to almost 100 million people across the country must be honest, transparent and held accountable. The good news is that the federal government and a few state governments are taking care of the vulnerable people in our midst by providing cash and food items to them. One must commend the efforts of the Lagos State Government and the Director General, National Centre for Disease Control.
High density areas and slums in the country are of serious concern. Social distancing may be difficult to maintain in these areas. Some of our local markets are very dirty like a pigsty. Local governments must supervise the renovation and fumigation of these markets across Nigeria. Contact tracing and testing in line with WHO protocols must be rigidly followed.
Frankly, I will say that the burden to combat this common enemy called COVID-19 lies with all Nigerians and the entire world. You do not have to be in government to be an active “warrior” in the fight against COVID-19
Communication is vital in the fight against COVID-19. Those in authority in all 774 local governments must take relevant information on the coronavirus to rural areas of our country where people do not believe there is any pandemic. Their ignorance is acknowledged, but they should still be properly educated about the virus, the lethality, and steps to be taken to prevent an attack by the virus as prescribed by WHO.
We know that people living with poverty and homelessness will find it difficult to access preventive measures. A shortage of care services- childcare, healthcare and elderly care will have a disproportionate impact on women and children particularly those who are displaced for years due to internal crises within our country. These are the most vulnerable in our midst and they must be protected?
It is pertinent to say that parochial sentiments such as tribe, religion and political affiliation should not be consideration for those who are vulnerable to benefit from the state and federal governments’ intervention programs. This is because as the pandemic intensifies, the risks associated with measures put in place affect many vulnerable people and the general public. One of such measures is the stay-at-home order. Some of our people are becoming recalcitrant because they must work daily to eke a living. We should focus more on food and drug security. So, it is vital that the impact of government interventions be assessed and mitigated continuously to ensure individual and public health.
Better health through collaborative efforts
The unity of 200 million Nigerians is key in order to fight a common enemy. Information sharing among medics across the country on the virus is key. In the midst of fear and ignorance, communities must come together to support one another, through individual and collective acts of kindness, whether looking out for elderly neighbours or mass applause to demonstrate appreciation to our health workers who are operating within the first layer of defence against the virus. These medical “warriors” are facing increasing risks to their lives daily. So, our medics must be provided with the required personal protective equipment (PPE). This is the responsibility of governments at local, state and federal levels. There must be insurance cover for all our medics as a way of incentivising them.
What is the exit strategy after lockdown?
In order to save cost, state governments must begin to map out common exit strategies for the future. Both federal and state governments must give relief packages and support for businesses particularly those that have been paying their taxes. There are significant questions to be answered and gaps to be filled by those in authority now.
We know that Nigerians are in most parts of the world. The restrictions put in place will not be in place for ever. When the borders are opened, what is the contingency plan of the federal and state governments in case there is a second wave of the virus? Those in authority must start scanning our immediate and remote environment for ways and means to prevent and fight the virus should there be a second wave. As we await the vaccine that will cure the coronavirus, all Nigerians, particularly those in authority in 36 states of the country including the Federal Capital Territory, must not adopt the graveyard strategy- “sit down look”- during the COVID-19 era. Thank you!