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COVID-19 one year after: Letting our guards down

It is one year of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria. It is just like yesterday because events have been so fast-paced that a lot of people are being taken unawares, falling victims albeit unconsciously.

A second, more virulent, wave of the Coronavirus pandemic is underway in Nigeria but as a people, we have become too distracted by the vicissitude of a floundering economy to notice. It is now time to bring back some of the measures that helped to keep the deadly pathogen in check.

The clearest evidence of a second wave of the virus is that, in the past 14 days, over 5,000 new coronavirus cases have been recorded in Nigeria, bringing the total number of infections to over 73,000. On December 13, Nigeria recorded about 796 new cases higher than the peak infection recorded on July 1 of 790 cases, after lockdown measures were eased in major cities.

Following the death of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Division, Port Harcourt, Major- Gen. Johnson Irefin, the Nigerian Army has said that 26 of its personnel have tested positive for the virus.

The Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court have tested positive for the virus. Even the COVID-19 task force chairman, Boss Mustapha, had to go into isolation as his own family members have been sickened by the coronavirus.

While not suggesting that these people got infected because they were careless, their experience provides a powerful reminder that a blasé attitude towards this deadly virus is dangerous. Nigeria’s chief justice, Muhammadu Tanko, travelled to Dubai to battle the virus but millions of Nigerians cannot afford this type of care, which is why we all need to be cautious.

Many have argued that the economy cannot afford another lockdown considering that it is in a recession but there are other things we can do to protect ourselves. A few months ago, many of us would not leave our homes without a face-covering and many had bottles of hand sanitizers in the container holder of their cars.

We avoided large gatherings and maintained physical distancing from others. We need to revert to these ways of doing things. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), on November 30, issued a public health advisory, warning against non-essential travels.

It recognised that people wanted to travel and be with family and friends but warned that the COVID-19 virus does not spread on its own, but spreads when people move around. This means that by travelling across countries and cities, there is a higher risk of transmission, especially to rural areas where existing health infrastructure is already weak.

Despite these warnings, local flights were virtually booked and road transport companies across the country reported huge patronage during the yuletide. We cannot treat warnings from the government agency responsible for checking the spread of the virus as if they were suggestions and not expect consequences.

This situation mirrors what occurred in the United States where the Centre for Disease Control warned Americans to avoid travel to see family members and loved ones over the Thanksgiving holidays but many ignored the warning. This resulted in a spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Nigeria has entered a dangerous phase of community transmission and contact tracing will be harder because the process of monitoring movement into the country has been lax. COVID-19 testing is still expensive and our hospitals are not properly equipped to deal with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

We must remain alert that COVID-19 is a contagious illness easily contracted in any public place where people are present. Despite a seeming return to normalcy, the virus will be part of our reality for the foreseeable future. There are no indications that we will get enough vaccine in time to prevent new infections, hence we must stay vigilant.

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