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Coronavirus lockdown: Nigeria’s opportunity to disinfect public spaces slipping away

Nigeria’s lockdown of over 25 million people in Lagos, Ogun, Abuja and varying degrees of restrictions imposed by different state governments is not being used to eliminate traces of the virus that may be in spaces that have now been devoid of human contact for days, even as an opportunity for mass disinfection of public spaces gradually slips away.

In many parts of the world, movements of people were restricted to allow authorities carry out large-scale disinfection of public areas, added to the goal of social distancing and isolation, which was best achieved by keeping people indoors. By the time people return outside, those who are not already infected would not be exposed to viruses left on surfaces outside, at least to a considerable extent, if the disinfections are thoroughly and rigorously done. Apart from places under complete lockdown, even those with less restrictions could have disinfection exercises to lower the risk of spread when people come in contact with contaminated surfaces.

Spraying disinfectant solutions aimlessly in the air is likely to be a wasteful display, as experts have suggested that targeted disinfections of surfaces where human beings are likely to touch, offers a better way of curtailing spread of the disease.

Read also: Lockdown holds lessons for future preparedness in agric sector

“It is a very good idea as it was done in many countries and it came out well,” said Chimezie Anyakora, CEO, Bloom Public Health in a WhatsApp chat with BusinessDay. “Beyond just doing it now, I will like the government to see this pandemic as an opportunity to build a stronger health system.”

Isolated, random spraying exercises through knapsack sprayers as seen in Lagos and some other states could be a good effort, but according to experts, may not deliver desired results if there is no strategic protocol to disinfect surfaces humans are likely to touch. More so, making those exercises widespread across the nooks and crannies of states where substantial numbers of positive cases have been recorded.

While it has been generally reported that Coronavirus can only survive for up to three days, the World Health Organisation states in a Q&A on its website that “It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses.”

However, a publication in the Journal of Hospital Infection (JHI) by four researchers at the University Medicine Greifswald and Ruhr University Bochum both in Germany has suggested, “Human coronaviruses can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces at room temperature for up to 9 days.”

Last month in Accra, Ghana a combination of drones, knapsack sprayers and large trucks spraying disinfectants were deployed to some market places, reminiscent of visuals that had been shown from mass disinfection exercises in UAE, India, Mexico, China, Iran, Philippines and a few other countries.

The Journal of Hospital Infection’s article, which was an analysis of 22 studies, indicated that human coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus or endemic human coronaviruses (HCoV) can be efficiently inactivated within 1 minute by surface disinfection procedures with 62-71 percent ethanol, 0.5 percent hydrogen peroxide or 0.1 percent sodium hypochlorite.

It also noted biocidal agents such as 0.05-0.2 percent benzalkonium chloride or 0.02 percent chlorhexidine digluconate are less effective.

“I would advise that people obey the stay at home directives,” said David Olaleye, a professor of Virology at the University of Ibadan in a phone interview.

He explained this would allow government to monitor the spread of the virus, and while state governments have deployed people to disinfect some places manually, it is doubtful there is currently capacity for large-scale (automated) exercises. Whenever there is decision to disinfect on a large scale, “government needs to announce for people to know and avoid those areas,” he said, so that the fumigations can be successfully carried.

Even though the virus is yet to be declared airborne, Olaleye says this “does not mean the virus has not settled in places where people previously congregated and as such should be disinfected.”

Anyakora also stressed lessons from this experience should include proper public health policies which center on various prevention mechanisms including regular disinfection and education of the population on basic hygiene which are capable of preventing various diseases.

“The issue is that many people fall sick everyday because of lack these public health interventions. But since they happen somehow sporadically and locally they are never captured. This great opportunity should not be lost,” he said.

 

CALEB OJEWALE

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