• Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Isolated lockdown: Hard option for FG


The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 was at the Presidential Villa Abuja on Monday to brief President Muhammadu Buhari on the efforts and progress made so far with the fight against the deadly virus that has changed fundamentally the way the world lives, works and socializes.

After the briefing, Boss Mustapha, the PTF chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), told Nigerians that the government was, among other things, considering a fresh lockdown, explaining however, that the new lockdown would not be total but isolated or “precision lockdown.”

According to the chairman, 20 Local Government Areas considered to account for 60 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country were the ones being considered in the next phase of eased lockdown after the current phase that will span four weeks.

Not a few Nigerians were miffed and alarmed by this consideration because, according to them, it was either that the government is now confused and overwhelmed, or they are tired and at their wit’s end in which case the country may be heading for worse days ahead with the spread of the virus.

Call it selected, isolated or precision lockdown, it remains to be seen how practicable that is going to be done without adversely affecting people in the neighbouring or adjoining local government areas and ultimately the economy of the affected states.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says 11 out of the 20 local government areas that account for 60 percent of the cases are in Lagos State. A breakdown of figures as at June 26, shows Eti-Osa Local Government had highest number of reported cases with 1,515 cases, Alimosho, the largest local government in the state, had 663 cases, Kosofe had 659 cases, Ikeja had 620 cases, Oshodi-Isolo had 496 cases, Surulere had 478 cases, Lagos Mainland had 363 cases, Mushin with 318 cases, Amuwo-Odofin had 255 cases, Ibeju-Lekki with 226 cases, Somolu had 245 cases, Ikorodu had 224 cases, Apapa had 210 cases, Lagos Island had 195 cases, Agege with 159 cases, Ojo had 133 cases, Ifako-Ijaiye had 119 cases, Ajeromi Ifelodun with 84 cases, Lagos Offshore had 73 cases, Badagary and Epe had 40 and 35 cases, respectively.

“Looking at these areas with the highest number of cases in Lagos, for instance, I begin to wonder how somebody in his wildest imagination should contemplate isolated or precision lockdown. How do they plan to do it? queried Rufus Egboboh, a public health worker in Lagos.

Continuing, Egboboh wondered, “How do you lockdown Eti-Osa and Ikeja, for instance? Eti-Osa is where you have Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki which are the state’s commercial hub. Ikeja is the capital of the state where everything about governance takes place. Locking-down Eti-Osa means shutting down over 50 percent of economic activities in the state while any attempt to lockdown Ikeja means shutting down the government of the state which will affect everybody and everything.”

Obviously, the PTF and, by extension, the federal government, is sending a vague message to Nigerians about what it is doing to contain the spread of this virus. Before now, the task force had complained of inadequate reagents for testing. After that it complained of inadequate facilities for isolating confirmed cases.

“Coming out now to tell Nigerians that they are considering isolated lockdown is as good as telling Nigerians to take their destiny in their own hands. Unless that falls within the realms of political statements where politicians say what they don’t mean and mean what they don’t say, what the PTF chairman said was as empty as it was frustrating,” Egboboh noted.

Dupe Akinyinka, a consultant public health physician, also disagreed with the presidential task force on its consideration, saying that if anything lockdown is to be considered again, it has to be total because locking down one part of a state and leaving another free will not achieve the desired goal.

“People will continue to move about and mingle with one another. I think what the government should be thinking and doing is to ramp up testing. If Eti-Osa and the others listed have high number of confirmed cases, it does not mean that the other areas have less infection rate.

“It simply means that not many people have been tested. Alimosho, for instance, has the largest population in Lagos but it has only 663 confirmed cases. This number will shoot up if more people are tested,” Akinyinka reasoned.

As if the alarm he raised over possibility of dead bodies littering the streets in the next three weeks if Nigerians failed to comply with the safety guidelines was not enough, the PTF chairman on Thursday shocked Nigerians with his revelation that, impliedly, government was helpless.

“There is presently no known vaccine for the virus; all over the world, non-pharmaceutical measures still remain the most effective fighting opportunity we have for overcoming this pandemic,” he said.

For this reason, Mustapha disclosed that the federal government had resolved to seek divine intervention in tackling the pandemic and so was exploring a synergy with the Nigerian Inter Religious Council (NIREC), the umbrella Organisation of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria to pray for divine intervention

According to him, the Sultan of Sokoto/President General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, and Samson Ayokunle, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), would be coordinating Muslims and Christians to organise prayers as part of measures to deal with the pandemic.

Though it is believed that prayers can move mountains, the Holy Bible which contains the code of conduct for the Christian faith is unambiguous in its assertion that “faith without work is dead.”

“This is a tactical way of a government shirking its responsibility and wanting to claim alibi. Clearly, the government is transferring responsibility to religious bodies. Don’t forget that the same government has shut down worship centres for over three months now. Where will the prayers take place now?” Egboboh queried.

It seems so apparent that the economic expediency that led to the reopening of workplaces and the airports, will apply to worship centres. But Jude Ilo, a policy analyst, warns that all these shouldn’t compel the government to reopen schools, not now that, according to him, the numbers are spiking with frightening dimension on daily basis.


Nigerians kick against decision

Speaking with BDSUNDAY, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, denounced such idea. He said the government lacks empirical method of solving problems that is why they resort to very unhelpful ways.

“The problem we have with pubic officials is lack of scientific study to determine how this virus can be tackled or what needs to be done to minimise and mitigate the spread of the virus. I think over all, it is expected that the lockdown and ease of lockdown should be formed on the bases of scientific research but there is no such study, it is just an arbitrary imposition of policy.

“Secondly, it also shows you that the laziness in government is manifesting. First, they have not increased the testing centres, they have not also provided even the facilities that are needed to cushion the effects of the pandemic. Even during the major lockdown they were not able to provide palliatives for people who they stopped from going out to seek their daily bread,” he said.

Rafsanjani said there was no accurate data that captured the people worst hit by the pandemic  adding that the initial 2.6 million said to have been captured  were not part of the people affected most by the pandemic. He said that is why the whole palliative Programme that took off from March has not reached the actual people.

He accused the government of playing politics with the palliatives, saying “the real Nigerians who needed this support like the disabled people, women and people whose life depended on daily income we cannot see any evidence that those people’s lives have been impacted.”

The CISLAC boss also questioned the disbursement of the reported huge donations the government got from wealthy Nigerians and international community as well as loans they collected from various banks such as IMF and African Development Bank adding that the government has not accounted for the funds.

“We cannot see evidence that this money has been utilised transparently to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on those vulnerable Nigerians.

“So, for the government to say they want to lock down some local governments and cannot put in place even ordinary water that the citizens will use to wash their hands, they have not fumigated the environment, they have not done anything and they just want to lock down people because they are government, this is not the way to deal with this matter.”

He said further that the PTF was allegedly tainted with corruption and called for its disbandment.

“This PTF needs to be disbanded because many Nigerians have lost confidence and trust in them. Nigerians believe they are just concocting figures.  So many Nigerians believe the government should disband the PTF and   put in place a more serious and more committed non-political committee to manage the crisis.”

Also reacting, the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Ibuchukwu Ezike, expressed doubts about the ability of government to have an effective lockdown in the selected local government areas judging by the obvious lapses during the general lockdown.

He said: “The leaders don’t have the capacity to think on how to develop the society. Lockdown is actually not a big issue to tackle the virus in about 20 local governments, it just that there is no sincerity in the country. In Qatar during their lockdown, they provided all the facilities and still provided a telephone line such that if you need anything they will come to your house and supply you those things unlike in Nigeria. Qatar is an oil producing country like Nigeria. So, the leaders must think about the people”.

A resident of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Emmanuel Ugwu, also frowned at the idea of another lockdown, stressing that the people did not benefit from the palliatives of the general lockdown and are not prepared to go through another one in any part of the country.


“We don’t need any lockdown because the government of the day has no plans for the citizens. Look at the fuel price that they reduced to N121 per litre during the lockdown just because they lifted the ban on inter-state travel, they have increased the price to N143 per litre when many people are struggling with the effects of the general lockdown,” he said.


Examples from other lands

Considering the impact of the five-week long lockdown on the economy and on the citizens, especially the poor, the Nigerian government will most likely not opt for a total lockdown again despite the increasing number of the coronavirus cases across the country.

Rather, the isolated lockdown nursed by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 across the 18 out of the 774 local government areas in the country, which are responsible for 60 percent of the confirmed cases in the country, may be the option.

However, selective lockdown for many is impracticable, especially in Lagos and also going by the low level of enforcement as witnessed during the total lockdown.

But the country seems to be borrowing the model from some countries that have flattened the virus curve with isolated lockdown policy.

Top among them is Vietnam.  Instead of a national lockdown, the Asian country targeted the hotspots and lockdown only those areas. The government empowered provincial authorities to implement large scale or targeted area lockdown, including strict checkpoints in and out of the localities for testing and treatment. Currently, Vietnam has only reported 328 cases of COVID-19 and has had no deaths.

Following Vietnam, Kerala, one of the 28 states in India, ruled by opposition party, undermined the country’s zoning of the infection to enforce total lockdown across its territory. Today, the state in south-western India, has flattened the virus curve, while cases are increasing daily in other states.

Pakistan has also adopted the selective lockdown approach in identified hotspots to contain the virus, especially in Punjab.

According to Imran Khan, the prime minister, “selective lockdowns” based on tracking and tracing cases would be imposed in identified epicenters of the virus as opposed to another sweeping lockdown.

Recently, Pakistani authorities identified and sealed off nearly 1,300 hot spots to contain the rising trajectory of new coronavirus infections, as it reported 6,472 new cases last two weeks Saturday, the country’s highest single-day total.

Probably, Nigeria is considering the selective lockdown because of the impact like Pakistan where the country’s administration and police could not take on the huge burden of a complete lockdown.

Some European countries are also implementing the selective lockdown model.

Recently, Germany lockdown its Guetersloh district in North Rhine-Westphalia, its most populous state, where over 1,500 workers at the Tönnies meat-processing plant (the largest in Germany) were confirmed to have the virus, out of around 7,000 total employees.

To curtail a second wave of the virus outbreak, the German chancellor and governors of the country’s 16 states have agreed on a plan that would allow regions with low number of cases to restart their economies. In that case, if the 18 local governments that habour 60 percent of the virus cases in Nigeria were to be in Germany, they would not be allowed to restart their economies.

In France, restrictions vary by region depending on how seriously afflicted they are. In some regions, some schools and shops have reopened and some hair salons were fully booked. But in Paris and elsewhere, considered as the hotspots for the virus, restaurants and theaters remained closed, and masks were still mandatory in public.

As well, Spain has lifted restrictions by region, allowing small groups to gather and dine outdoors, and small shops to reopen. But about half the population, including residents of the two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, remained under tighter controls.

Erstwhile in Africa, South Africa is mulling an “intermittent” lockdown in two provinces with the highest number of cases; the Western Cape Province, which remains the most affected area in the country with 64,377 cases and Gauteng Province with over 39,000 cases.

According to Bandile Masuku, Gauteng Province Health MEC, the province is considering the intermittent lockdown, which has been used in other countries. “Under the intermittent lockdown, there will be a period of time where the province will open and close to contain the infection. It has helped other countries and literature has shown that it could be one option,” Masuku said.

In Kenya, the government is choosing the cautious route and still maintains selective lockdown. It only reduced the curfew from 10 to seven hours and eased restriction of movements into certain areas.

But hotspots like Eastleigh in Nairobi, Old Town in Mombasa among others are still running under strict measures as the country lack resources, manpower and facilities to fight a large scale virus outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Gauteng Province is like a state in Nigeria, if it mustered courage to go for its separate virus containment option, states in Nigeria, especially Lagos can choose what can work for it if the relaxed lockdown is not helping.

But the fear for many is the implementation of the selective lockdown and likely abandonment of the isolated areas by everyone including the federal government.