• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Christmas in time of COVID-19: How to navigate public health crises

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Christmas is fast approaching and the residents are beginning to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

The yuletide typically involves mass gatherings and fun times with family and friends. Although it is an iconic date that is being marked the world over, there is a need for a cautious approach amidst the rising challenges of COVID-19 that has been one of the largest disruptions to socio-economic development since World War II. In Europe and America, where Nigeria and many Africa countries usually draw their policy guides, policies restricting the organisation of large-scale events are in place and enforced. The recent discovery of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has exerted greater tension and caused global panic with travel bans and restrictions between nations. This could even lead to several bilateral disagreements if not correctly managed. The new and more potential danger of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 coincides with the re-introduction of safety measures that were relaxed in the past, but more policies safeguarding public health need to be advanced to ensure the Christmas celebration does not lead to a rising public death.

The Nigerian government has indicated that a further lockdown will not be needed during this Christmas. This economic decision must be handled with caution even when it is well understood that interaction brings about economic prosperity. The Omicron variant has been reported to be more transmittable than other forms of COVID-19, and this is why the government’s desire not to resort to national lockdown has to be measured with caution.

The third wave of COVID-19 occurred after Christmas 2020 in Madrid, one of the European pandemic epicentres with several differential features to previous waves. First, household contacts were a large proportion of cases. Second, access to rapid antigen tests allowed prompt diagnosis and isolation. Third, vaccination benefits were seen in healthcare workers and nursing homes. Lastly, reinfections were more common. By Easter 2021, approximately 25 percent of the population in Madrid had been infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Read also: Post-COVID-19: WHO urges countries to invest in health facilities

With a population of about 206 million and over 300 000 active confirmed cases, Nigeria remains the COVID-19 hotspot in Africa.

These figures refer to laboratory-confirmed cases, which underestimate the actual number as testing access was limited during several pandemic stages. With Christmas fast approaching, there is a need for government policies banning large gatherings since community transmission is the most apparent form of COVID-19 transmission and increased hospitalisation.

Secondly, there is a need for widespread use of rapid antigen tests to permit prompt diagnosis and isolation of many positive individuals. In large gatherings in the UK, attendees are now required to show double vaccination against the virus as a prerequisite for admission into the facilities. Relevant stakeholders across the Nigerian public health sector needs to adopt a similar strategy to reduce the risk involved in spreading the dangerous virus and manage its containment such that public health resources are not stretched beyond limits. Therefore, massive and accelerated vaccination campaigns are warranted to prevent new COVID-19 waves.

More isolation centres need to be procured and isolation policies have to be strictly ensured. Nigerians are naturally not self-restraining from policies and guidelines that stipulate donts. As such, there is a need for the government at all levels to set up task forces or enforcement committees or agencies that will stamp out non-compliance around public health rules to maintain order and sanity. Short and equidistant isolation facilities should be provided across the country. The problem with large isolation centres that do not consider a short distance is that they might fail to address the need for isolation and protection of the public. When large numbers are present in isolation centres, it could eventually be deemed a transmission centre rather than isolating.

They are existing COVID-19 protocols that have to be maintained. They include regular hand washing, nose mask usage in shops and public transport, social distancing, virtual meeting where physical meetings are mandatory, constant testing to know one’s status, especially before going for a meeting or public gathering, taking of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters where they are available. Although this guideline has remained unchanged since the arrival of COVID-19, it remains the case that each of these actions, when taken individually, can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and offer a happy celebration in the safest hygienic circumstances.