Nigeria is taking steps to ease its lockdowns in phases, hoping to quickly restart the economy, and reduce infection rates with public health directives such as the compulsory use of face masks, and maintaining social distancing in public spaces.
As Abuja, Lagos, and Ogun States enter new phases of easing lockdowns, there are lessons to be learned from Asian countries which have lifted lockdowns—and are experiencing a second wave of infections—to understand the likely implications on the fight against COVID-19.
Mainland China, Hong Kong, and South Korea are examples of regions with efficient early responses to the virus. Mainland China and South Korea were able to flatten their curves, the rate of infections, and Hong Kong went three weeks without new infections. These wins allowed South Korea to ease lockdowns, and even allowed some gathering in social businesses like bars and clubs. Mainland China and Hong Kong also eased their lockdowns, hoping to return to life as usual.
However, over the last few weeks, these regions have reported new cases. Hong Kong recorded a new batch of infections after a woman with no travel history tested positive and infected her family. In South Korea, there have been over 100 cases confirmed from several nightclubs, and in China, a laundry worker contracted the virus and infected over 20 people.
Most of the new cases have been from people without travel history or known contact with infected persons – a reminder that the asymptomatic nature of this virus makes it a never-ending cycle without a cure or vaccine.
In response to these new cases, South Korea and China have aimed at rapidly testing specific populations. For example, Wuhan aims to test circa 11 million people in 10 days – a moonshot target even for China.
Nigeria must maintain preventive rather than corrective measures since its testing capacity is still limited.
Lessons for Nigeria:
- Nigeria must understand that quick or early wins are not signs of a final victory against the virus
- We must also ensure that we keep investing in increasing the capacity of local PPE production and research facilities as purchasing materials from other countries will remain challenging. A redacted statement from the global pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi, on prioritizing the U.S. once it starts manufacturing vaccines, signals a likely struggle of global powers in securing vaccines and protecting its citizens as PPE and test kit purchases have already shown
- Individuals who can afford social distancing, staying indoors, and wearing facemasks must follow shared guidelines, as successful countries in Asia only overcame the pandemic with joint efforts from residents
- The signs of a second wave in Asia also sheds light on the need for Nigeria to prepare for likely and necessary future lockdowns. We need to ensure that vulnerable communities are supported with food and cash to guarantee that lockdowns can be implemented to yield safer results
Ultimately, the fight against COVID-19 is a community and public effort, and while there is an increased awareness in the presence of this pandemic in Nigeria, there is still much work to do in converting this awareness to proactive, individual caution for preventive measures. There have been reports from the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on how public guidelines are yet to be followed strictly by individuals. We must consider how to collectively learn from the Asian experience and remain diligent as we manage the pandemic response.