By Peter Mazzi
Despite the different physical policies adopted by leaders all over the world to curb the transmission of the coronavirus, the curve has been on the bend. Some of the measures recommended by the World Health Organisation to flatten the curve, include the maintenance of respiratory and personal hygiene and keeping safe physical distances, one from another. But one notable measure that was adopted by many affected countries to enforce the physical distancing, was the implementation of a lockdown which involves the partial or total restriction of movement of persons from one place to another. This seemed to be perhaps one of the most effective and cost- effective means of constraining the contagion from infected persons to the uninfected or from a region of high infection to a less affected area. The logic is simply that the virus cannot move on its own but depend on a host in form of an infected person to transmit to others as they engage in physical communication. As effective as this measure may be, it has also proven to be highly unsustainable.
The past two months have shown that, locking down a city and locking people in, means that the government has to responsible for the sustenance of the poor and vulnerable citizens, during the period of the lockdown. Failure of the government to do so, will drive the citizens out in their desperation to eke out a living. In Nigeria where these lockdown orders are followed by the brutal enforcement by state sponsored security personnel, the citizens are usually inadvertently forced to carry out business transaction in clandestine locations and in odd hours, to avoid the watchful eyes of the government. These activities are not government sanctioned and as such, are done in a hurry without any consciousness or regard whatsoever for personal or collective safety. The result of this kind of situation is much worse than an open market where dedicated taskforce could be stationed to monitor the adherence to physical distancing.
Records have shown in Lagos and Rivers States of Nigeria, as well as countries like South Korea and Ghana, that there are spikes in transmission of the infection anytime a lockdown is relaxed. The rate of infection is accelerated beyond the expectation of the local centres for disease control and oftentimes, the response has been the reversion to more lockdowns. This gives credence to the unsustainability of that strategy.
Therefore, governments and leaders, especially in Nigeria need to think realistically and adopt pragmatic home-grown solutions that could include the following;
- Acknowledge that the virus may be here to stay
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that the virus may be here with us for a very long time, just like HIV and other viruses. Though some experts have opined that there are not enough empirical evidences to lead to that conclusion and it’s a little hasty a statement to make, it could afford us the basis to proffer alternative long-term plans, to flatten the curve.
- Make the citizens take responsibility for their safety
The safety rules imposed by the government such as wearing protective nose masks in public places, physical distancing and the practice of personal and respiratory hygiene, are means of keeping the people safe from contracting the virus. But where there exists an absence of enforcement of these orders, compliance will be low. Until the people are able to understand that these measures are meant to protect them and they are able to own the process, this modus will fail to achieve the desired result. This is only possible through wide-spread, intensive sensitisation by the government, preceded by a consistent and disciplined preemptive safety practice of their own.
- Create controlled open markets for business operations.
Instead of closing all open markets like some state governments have done, it would be better to designate regulated markets where prices and operations can be monitored to ensure the government’s policies aimed at controlling the spread of the virus, are kept. Doing otherwise will only drive businesses under and lead to a loss of livelihoods.
- Show political will and earn citizens’ trust
Often times the people have judged actions of the government to be politically motivated and borne out of reasons other than, the interest of the people. This lack of trust is a bane in the success of most government policies. As potent and important as the measures adopted against the spread of coronavirus may be, only the collective will and support of the people can make it work. The government must show it has the political will and prove by its actions, that its motive is primarily for the interest of the citizens. This is essential for the fight against the virus to gain the needed traction to gradually bring this sad episode in human existence, to an end.