Will Lagosians Obey The Lockdown Order?

How citizens will respond to the ordered restrictions on movement will determine whether or not the virus can be contained.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State

Italians are known to always find a way around inconvenient laws and rules they just don’t like.

They even have a name for this social character trait of theirs, furbizia, which loosely translates as cleverness.

So well entrenched is it that Italian Prime Minister, Guiseppe Conte, had to literally beg citizens not to try and be clever and circumvent strict new rules ordered by the government in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the northern part of the country.

The new rules went beyond social distancing and included fines for anyone leaving their homes for reasons other than essential needs.

Jail time of up to three months was prescribed for anyone who had tested positive for the virus and refused to self-isolate.

True to form, many Italians almost immediately started traveling out of the lock-down area to avoid living under draconian measures.

Nigeria, along with every single country on the African continent got a head start to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in the respective countries

Others simply ignored the stay at home order.

But the general disobedience didn’t last very long.

As the number of the infected rose along with the death toll, streets emptied.

Busy tourist attractions which are normally some of the world’s most visited are deserted.

After centuries of being known as rule breakers, Italians, out of a need to survive have put their lives on pause.

Nigeria, along with every single country on the African continent got a head start to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in the respective countries.

It could be a saving grace or it could end up meaning nothing.

That is because almost all the countries did nothing to prepare for what many health experts had predicted was inevitable.

On January 30, the World Health Organisations declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

A day later, the US President, Donald Trump announced travel restrictions on anyone coming from China with the media and world leaders feeling he was overreacting.

Yet, it didn’t take much longer for the rest of the world to realise defeating this outbreak would take those kinds of extreme measures.

Trump himself might have been too slow in acting.

By the time Nigeria confirmed the first case in sub-saharan Africa on February 27, deaths were already being recorded in Europe

By the time Nigeria confirmed the first case in sub-saharan Africa on February 27, deaths were already being recorded in Europe.

The very next day, the US also announced its first coronavirus related death and on March 11, Trump would impose restrictions on travellers from Europe.

Six days the US suspended travel from some European countries, the EU would also restrict travel from outside the continent. It had become the sensible thing to do.

In Africa, Angola was the first to follow in the footsteps of the United States.

It did so on March 12.

And only recently did it announce its first case of the virus.

But within a week of the US restrictions, Nigeria and half of the world had also imposed restrictions on international travel.

And by this time, the most affected countries were already announcing nationwide lockdowns.

Still, throughout the month of March, recorded cases in Africa were two or three a day, mostly from travelers coming in from European airports.

And the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, still thinks most countries on the continent can stop the spread the virus to the general population but adds that the opportunity to do so is narrowing everyday.

That is the best case scenario.

Now, what are the chances Nigeria can do just that?

Germany is in the top five of countries most affected by the pandemic.

It is preparing its citizens for what to expect in the weeks and months ahead and has basically admitted to itself that the virus can no longer be contained.

Instead, Chancellor Angela Merkel sees her government’s efforts as an attempt to slow the pandemic and a race against time.

That way, hospitals and resources won’t be overwhelmed.

The government is estimating that 58 million Germans, that is 70 per cent of the population could get infected.

As frightening a prospect as it is, it could be worse in Nigeria, which is known to have inadequate health facilities

Public health experts, in a worst case scenario, project some 40,000 people dying from the pandemic.

As things stand today, some countries in Europe have started to record close to 1000 deaths in a single day.

Even in the US, in recent days, 1,000 deaths were recorded in just two days.

Officials in charge of the US response are projecting anything between 100,000 and 200, 000 deaths with millions of infections.

And they are letting the public know.

That outcome and possibility is exactly what Nigerian authorities are running from.

As frightening a prospect as it is, it could be worse in Nigeria, which is known to have inadequate health facilities.

1000 confirmed cases in Nigeria or even just half of that in Lagos would mean the country has lost that small window of opportunity Dr. Moeti is hoping for to contain the spread.

It would also mean Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu government’s projections of only 39,000 infections in Lagos would be overly optimistic, considering the population of the state and the fact that COVID-19 is highly contagious.

That was why it was declared a pandemic by the WHO.

What has been missing in the response of federal and state governments to the outbreak has been the public education campaign, especially when it has to do with possible outcomes of contracting the virus.

No one is talking about the lives that are lost daily around the world.

It is why many people find even the mild measures taken by some state governments to extreme.

Most of Nigeria’s confirmed cases are in Lagos.

Schools have been closed, and civil servants are not going to work.

Now the state has finally been placed on lockdown.

How citizens will respond to the ordered restrictions on movement will determine whether or not the virus can be contained.

Typical of Nigeria, that decision may be taken at the very last minute.

It is now an open question of whether the window of opportunity to contain the spread of the virus has been lost.

Across many states, the idea of social distancing or avoiding religious gatherings are not being taken seriously.

There have been reports of clerics being arrested in some states for ignoring the ban on religious congregations.

Some religious leaders are publicly declaring their intentions to continue holding public service.

The only reason religious leaders would be so uncooperative is because they think their actions will not lead to deaths.

What has been missing in the response of federal and state governments to the outbreak has been the public education campaign, especially when it has to do with possible outcomes of contracting the virus

And it is the actions of these people that endanger the whole country.

Some don’t even believe that the outbreak is real.
That is why governments need to be more aggressive in talking about, and preparing the public for the deaths that will accompany the coronavirus outbreak if the spread cannot be contained.

Of all likely institutions, it is the Nigerian Army that is preparing for the possibility of an ugly outcome and people dying in large numbers.

It is planning a cleanup operation where it may be called in to take responsibility for the sick and even the dead.

The army’s plan basically has it approaching the outbreak and the possibility of enforcing a lockdown like the country is a war zone.

It makes the army the wrong messenger to warning people about taking life and death decisions when it comes to public health.

And if gets the state where the army has to be called in, it would mean that civil authorities have failed in taking critical decisions at the right time and making the entire populace aware of how dire the situation really is.

Written by Shuaib Shuaib

Shuaibu, a former Editor of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers, is based in Abuja.

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