As at today, 36 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Nigeria. So, the country is safe, it can be contained. So it appears.
That’s when you have not taken into consideration the fact that of the last few cases reported, one was meant to be a traveler who arrived on a British Airways (BA) flight during the week. Sadly, none of the 186 or so passengers plus crew members was tested for the virus on arrival, nor isolated, nor quarantined. That means that a number of probably infected passengers are on the loose, unidentified and making contact with several hundreds who are in turn having contacts with several other thousands.
The above scenario applies just to the case of the BA flight. Presumably, this could be the case with several other flights that arrived from Europe, China, the USA and other hugely exposed countries in the last two weeks. In a country of 200 million people, ill prepared for a major pandemic, with poor access to quality healthcare and little resources both financial and human to grapple with the problem, that is scary!
Yet it seems that the country is doing well in containing the spread of the virus: temperatures are taken of passengers that arrive at the airport; hand sanitizers are available for personal hygiene and these measures are extended to many public places across the country.
But Covid-19 is not like Ebola: carriers are usually asymptomatic for weeks before falling sick; a greater percentage don’t even fall sick. The danger is that within weeks, the asymptomatic persons have the potential of spreading the virus widely.
As I write, chances are that several thousands are now carrying the virus without knowing it. So for Nigeria, COVID-19 potentially is a pandemic on the fast lane.
So what could the country have done better to stop COVID-19 from a wild spread? For long, authorities left the borders open without taking preemptive control measures. Many airlines kept flying to badly exposed countries like China, South Korea and Europe without measures taken to ensure that the passengers and crew observe self-isolation or are quarantined for a given period of time under close monitoring.
Many have argued that Nigeria should have banned flights in and out of the pandemic countries at the early start of the virus outbreak. Although this measure has just been taken of late, it does seem to be too late in coming.
The awaiting calamity can still be mitigated if the country puts in place some more measures to contain a possible outbreak. Apart from closing the boarders for a given period, other measures to put in place include:
•Acquiring test-kits in their numbers and opening up more test centres (currently, there are only three in the whole country) by partnering with many hospitals to be able to test suspected cases on a massive scale;
•Effective collaboration between Federal, State and Local authorities to take active control in leading efforts at preventing further spread, including:
•Closing down schools,
•Clearly defining essential services and activities and enforcing restrictions; in particular, ensuring social distancing and minimizing gatherings with large numbers and banning meetings with more than 20 attendees.
•Active collaboration with the global community especially development agencies in the effort at developing a vaccine.
•Driving collaboration between the NCDC and the domestic pharmaceutical industry to ramp up the roll of test-kits and capabilities. This should be given important consideration as part of developing local capacities to deal with the pandemic.
•Prior to eventual lockdown, which seems inevitable, public buildings, businesses, shopping malls, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc, should be strongly advised and enforcements put in place as part of the containment measures, to ensure that they not only provide hand sanitizers at entrances and other strategic locations, but also undertake to regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, such as counters, elevator panels, hand rails, ATMs, POS terminals, etc that customers frequently touch or handle.
•Federal, State and Local Governments should take effective action to ensure that hospitals and isolation centres are expanded and fully resourced and medical personnel are duly prepped and remunerated for the eventualities.
Perhaps, the most important action that should be taken will be for the country to better coordinate the information dissemination, including in local languages, for more effective public awareness on COVID-19 and ways of preventing the spread.
•Mary Ikoku is a Lagos-based public relations practitioner and public affairs commentator