The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF on COVID-19) on Thursday, 17 December 2020 officially announced the commencement of the period of second wave of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria. During the week before this announcement (i.e. week 7th-13th December 2020) which was the NCDC’s Epidemiological Week 50, the number of daily infections climbed so high and rapidly too. This was the week this column called ‘a week-like-no-other’. The week was the precursor to the week that the second wave announcement was officially made by the chairman of the PTF, Mr. Boss Mustapha. Since the second wave began, things have taken a turn for the worse, as can be seen from few identifiable features examined here.
First, the number of international travellers returning to Nigeria who tested positive for COVID-19 doubled over a two-week period from 100 in one week to 200 in the following week. In the opinion of this columnist, this was the beginning of what I refer to here as ‘Nigeria’s avoidable second wave conundrum’. Our problem started to increase when many returning international passengers refused to go for the compulsory (COVID-19) PCR test. The non-compliance level among this group rose as high as 65%. This group of returning passengers could be assumed to be super-spreaders of the virus including the deadlier one.
Secondly, the virus in the second wave has been reported to be easily transmissible, dangerous and deadlier, and this might have been brought into the country by the international passengers. The Chief Medical Director of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) has lamented that in this second wave, Nigeria is recording more severe cases and which is claiming more lives. For instance, according to the PTF, Nigeria recorded 57 deaths in one week (i.e. the week of Monday, 28 December 2020, to Sunday, 3 January 2021, which was the highest in over the past four months. The highest ever recorded figure in the past was 59 which was in August 2020.
Thirdly, a noticeable feature of the second wave which has been reported is that over 50% of those who tested positive for the virus are young people ranging from 21 years to 40 years. This is a clear departure from the first wave where the younger population was not easily and badly affected.
Fourthly, in the second wave, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has acknowledged as well as lamented that there are increasing number of cases of COVID-19 infection rate soaring across the country. According to Dr. Sani Aliyu, PTF national coordinator (during a national briefing of Tuesday, 5 January 2020), Nigeria’s weekly COVID-19 statistics tripled in the last three weeks. For example, the rising number shows that on Wednesday, 23 December, 2020, Nigeria recorded 1,133 cases of infection, and on Monday, 4 January, 2021 Nigeria recorded 1,204. Then on Wednesday, 6 January, 2021 Nigeria recorded as high as 1,664 cases, bringing the total recorded cases so far to 94,369.
One specific illustration of this rising number was the case of members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Batch B who left the camp about two weeks ago. According to the chairman of the PTF, out of a total number of 35,419 members tested in Batch B, 731 tested positive as compared with 108 in Batch A who tested positive for the virus.
The fifth identifiable feature of the second wave is the loss of a growing number of health workers. For instance, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) reported that it lost as many as 20 of its members in one week to COVID-19. This is very scaring. Again, the number of infections among the health workers has been increasing in this second wave.
The sixth noticeable feature of the second wave is the scarcity of ventilators for those with severe cases. There is lack of oxygen across the country to the extent that Nigeria lost one of her eminent sociologists and her first criminologist, Prof. Femi Odekunle, who until his death was a vibrant member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). The most regrettable thing is that he died in Abuja of all places where one expected that oxygen would be available. But this assumption was not the case for as the Premium Times (see 31 December 2020) reported, the family blamed lack of oxygen at the isolation centre for his death. Perhaps as a result of this painful death, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the immediate establishment of oxygen plants across the country.
Our contention in this article is that the second wave was avoidable. In actual fact, the official announcement of the second wave did not come as a surprise to many perceptive Nigerians. It was not surprising because the indications of a looming second wave challenge were clearly there for such perceptive Nigerians. For example, prior to the official announcement, alarms were raised, several warnings were issued, appeals were made and advisories were issued by the Presidential Task Force and by other concerned stakeholders (including this columnist), over the danger of the imminent second wave. Unfortunately, many Nigerians (in both high and low places) continued with their business-as-usual mentality. What then were the key drivers (i.e. immediate and remote causes) of the second wave?
The key drivers of the second wave include: (a) ignorance and scepticism among Nigerians leading to a high level of non-compliance with the COVID-19 safety guidelines and protocols, (b) non-compliant returning international passengers, who probably brought in the more dangerous variant of the virus to the country, (c) large political gatherings, (d) large religious congregations, (e) social activities such as weddings, burial ceremonies, birthday parties, etc, and (f) conferences, seminars and workshops involving many participants.
A detailed discussion on the issue of ignorance and scepticism will be carried out with a single case illustration of why the risk communication strategies of the NCDC and other government agencies in the war against the virus are not achieving the desired results. This will be a major subject in the second part of this article.