Amidst serious concerns about the emergence of a second wave of coronavirus (COVID-19) in some parts of the world, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF on COVID-19), Mr. Boss Mustapha recently called on Nigerians to be vigilant as a ‘second wave’ of the virus may likely emerge in the country. Mr. Mustapha, who made this call at the national briefing on COVID-19 on Monday, 12 October 2020, also observed that with the anticipated increase in economic and other activities, Nigerians need to observe strictly the safety guidelines and protocols meant to check any resurgence of the virus. He added that “no nation is guaranteed immunity against resurgence of the virus”.
His timely call came against the backdrop that (a) schools are reopening across the country, (b) public servants below Grade Level 12 who had been at home since the lockdown, are to be asked to resume work, (c) international flights have resumed and with more people coming into the country, and (d) the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Orientation Camps (also closed since the lockdown) are to be reopened soon.
It will be recalled that the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, had in September alerted Nigerians that a second wave of COVID-19 was imminent if they failed to adhere to the guidelines and protocols meant to stop the spread of the virus. He noted that as schools reopen there would be likelihood of increase in transmission of the virus. And to ensure that the second wave of the infection is averted, Dr. Ihekweazu made his usual advocacy statement that “Nigerians need to take personal responsibility”. He also added that “the second wave is not inevitable, but we can avoid it. It can only be achieved in a sustainable way. We have to come together as a society. Nobody in this country wants another lockdown and we are hoping that we have learnt enough from the consequences of the first one to prevent the second one”. (See: Punch report by Lara Adejoro, September 28, 2020).
The calls by the Chairman of PTF on COVID-19, Mr. Mustapha, and the DG of NCDC, Dr. Ihekweazu, are very noteworthy and timely for certain reasons. First, the emergence of the second wave of COVID-19 and its associated rising cases of infections and deaths in some countries in Europe is frightening, regrettable and very burdensome on the governments that fought tirelessly to defeat the virus few months ago. It is sad to witness loss of many lives that could have been prevented if citizens obeyed the safety measures put in place by their governments. The case of Germany is painful when one recalls that Chancellor Angela Merkel resoundingly defeated the virus in its first wave. But when the lockdown restrictions were lifted, some people bluntly refused to comply with safety measures to stop the spread of the virus. Today, Germany’s earlier hard-won battle has been lost. No country would want to go through such a frustrating costly experience, and an over-stretched Nigeria’s weak health system, is the least prepared for such a harrowing experience.
Secondly, the willpower and the resources (human, financial and material) to fight the war against a second wave of the virus will surely be in short supply in a poor country like Nigeria with weak governance and health systems. Although the national response to the virus has been commendable, the same cannot be said of many governments at the sub-national level where testing for the virus has been disappointingly low. So far, according to the PTF on COVID-19, it is only FCT Administration, Abuja, and the Lagos State Government that have tested up to the expected 1% of their population despite the fact there is at least one COVID-19 testing laboratory in every state. Again, only three states have tested about 50% of the expected 1% of their population. Yet, the Federal Government and the private sector through the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CA-COVID) have given enormous financial and material support to the 36 states and the FCT.
Thirdly, a second wave in a country like Nigeria where a section of the public are either largely ignorant of or skeptical about the existence of the virus and do not care much in observing the safety guidelines, will over-stretch the health personnel and members of the PTF on COVID-19 who have been working tirelessly since the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria.
Fourthly, a real second wave that may attract another lockdown of economic and religious activities in a country as big as Nigeria will be costly to bear, as it will over-stretch the tolerance level of the citizens whose means of livelihood will again be seriously threatened. Also, the badly affected education sector will suffer greatly. The possibility of many people rising against such a likely lockdown as experienced in some parts of Europe and the United States should not be ruled out.
There are enough instructive lessons to learn from the experience of some countries in Europe, as well as from the United States where citizens who were opposed to the economic and social restrictions imposed by the lockdown measures, came out openly and vehemently to protest and call on the government to lift the restrictions. Some people even argued that the restriction measures were infringing on their liberty – a fundamental right in a democracy. Unfortunately, such people forgot that the lockdown measures were meant to protect acts or behaviours that could endanger life in public places. The right to life is also a fundamental or inalienable right of the people which the government has a responsibility to protect.
As a balancing act therefore, everyone is required to show a sense of responsibility. In a country like Nigeria where the compliance level of COVID-19 safety guidelines are very low, the need to take precautionary measures that would minimise the possibility of a ‘second wave’ and a second lockdown, is the non-negotiable pathway to follow.
This boils down also to taking personal responsibility to protect oneself by observing strictly all the non-pharmaceutical interventions or protocols, which is the right and non-expensive way of stopping the spread of the virus and protecting the public. The PTF and NCDC have been using diverse media channels (traditional and social media platforms) to draw the attention of all Nigerians to the very important need to take personal responsibility.
By the way, the concept of a second wave is a controversial one in medical circles. Medically, a second wave is a phenomenon of infections that can develop during a pandemic. The disease infects one group of people first. Infections appear to decrease. And then, infections increase in a different part of the population, resulting in a second wave of infections. (See William C Shiel Jr. https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=26442).
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US top infectious disease expert, “in order for the first wave to be over, the number of positive Covid-19 infections would have to reach low single digits (emphasis added, See The Washington Post, June 18, 2020). This is why Prof Greg Poland rightly said that “the United States is still in the ‘first wave’ of Covid-19 infections”. (For comments by both Dr. Fauci and Prof. Poland, See https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/28/what-second-wave-of-covid-19-means-and-how-to-prevent-it.html). It is obvious that from these conceptions, therefore, the first wave is still far from being over in Nigeria. We are still recording three digits in our daily cases of infection.
From a pandemic point of view, the World Health Organisation (WHO) thinks we are still in the first wave. In an article in The Guardian (UK) by Peter Beaumont & Emma Graham-Harrison and titled: ‘One big wave’ – why the Covid-19 second wave may not exist, the authors quoted the WHO as saying that “the Covid-19 pandemic is currently unfolding in ‘one big wave’ with no evidence that it follows seasonal variations common to influenza and other coronaviruses, such as the common cold”. Concluding, the authors said that “the WHO is looking at world figures and these are still increasing, so as a pandemic we are in the first wave”.
Well, the experts have spoken to illuminate the concept of a second wave. For Nigeria therefore, the way to go is that after flattening the COVID-19 curve to at least one digit, or even eliminating it entirely for some months like New Zealand commendably did months ago (before its present second wave), then we can be talking about a second wave. Nigeria still has a long battle to wage in flattening the curve and continue to prevent a resurgence of the virus. So far so good, but all we need to do is to continue keeping our eyes on the ball and that will reduce the fear of a second wave.
•Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: email@example.com