We may recall that following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China in December 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the virus as a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ on 30 January 2020, and as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. In the case of Nigeria, the first case of the virus was confirmed on 27 February 2020 and Nigeria therefore is about marking two years of the outbreak of the virus.
But globally, the entire humanity has been going through the ravaging experience of COVID-19 for the past two years now with differential impact across nations. In the last two years therefore, the number of cases recorded globally has substantially been on the rise and so has also been the number of deaths recorded. In specific and concrete terms, the number of confirmed cases globally as at 24 February was 429,880,391, while the total number of deaths recorded globally stood at 5,918,605 (See Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, last updated 24/02/2022 at 10:20 via https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html). And so with close to 430 million cases and close to six million deaths, aside its associated economic devastation, the entire world has suffered so much as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa generally has had a moderate share of the global cases, as it appears that there was divine intervention in checking the spread of the virus contrary to expectations. Nevertheless, according to the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) the total number of cases as at 22 February 2022 was 11,129,305 (about 11 million), while the total number of deaths was 247,310 (See https://africacdc.org/covid-19/).
It is against this global and African regional background that a consistent ray of hope has been appearing about the diminishing nature of COVID-19 pandemic. First, it was in September 2021 that WHO reported a declining number of cases globally. As at 22 September 2021, the Associated Press echoing WHO coronavirus update said:
The number of new Covid-19 cases continued to fall last week, with 3.6 million new cases reported globally, down from 4 million new infections the previous week, the World Health Organisation said.
Last week’s drop marked the first substantial decline for more than two months, with falling COVID-19 cases in every world region. In its latest update on the pandemic released on Tuesday, WHO said there were major decreases in cases in two regions: a 22 per cent fall in the Middle East and a 16 per cent drop in Southeast Asia. The UN health agency said there were just under 60,000 deaths in the past week, a 7 per cent decline. It said that while Southeast Asia reported a 30 per cent decrease in COVID-19 deaths, the Western Pacific region reported a 7 per cent increase.
Secondly, on 10 February 2022, the Regional Director of WHO for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, brought another ray of hope when she was widely reported as saying that Africa is transitioning from a pandemic to endemic phase. According to her, “the pandemic is moving into a different phase. We have had several waves, we have had a very intense transmission with very severe consequences as each phase peaked, and then we have had a reduction in cases. So we think that we are moving now into, especially with the vaccination expected to increase, what might become a kind of endemic- living with the virus” (See GhanaWeb, 11 February 2022 via https://www.ghanaweb.com).
And then thirdly and more reassuring and gladdening, on 23 February 2022, a report titled ‘New COVID-19 infections fall worldwide for third week’, The Hill reported as follows:
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday announced that global COVID-19 cases dropped by 21 percent last week. Globally, WHO’s data showed that more than 12 million new cases and 67,000 new deaths were reported in the past seven days. In terms of COVID-19–related deaths, the data showed that number dropped by 8 percent, marking the first week since early January that the death rate has decreased (See https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/595444-new-covid-19-infections-fall-worldwide-for-third-week?utm_source=thehill&utm_medium=widgets&utm_campaign=es_recommended_content).
Given the cheering news in the preceding paragraphs, the major task before the entire world is on how to sustain the declining trend of COVID-19 moving from a pandemic to the endemic phase a reality. Coming back home, what should be Nigeria’s policy response to achieve this objective? And what is the role of the citizens to make such policy response effective?
First, the compulsory vaccination policy (i.e. no-vaccination-no-access to government offices) should be continued with vigour. Government officials should resist the natural tendency to relax the vigour of its enforcement. Security officials manning the entrances of government offices should be regularly monitored to prevent them from making quick money (through taking bribes) from defaulters of the policy. Secondly, the risk communication programme of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and other government agencies should not be relaxed but rather intensified. This means that funds should still be made available for its execution. The temptation to re-allocate funds away from this very important function should be resisted.
Thirdly, like the risk communication programme, Nigerians should still be encouraged to always abide by the demands of the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs). All extant and helpful policies towards the declining trend should be continued. It is encouraging that some television channels have continued making the public enlightenment campaigns on the importance of the NPIs a priority.
On the part of the citizens, those so eager to return to business-as-usual way of life should take it easy and know that the return to the pre-COVID-19 normal social life is still a long way to go. The virus is still with us and has not gone away. If it finally moves (hopefully) into the endemic phase, it is still there, and would still need to be properly managed with the appropriate behavioural actions to reduce its transmissibility and severity. People in Nigeria and Africa in general should be very thankful to Almighty God for making them to pass through a mild COVID-19 ravaging experience.
•Prof. Obasi is a lecturer in the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja Email: [email protected].