Nigerians want government to relax lockdown, this is what may happen if we do that too soon

Three weeks into the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun State by President Muhammadu Buhari to curb the spread of coronavirus, some Nigerians are already calling for the relaxation of the order over claims that it is already placing untiold hardship on citizens.

Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun and his Lagos counterpart, Babajide Sanwo-Olu are already considering the option. Abiodun said last Friday that Ogun residents would be allowed to move about from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m on April 20, 22 and 24, while Sanwo-Olu at the second virtual meeting with business owners in the state on Wednesday, April 15 hinted that his administration may review the lockdown.

The groaning is expected, the informal sector is a major contributor to the Nigerian economy, accounting for a significant portion of employment and national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Nigerian informal sector accounted for about 65 percent of Nigeria's 2017 GDP.

The informal economy involves business activities undertaken by individuals and organizations not subject to full government regulations. Such activities include photography, catering, hairdressing, commercial transport services (Okada, bus, tricycle), tailoring, carpentry, trading, cleaning car windshields at traffic lights, hawking in traffic etc. These people have been confined to their homes and can hardly engage in the activites that earn them their daily living. Government palliatives which have also been rolled out to cushion the effect of the lockdown has had little impact as there have been complaints from different quarters that the packages are not reaching the appropriate places.

No doubt, the pandemic has changed daily living, while skeletal business activities are still ongoing in the formal sector, same cannot be said about the informal sector. Social activities have also been on hiatus – visitations, public gatherings are almost becoming a crime as social distancing has become the new way of life.

The essence of the lockdown is to flatten the curve of the pandemic in the country. It will help government and those at the front line of the fight against COVID-19 to contain the spread of the virus, effectively scale-up the tracing of persons who had come into contact with infected persons, test them for the virus, quarantine those who tested positive and isolate them for treatment.

With testing already identified as one of the crucial weapons in combatting the deadly virus, Nigeria may not be close to relaxing the lockdown just yet.

Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom, at a virtual press conference in March 2020, emphasized the critical need to escalate testing, isolation and contact tracing efforts, which he termed the "backbone" of the response.

"We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test," Adhanom said.

In Ghana where the government has relaxed the three-week lockdown, during the lockdown, the government tested 68,591 people, 1,042 persons, i.e. 1.5% of those tested have been confirmed as positive, while 67,549, i.e. 98.5%, tested negative

Neusroom gathered that South Africa, with 58 million people, has conducted nearly 114,000 tests while Nigeria with 200 million people has only tested 7,100 with 665 infected with the virus.

The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said in a live Facebook chat monitored by Neusroom last Thursday that the country presently has 12 official coronavirus labs, which together have a capacity to test 1,500 people per day.

What happens if we relax lockdown?

Chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Thomas A. Russo told Huffpost, the virus is "moderately infectious," and for every person who catches the virus, they'll likely pass it to several more people.

With more cases now reported among asymptomatic carriers, there is possibility that there are many people out there who have been infected and likely passing it to more people. Until there is a large scale community testing, the conversation about returning to normal life may be likened to claiming premature victory.

In Wuhan, China, "the cases went down to zero, or very low, and then they waited a couple extra weeks to account for the incubation time," Russo said. "After that period, they relaxed social distancing ― but decided to do lots and lots of testing, monitor the population very carefully."

Experts are suggesting this similar approach for other nations after the outbreak dies down.

Way forward:

Accordig to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, countries who have conducted widespread testing have typically been able to contain the virus more easily.

Lagos, the epicenter of the outbreak in Nigeria didn't report any new case on Monday April 20, and this development is already exciting residents who believe life should now go back to normal. That may not happen soon.

To complement social distancing, testing capacity needs to be ramped up just as Lagos has established community testing centers in all local government areas and Oyo has also launched a drive-through testing centre.

The conversation about relaxing lockdown may not be appropriate this time until we "test, test and test" as advised by WHO Director General.

We are not there yet, Nigerians may need to endure a little bit more to avoid a more critical situation

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