Why we need to act MORE RESPONSIBLY from May 4

 

After five weeks of complete lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states, President Muhammadu Buhari has given us the green light to return to the street, do business and move around from Monday May 4.

Easing the lockdown is a relief to many and I doubt if there is anyone who is not eager to return to normal life after five weeks of forcefully adjusting to a new lifestyle. It was hard, but it was the price we needed to pay to ensure the rate of COVID-19 in the country stays down.

Worse hit by the five-week lockdown are those in the informal sector who earn their living from daily business activities. In several videos circulating on social media, we have seen people complaining of hunger and threatening to return to the street if the lockdown is not lifted. "It is better to die of coronavirus than to die of hunger," a Lagos resident told CNN last week.

Nobody expected the lockdown to come without pain, Buhari recognised this in his address on Monday, "such lock downs have also come at a very heavy economic cost. Many of our citizens have lost their means of livelihood. Many businesses have also shut down. No country can afford the full impact of a sustained lockdown while awaiting the development of vaccines".

Beyond the economy, the social and psychological effects are also taking toll on the people. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), a study found 28% of parents were experiencing "trauma-related mental health disorder". These perhaps formed part of the fears of nations like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Sweden where total lockdown was not imposed. Its devastating effect on the economy as well as the livelihood and mental health of the citizens were considered. Make no mistake, with no vaccine developed yet, the lockdown remains the best measure to fight the virus as advised by health experts.

Many Nigerians are worried over plan to ease the lockdown, they fear it could cause rapid community transmission. Updates from Ghana in the past two weeks justify their fears, 403 new cases were reported in 10 days after the country eased a three-week lockdown in Accra and Kumasi. Meanwhile authorities in Czech and Denmark said the relaxation of lockdown had not so far led to a surge in infections.

I do not support easing the lockdown in Nigeria, I have argued that the lockdown should remain while we ramp up our testing capacity, trace contacts, and government adopts a good strategy to equitably distribute palliatives and cash transfers to those affected to ease their pains and make them see reasons to sit at home. You cannot keep people at home while hunger is lurking and threatening their existence, they will revolt.

In Lagos the epicenter of the virus in Nigeria, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who has shown a high level of responsibility in handling the crisis, has said businesses would only be allowed to open from 9am to 3pm (six hours). I strongly believe it would be wise for those who can work from home to continue doing so as this will reduce the population on the streets to only those who need to be physically present at their work place. Why waste man hours in traffic to go and spend six hours in the office when you can work for 10 hours from the comfort of your home without endangering your life and your loved ones?

For the millions of people who will be moving round from Monday, firstly we need to be mindful that the pandemic is not over and there is no cure yet, so we will not become too excited and throw caution into the thin air. This is the time for us to take more responsible civic-actions, strict compliance with physical distancing and hygiene measures, more than we have done in the past five weeks to keep the disease under control. If we fail to do so, we would be at risk of bouncing into intense transmission that may take us back to ground zero and may even complicate the crisis. "This virus is unforgiving. We must remain vigilant," Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe said last Friday.

Asked why his country did not impose lockdown, Sweden Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven said "We all, as individuals, have to take responsibility. We can't legislate and ban everything. It is also a question of commonsense behaviour." The common sense behaviour is what we need to apply before we return to the streets on Monday.

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