FG in Dilemma over Surge in COVID-19 Cases

COVID-19 Photo

The Federal Government of Nigeria is facing an unenviable dilemma over the resurgence of COVID-19 infections in Nigeria. As at Monday January 4, a total of 1,204 new cases, the highest daily incidence since the first case on February 27, 2020, were reported across the country with Lagos State confirming the highest figure of 654.

Presently, 14, 257 active cases are being managed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. This figure is nearly three times above the in-patients capacity of the government hospitals and reference facilities being used for the treatment of the pandemic. As a result, some categories of patients are reportedly being treated at their homes for lack of bed spaces.

Even a greater crisis is being faced by NCDC in coping with the contact and tracing of contacts of the active cases, estimated to be above 100, 000. Nigeria’s testing capacity is still very low and restricted to only targeted high risk exposures and contacts of active cases and international travelers. From February 27, 2020 till date, less than a million – 980, 046 samples have been tested in a population of over 200 million. Out of this, 91, 284 samples were confirmed positive. Till date, 1, 318 persons have died; while 75, 699 have been treated successfully and discharged.

Lagos, Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and Kaduna State account for over 70 percent of the cases with Lagos recording 250 deaths and FCT 104. Kogi State has the least confirmed number of cases with only five, and a fatality rate of nearly 50 percent with two deaths and three survivors.

Lagos and FCT have the highest burden of the active cases at 4, 712 and 4,856 respectively. Only two states, Kogi and Cross River, have no active case of the infection as at Monday, January 4.

There are NCDC approved 70 public, seven corporate, and 32 commercial laboratories across the country with varying testing capacities.

The dilemma that the federal government is facing is whether to lock down or not in the face of spiraling new cases. United Kingdom and some European countries are implementing moderated lockdowns amidst the resurgence. The conflict the government is battling with is finding a balance between life and livelihood. The Nigerian economy plummeted into recession with the first lockdown. Government is hoping that the economy may recover in the second quarter of 2020. This projection will be undermined with another lockdown.

But there are genuine reasons for caution by government. If the infection gets into schools, the burden of the disease may overwhelm the public health system and cause avoidable fatalities. How would any public university achieve social distancing in the hostels and dormitories? Most public tertiary institutions have not resumed despite the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, calling off its strike because the government has not been able to meet COVID-19 guidelines on the re-opening of schools.

Schools and colleges across Britain closed Tuesday ahead of anticipated national lockdown, despite the rollout of vaccines. Scotland began its lockdown Tuesday, while all of England would close down from Wednesday, and may last till mid-February.

“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more, together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out,” Boris Johnson, prime minister of Britain, said in a televised address on Monday.

Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, assured Nigerians on Monday in Lagos that the federal government had no plans to impose a second lockdown in the country.

“On the issue of lockdown, I don’t think there is any time when the Federal Government has said it is going to have a second lockdown. However, the Federal Government is very unhappy that Nigerians are not adhering to the basic COVID-19 protocols of wearing face masks, or practicing social distancing, of washing hands, of ensuring that they do not gather in large numbers. If we do not do these, the surge will continue; and with the new strain of COVID-19 which is becoming much more difficult to handle than the old strain, the federal government will continue to insist and encourage Nigerians to please obey the COVID-19 protocols.

“The Federal Government is aware of the economic and social implications of a second lockdown but we want to call on Nigerians to help us, help themselves, and help the economy by adhering strictly to the COVID-19 protocols.”

It is not certain how long this compromise will last as the infection needle surges forward every day.

In its last briefing on December 21, the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19 further raised the red flag on the rising number of infections in the country and the possibility of a second wave arriving at our shores.

Boss Mustapha, secretary to the Government of the Federation, and chairman of PTF, revealed that recent epidemiology records confirm that “Nigeria is now facing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide which is similar to the second wave of infections occurring in other countries across the world. Particularly, Lagos, Kaduna and the FCT have emerged as the new epicentres during this period, with over 70 percent of all confirmed cases.”

The PTF identified two major indicators of the current increase in cases and transmission across Nigeria: the number of cases being reported is disproportionately higher than the testing conducted. For example, in the FCT, despite recording an increase of 85 percent in tests conducted over the last week, the number of confirmed cases increased by 285 percent during the same time period; and the trends point to a higher Test Positivity Rate (TPR- the number of positive cases detected as a proportion of all tests).

The TPR was below five percent through September and October and recorded a low point of three percent nationally in late October 2020. However, recent trends in cases saw this number increase to 10 percent in the second week of December.

Most of the guidelines advised by the PTF for the Yuletide were largely ignored by Nigerians. It is feared that the surge will continue after the indiscretions of Christmas.

The PTF attributed the high numbers to the following factors: the lack of compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions – particularly the disregard for mask use in public; large gatherings as a result of events linked to the yuletide season and recent civil demonstrations; further disregard for other public health preventive measures such as hand hygiene and physical distance requirements; the activities and assumptions of our youthful population which has resulted in an increase in the infection rate among young people, who are subsequently infecting older and more vulnerable family members.

As the United Kingdom shuts down her schools this week, it is likely that Nigeria, which has postponed schools resumption to January 18, may further extend schools resumption to February to protect under-age children from contracting the virus while still keeping the economy open.

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