Appalled by the wholesale disregard for its guidelines on the relaxation of the five-week lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States, the federal government raised the alarm about a potential spike in the spread of COVID-19 yesterday, warning that if that happens it would have no choice than to shut down the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had caved in to pressure last Monday, relaxing the lockdown effective from yesterday but had mandated the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to issue guidelines on the general conduct of citizens during phased reopening of the economy and social life.
The basic rules of mask-wearing and physical distancing were routinely disobeyed yesterday by many Nigerians who hit the roads of Abuja and Lagos in frenzied efforts to catch up with lost income-earning activities that had been locked down for weeks.
The crowds massed at the bus stops and bank branches, raising concerns about the acceleration of community transmission of the virus.
Incidentally, the tally of confirmed cases of the virus rose by 245 yesterday, the highest daily rise since the February 27 index case, bringing the tally to 2,802 with 93 deaths and 417 persons discharged across 34 states.
The new cases were reported from 16 states, including Lagos 76, Katsina 37, Kano 23, FCT 19, Jigawa 32, Borno 18, Edo 10, Bauchi nine, Adamawa six, Oyo five, Ogun five, Ekiti one, Osun one, Benue one, Niger one and Zamfara, one.
Addressing the press yesterday in Abuja during its daily briefing on efforts to control the pandemic, officials of the task force, particularly, its Chairman, Mr. Boss Mustapha, and the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, expressed concerns about the general negligence of Nigerians, fearing that it could lead to the escalation of the deadly infection.
“Yes, we might have a few infections from today and tomorrow but what we do worry about is an explosion,” he said, warning: “If we do have an explosion, there will almost be no choice left for the leadership of the country than to ask all of us to go back into our homes.”
He urged Nigerians to conduct themselves based on the issued guidelines in order to check the spread of the virus.
Ihekweazu said the banks engaged in conducts that fuelled the violation of the safety guidelines, pointing out that there was over-crowding in the few branches of banks that were opened for operations yesterday.
He said: “One of the biggest groups that were allowed to restart business today (yesterday) were the banks. But many banks have now limited the number of branches that were open. Yes, there are advantages; but when you limit the number of branches that are opened, everybody goes to the one branch that is opened and that becomes counter-productive.
“So, there is always so much we can do. We can produce all the guidelines in the world and put them on television, do press conferences, if organisations are not going to come up and support the implementation of these measures and help us manage the risk and focus on a risk-based approach because it is not the guidelines per se, it is the thinking behind it, how do we manage the risk of exposure, the risk of transmission? “Today (Monday), we will have infection because of what happened at the banks, no doubt about that. But how can we learn from the mistakes of today into tomorrow and next tomorrow, so by Friday, we have hopefully normalised some of these things?
“Yes, we knew today would be a problem because, for the first time, people were let out of their homes but now they are out and we have seen the sunlight again, the challenge for us as a society is how do we now organise ourselves to mitigate these risks and limit transmission?