Ahead of the imminent review of the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), the Nigerian Medical Association has advised the Federal Government to again extend the lockdown, which ends on Monday (tomorrow).
This, the association said, would help to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus disease. It added that with the “exponential” rise in the number of cases recorded across the country daily, people should not see the lockdown as a punishment but a necessary measure to contain the spread of the deadly virus. It, however, stressed the need for fair distribution of the palliatives to cushion the hardship the restriction had caused Nigerians.
But the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture; the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association; and the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr Muda Yusuf, opposed the possible extension of the total lockdown, saying the government should consider the partial opening of the economy.
The President had on March 29 imposed a 14-day lockdown on the FCT and the two states to contain the spread of the virus. At the end of the 14 days, which terminated on April 13, the President extended the lockdown, saying the pandemic had become a matter of life and death and that it was no longer a joke.
However, barely a day to the end of the extension, stakeholders have disagreed on whether the President should extend the lockdown or ease it. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, had maintained that only the President could decide on whether there would be an extension of the lockdown or it would be lifted.
As of April 13 when the President extended the lockdown, the number of cases was 343 in 19 states and the FCT. The number of deaths was 10 while 91 persons had been discharged. But, there were 87 new cases on Saturday, pushing the number of cases to 1,182 in 28 states and the FCT. The number of deaths rose to 35 while 222 persons had been discharged.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, said on Sunday that the state had yet to reach its COVID-19 peak despite recording the highest case so far. He had also warned on March 27 that the state might see up to 39,000 cases but that if everyone practised good social distancing, the figure would be limited to 13,000.
During the week, the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chike Ihekweazu, had also hinted that the virus would eventually spread to all the 36 states. “There is no reason why it won’t (extend to every state in Nigeria), it is a respiratory virus,” he added.
The DG also said on Tuesday that the President would make tougher decisions in the coming week on measures to contain the spread of the virus. He, however, advised Nigerians to be prepared for the tougher directives. “Next week, Mr President will make some very difficult decisions for the country in terms of the lockdown in three states but also across the country in different ways,” he added.
A cross-section of Nigerians, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH, lamented that they were eager to go back to work, adding that staying at home for a month had become traumatising.
But the NMA, citing the rate at which the virus was spreading as a major consideration, said the consequence of lifting the lockdown could be calamitous.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, NMA National President, Dr Francis Faduyile, said, “If we say we want to contain the spread and we are having exponential increase, is that when we should open up and resume work? It’s obvious that it’s not the time to open up.
“We are just getting to the peak and the spread is still ascending the slope. You can only ease the lockdown when you are seeing a lesser number of new cases. Would you also say Kano State should open up and resume normal activities when the cases are just being detected?
“Things that are unfolding show that we need to enforce even more. However, if we want to enforce the lockdown, then we should do things that would make life easier for people. That is to call on the government to do the needful in the fair distribution of the palliatives so that people can stay at home.
“It is for the benefit of the people that the lockdown rules should be respected. It is not a punishment. The consequence of not extending it is that those who may harbour the virus will be mixing freely in society and would be transmitting the virus to those who are not yet infected. That won’t be good.”
Faduyile lamented that compliance with the lockdown had not been satisfactory.
The World Health Organisation had on Tuesday warned countries not to lift the lockdown, saying, “No country is safe from potentially overwhelming outbreaks as long as the coronavirus is circulating.”
Meanwhile, those who oppose the extension argued that in spite of the rising cases, government could not continue to put the economy on a lockdown.
The Director-General, NECA, Mr Timothy Olawale, said there was a need for the government to relax the lockdown and that if necessary, businesses could be encouraged to do a roaster for their employees so there wouldn’t be more than a certain number of employees at work at any given time.
He also said the government should take cognisance of the increasing crime rate, poverty and likely uprising or revolt by those in a precarious situation, while noting that without specific palliatives, the lockdown could cripple businesses and make recovery more difficult.
He said, “Government should relax the lockdown while putting in place stringent national policy as done in Ghana, Germany and some other countries. I suggest a relaxed lockdown between 8 am and 4 pm and a curfew between 5 pm and 7 am.
“For anyone that will go out, face mask should be made compulsory. Non-use of the face mask should be criminalised. Inter-state travels should remain banned for now while all businesses can be mandated to ensure stringent protocols such as social distancing, provision of wash hand area and so on within their premises.
“Without government giving specific palliatives such as part payment of salaries and direct tax waivers to businesses, the lockdown will further cripple businesses and make recovery more difficult.”
While calling for more tests to be carried out, he said information dissemination should be doubled so it could reach people in local areas.
The Director-General, NACCIMA, Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, also commended the federal and state governments for the strategies deployed so far to contain the virus. He, however, noted that the lockdown was no longer sustainable.
He said, “While we understand the reasons for the lockdown which has been on for almost a month; it has become necessary to review the lockdown order and replace it with a more strategic approach for various reasons. The continued lockdown is taking a serious toll on businesses across the country and the ripple effects on security are becoming alarming; especially as miscreants seize the opportunity to rob citizens and break into business premises.
“Consideration should be given to gradual opening of some businesses and other commercial operations. Steps should therefore be taken to allow some categories of workers to resume work and business operations while keeping to safety protocols, such as wearing of face masks, social distancing and ban on large gatherings.
“Certainly a lockdown order ad-infinitum is not sustainable and many of our members are of the view that this should be reviewed to ease the lockdown, of course without prejudice to safety, which is the duty of all.”
While calling for increased testing to identify the carriers of the virus, Olukanni commended the organisations that have provided palliatives for the underprivileged, noting that members of the association had been playing their roles in the fight against the deadly virus. He said they would continue to ensure uninterrupted supply of essential products and services at this difficult period
The Director-General of LCCI, Yusuf, who spoke in his personal capacity, said even though the lockdown was laudable to contain the spread of the virus, the sustainability had become a matter of concern.
He, therefore, advised that the government should consider the option of a partial lockdown.
Already, there had been rising insecurity, especially armed robbery, in some parts of Lagos and Ogun states, forcing the people to cry out for help, while some of them resort to keeping vigilance on the streets to ward off the thieves.
Yusuf said, “Lagos, for instance, is highly cosmopolitan, very mobile with a high velocity of business transactions. About 50 per cent of the Lagos economy is made up of the informal sector. One of the main features of the sector is that the operators live by the day. Keeping such a commercially active population indoors for a month is a great challenge.
“Neither the Lagos State Government nor the Federal Government has the capacity to manage the social consequences of a prolonged lockdown – hunger, restiveness and insecurity.
“This is why a long period of lockdown may not be sustainable. The context of a problem should define the prescription. An extension of the lockdown beyond the four weeks is not advisable.
“The option of partial lockdown should be considered. This should be preceded by a robust COVID-19 risk assessment. This should guide the targeting of the lockdown. Different economic activities present different vulnerabilities. In all cases, the observance of the COVID-19 protocols should continue under a regime of a partial lockdown.”
On their part, the Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria said if the government felt constrained to extend the lockdown on account of the rising cases, it should come up with better palliatives that would get to the target audience.
It said government should ensure that the youth, elderly people and those who depended on daily income but could not go to work now should be targeted as being done in other countries.
The National President of the association, Dr Femi Egbesola, said, “In the priority scale, health comes before wealth and at any point in time, it is better to prioritise health. If the lockdown is what is good for us now as a nation, even if we have sacrifices to make, it is better we cooperate. It’s only those who are alive that can do business, so our being alive is the topmost priority.
“But if there is a way they can relax the lockdown or do partial lockdown and we would still be safe, based on the advice of the medical experts, I think that would be better than total lockdown.
“There are some countries that have partial lockdown in place but the populace move with face masks, hand gloves and other protective wear. If there is a way that can be done, it’s okay because we will not say we want to be alive and then continue to suffer and begin to die physically or emotionally from the consequences of staying at home.
“If the medical experts advise that the lockdown should continue, there is an urgent need for the government to look at having more palliatives to reach the target audience.”
Independent of the lockdown imposed on the FCT and Lagos and Ogun states, many governors had also imposed lockdown on their states, while some imposed curfew.
Already, the Nigeria Labour Congress had called on the Federal Government not to extend the lockdown, warning that doing so might cause social unrest in the affected states and the FCT.
While faulting the approach employed in the distribution of the palliatives so far, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said the “economy might relapse into prolonged coma if the current lockdown in the nation’s nerve centres goes beyond the current extension.”
On account of the rising cases across the states, governors of the 36 states of the federation on Wednesday unanimously agreed to impose a 14-day inter-state lockdown, saying the rise in the number of cases had become a matter of concern.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, said in a communiqué issued after the forum’s teleconference meeting, “Governors unanimously agreed to the implementation of an inter-state lockdown in the country over the next two weeks to mitigate the spread from state to state.”