As the lockdown eases…




Life is gradually returning to the pre-Covid-19 era, but unlike what has happened in the past two and half months, ELEOJO IDACHABA looks at the general atmosphere as people and organisations pick up the pieces of their lives from where they left it before the lockdown.

For the first time since March 30, 2020, it appears life is returning to normal again following the gradual, but unofficial easing of lockdown imposed on almost every aspect of life in the country as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is not applicable to only Nigeria, but worldwide. However, like Nigeria, many countries like Rwanda, Ivory Coast, US, Kenya, Republic of South Africa and Ghana are gradually relaxing the sit-at-home order in order to allow economic life to pick up again.

In Nigeria, many state governments like Lagos, Kano, Ebonyi, Anambra, Ondo, Borno, Rivers and Kogi have officially announced their intentions to relax the lockdown in order to save the economy from total collapse. In states like Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Bauchi, Kano, Borno and Anambra, for example, worship centres in particular are being opened while markets are allowed to open, but with warning to obey a certain level of personal safety and distancing measures.

Lockdown relaxation in states

In Lagos, for example, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced that the state government would roll out what he called ‘Register-to-Open’ initiative as part of plans to enable the government assess the level of readiness of players of identified sectors for proper supervision.

He said officials from Lagos state Safety Commission and Environmental Protection Agency would visit restaurants, companies, religious houses to assess their level of readiness.

According to Sanwo Olu, considering the size of the state and numbers of businesses, it would be foolhardy to keep people and businesses on permanent lockdown.

He said, “In the coming days, we would be starting what we call Register-to-Open which means all players in the restaurant business, event centres, entertainment, malls and cinemas would go through a form of re-registration and space management. There is a regulation that would be introduced to supervise this move.

“We would be coming to their facilities to assess their level of readiness for a future opening. I don’t know when that opening would happen in the weeks ahead, but we want these businesses to begin to tune themselves to the reality of Covid-19 with respect to how their work spaces need to look like.

“For us, it is not to say they should re-open fully tomorrow or any time; there has be a process guiding the re-opening. We would however be mandating LASEPA and other safety commissions to begin the enumeration process.”

Sanwo-Olu said government agencies also would be visiting places of worship to evaluate their level of preparedness ahead of full reopening while urging businesses, religious houses and residents to maintain the status quo while the state works out modalities for full re-opening.

In Ondo

Also, within the week, the Ondo state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, said he might consider reopening religious centres across the state. Akeredolu, who spoke with journalists in Akure, said he would meet with religious leaders in order to devise means of bringing back activities at worship centres.

He said, “We would do all to ensure freedom, confidence, and prosperity for our people, including the right to seek the face of God at all times and especially at these crucial times.

“In furtherance to this, the government would be meeting with religious leaders and other stakeholders within the state to explore ways of returning religious worship to our society. We would accelerate such consultations and review and without doubt, the people will hear from me very soon.”

Nasarawa on worship centres

In the same vein, the Nasarawa state government on Tuesday lifted its ban on religious gathering which it imposed with the aim of curtailing the spread of the novel in the state.

The Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Dogo Shammah, made the announcement in Lafia while briefing journalists.

He, however, said the relaxation was for two weeks with certain conditions that religious leaders and their followers must meet like the compulsory use of face masks, provision of hand sanitiser and running water as well as observing physical distancing at the worship centres, saying the state government would review the level of compliance after two weeks.

He also announced the easing of the restriction on commercial tricycles with the directive that the operators must not carry more than two passengers and must wear a face mask unlike before. To that extent, in satellite towns of the state like Mararaba, One Man Village and other adjoining settlements, life has returned to normal with minimal restrictions.

Katsina too

Katsina state government last week also announced a relaxation of the lockdown imposed on the state in the wake of the pandemic.

The secretary to the state government, Alhaji Mustapha Inuwa, who made the announcement on behalf of Governor Aminu Madari in Katsina, said the relaxation would commence from May 24 in order to mark the Eid el-Fitri celebration.

“The relaxation of the lockdown order is to be observed within local government areas while the ban on movements across LGAs remain in force,” he however noted.

“Residents are therefore warned to strictly observe and adhere to all protocols given by health/security officials such as wearing of face masks, social distancing, regular washing of hands and use of hand-sanitising liquid.

“Old people and persons with health challenges are also advised to avoid crowded places,” Inuwa said.

He said the decision to relax the order was reached during the regular review meeting with religious leaders and other stakeholders, maintaining that the decision was taken in the best interest of people of the state.

Bauchi relaxes lockdown

The Bauchi state governor, Bala Mohammed, said the state has resolved to suspend the partial lockdown initially put in place to tame the spread of the dreaded .

The governor stated this during a stakeholders’ meeting housing religious and traditional leaders which took place at Command Guest Palace, Bauchi.

He said the suspension of the partial and total lockdown of some parts of the state takes effect from May 21, 2020. According to him, markets and places of worships are allowed to open.

The governor, however, said the curfew from 8am to 6pm recently imposed across the country by the federal government is still in force.

He said the restrictions in the number of passengers by tricycle, closure of schools remain while physical distancing and other measures are to be sustained.

“Allah in his infinite mercy has made this thing to nosedive and today we have the least number of those in hospitals compared to those that have been discharged. From all indications, Allah has answered our prayers.

“We were not doing the lock down because we want to punish anybody but we wanted this thing to come down and now it has come down,” he said.

He recalled the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that the disease might not go completely and people have to live with it, but said Bauchi has successfully managed the disease and, therefore, the need to step down certain restrictions.

“We have always come here as stakeholders to discuss issues relating to Covid-19 committee that is headed by my brother, the deputy governor, Senator Baba Tela, who briefed me on some of the discussions we have had here.

“There was a spike in the rising pandemic in the northern part of the state and we took responsibility to lock down completely.

“So, we have to send experts after the total lockdown headed by the chairmen of committees in those areas, and they were there for days, while we established a mini rapid response team with the other committees that we have. The committees sat down in Katagum and make sure that the spike is flattened, not only flattened but nosedived.”

In the FCT

Although there is no official declaration by authorities of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) regarding relaxing the lockdown, investigation by Blueprint Weekend revealed that Abuja roads and major streets that were hitherto empty following the sit-at-home order are now buzzing again with cars and varied movements from one part of the city to another. At the moment, many small scale businesses, shopping malls and private outfits have opened their doors for business. For example, at the plywood market in Karmo and Dei-dei Abuja which was closed since March 30, businesses have resumed. Also, the furniture markets in Kugbo and Karmo as well as the Mechanic Village in Apo have been re-opened for businesses. Across the city, the number of checking points that dotted major roads which were hitherto mounted by policemen and other paramilitary establishments have been dismantled thereby easing free movements. Most bus stops in the city are full of passengers again with the usual noise of commercial vehicle drivers calling attention of passengers towards their destinations, symptomatic of normal life. In many places, however, most residents wear face masks in line with the personal safety measures advocated by relevant health authorities.

PTF’s explanation

In the meantime, the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said the country is not yet ready for a complete relaxation of lockdown as being canvassed in many quarters.

Mustapha said, “The reality is that in spite of the modest progress made, Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority

“Any relaxation would only portend grave danger for our populace. Advisedly, the current phase of eased restriction would be maintained for another two weeks during which stricter enforcement and persuasion measures would be pursued.”

Experts’ warnings

According to Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, even if the virus is coming under control, communities must still follow physical distancing and hygiene measures. He also added that testing of suspected cases should continue.

“It’s really important that as countries ease those measures that they are constantly on the lookout for, a jump in infections and in particular transmission should also be considered.”

He said WHO is aware of the difficulties the lockdown portends for governments all over the world; however, he said the global body wants to prevent a situation where countries release measures too easily and then bounce back into intense transmission and full lockdown all over again.

On its part, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) backed the global body by expressing concerns over the lifting of lockdown in many states in Nigeria, saying, lifting lockdown would likely increase cases which may overwhelm the health system.

According to Dr Francis Faduyile, NMA president, a decision to ease up the lockdown is premature, whether partial or total especially now that Nigeria is having an exponential rise in confirmed cases.

Also, president of Commonwealth Medical Association (CMA), Dr. Osahon Enabulele, said to prevent a possible second wave of the virus, there should be sustained efforts at risk communication and community engagement, particularly on the need for sustained adherence to existing public health measures, including hand-washing and respiratory hygiene as well as social distancing.

It is, therefore, expected of many state governments who have partially relaxed the lockdown in their domains to take the wise counsel of experts on the implication of a premeditated step to avoid stories that touch the heart.

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