One of the greatest challenges facing leaders today is the task of determining just how to control the spread of the coronavirus with local, state, and federal governments needing to, from time to time, take decisions and actions that will cast their functionality, practicality and competence to the fore.
With no vaccine or therapeutic drugs available against COVID-19, confinement and quarantine have been the prominent and proven measures taken across the world to contain the pandemic.
This scenario, though new to most of us, has played out multiple times over the past few centuries.
The first time in history that lockdown measures were used as a part of an organised response against health emergencies was probably during the plague outbreaks in Italy in the Renaissance period often referred to as the Great Plague of Milan which claimed possibly one million lives or about 25% of the population.
According to John Henderson, Professor of Italian Renaissance History at Birkbeck, University of London, that plague provided a template for public health strategies, developing what was described as the first effective plague measures which emerged over the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and can be seen applied in full force during the plague in Florence in 1630-31 with parallels between the COVID-19 measures of today – confinements, quarantine and contact tracing – and those in Florence almost 400 years ago.
The problem is, no matter what the government and policy makers will like to have us think, lockdowns in Nigeria cannot be said to have achieved maximum productivity for two reasons:
One, with a population of about 200million and alarming cases of reported COVID-19 related deaths in many states, suggesting uncontrolled community prevalence, Nigeria has barely tested 100,000 samples. With just 29,408 sample tested, the pace is still a distant cry from 1% of the Nigerian population being tested which in this case should stand at 2million samples. Going by this trajectory, Nigeria will require nothing less than 34 months (2yrs 10 months!) to trace, test and isolate (where necessary) just one percent of its population for the dreaded virus.
Secondly, level of compliance to confinement order by citizens is lamentably poor. Even as cases of the virus is rising, it remains business as usual in neighbourhoods, motor parks are discreetly bustling, protective measures such as social distancing and wearing of face masks being disregarded and yours truly even reported a market in full operation in Kano barely a day after presidential directive to lockdown the state.
Many defaulters will readily admit that the pain of death by hunger is more excruciating than the pain of death by COVID-19 hence their survival instinct defies whatever threat the virus poses.
History has taught us that whether it’s caused by fear, frustration, or the helplessness that comes with imprisonment, human beings do not respond well to forced lockdowns. These feelings are often exacerbated by sentiments that the vulnerable are being taken advantage of.
There is also outrage that accompanies the gained knowledge that in almost all cases, the resources needed are not available – as it is difficult to prepare for the unknown.
According to Alex Navarro, assistant director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, which detailed historical accounts of the 1918-19 flu pandemic in 43 cities, “I think that human nature being what it is, people don’t like to have their lives disrupted.
Initially, they might go along with it, but as these closure orders drag on and as people’s lives continue to be fractured, there’s a breaking point.”
Before it gets to that “breaking point” for Nigeria, authorities should review lockdown protocols, go beyond contact tracing and ramp up testing of every citizen and enforce protective measures for life to go on.
Whatever they do today, they should remember that just as we are reading from yesterday’s story, tomorrows history will remember this pandemic and they role they played in it. Will they like to be remembered as victors or villains?
Mohammed Dahiru Lawal[email protected]