On February 27, 2020, Nigeria recorded its first Covid-19 case, an imported case attributed to a 44-year-old Italian. Since then, it has not been the same for my dear country. Just a month later, Nigeria records 70 confirmed cases, three discharges and a single death; what a fearful trajectory for a developing country with a relatively weak healthcare system at risk of an explosive viral pandemic.
In response, both federal and state governments have been on their toes, equipping treatment and isolation centers and enacting emergency policies geared towards safeguarding the country through measures that would guarantee the restriction of the transmission of the virus to at most, a “local transmission” stage.
Having established the potential explosive danger a “community transmission” mode of spread holds, policies stressing on measures like social distancing and lockdowns have been on the forefront of governmental interventions.
Today, the country is locked down, most states are too. Public gatherings have been strictly debarred in most communities, interstate movements are strictly monitored; in fact, a 24-hour curfew has been imposed on parts of the country all to avoid a situation synonymous to pandemic-devastated countries like Italy!
But why all these measures? Are they worthwhile? What are their consequences and how do we strike a balance?
What is coronavirus?
Covid-19 is an infectious disease mainly affecting the respiratory system (most especially the lungs). It is caused by a virus, and as we know, viruses are basically categorised into families. The Covid-19 causative virus belongs to a family of viruses called “The CoronaViruses Family” whose member-viruses are popularly known for causing various common respiratory infections. Its specific name is “SARS-CoV-2” meaning “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoronaVirus-2”.
Other members of the Coronaviruses family include “Rhinovirus” which causes common cold, “SARS-CoV-1” which caused the 2002 SARS epidemic and “MERS-CoV” which caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2012, among others.
SARS-CoV-2 was first discovered in Wuhan, China. It has been established that the virus is a product of mutation. It was first traced to bats, then it mutated to start infecting pangolins before finally mutating to start infecting humans.
How is the disease transmitted?
The disease is contagious, and tends to be transmitted among humans through “respiratory droplets”. When an infected person coughs or sneezes(or talks), he releases certain substances called “respiratory droplets” on which the viruses are attached. An uninfected person tends to contract the infection when he breaths in these droplets, this can happen when he is within a range of 2 meters from the sneezing or coughing infected person. Or when he touches objects that have been contaminated and in turn touches his mouth, nose or eyes with the same hand, as research have shown that the virus tends to remain viable for some hours on certain surfaces.
The virus has an average incubation of 5 days (extends to 14 days sometimes) and the disease tends to be asymptomatic within this period. One of the disease’s ravaging realities is that an infected person can spread the virus even with this asymptomatic period. Afterwards, most common symptoms include Fever, dry cough and difficulty in breathing. Others are fatigue, chest pain or pressure, runny nose etc
Does the disease have specific cure/treatment?
There is no definite cure for the disease but some already existing antivirals and other drugs are being researched to ascertain their potency in fighting against the disease. Such drugs include Remdesivir, kelatra, chloroquine, hydrochloquine etc some of which are already on clinical trial stage. Vaccine research is also underway and a vaccine is expected to be ready by 2021.
Patients do benefit from supportive care which include oxygen support, fluid therapy, mechanical ventilation, etc.
However, it is interesting to know that people with mild cases of the infection tend to develop normal flu-like symptoms and recover within 2 weeks, sometimes even without treatment. Even severe cases tend to recover within 3 to 6 weeks depending on the degree of care which is a product of the strength and level of preparedness of the healthcare system(facilities and personnel) of a country/state.
What are the preventive measures?
Preventive measures include regular hand washing with soap and running water; frequent use of hand sanitizers especially after contacts like handshakes and random touches with one’s hands; avoidance of frequency of mouth, nose and eye touching; closure of mouth with a bent elbow or a handkerchief while coughing or sneezing and frequent disinfection of regularly used items!
Why should one obey government lockdown?
The most dangerous aspect of Covid-19 is the fact that it’s spread is explosive and tends to overwhelm the entire healthcare system (facilities and personnel) of a country/state.
The course of transmission of the disease takes the following stages;
1. Imported case: Where an infected person brings it to a country/state without any confirmed case.
2. Local transmission: Where a known case spreads the virus to close contacts (easily traceable).
3. Community transmission: Where people start to get infected without a clear source.
That is why people are advised to ensure social distancing, avoid crowd and obey lockdowns so as to ensure that the transmission does not get to the “community transmission” stage.
Imported cases and local transmission are easier to control because any one that comes from a country where there is a serious case of the pandemic is advised to self-isolate himself to ensure he does not harbor the infection. One starts getting treatment the moment he develops symptoms and test positive for the virus. The people he established contact with also get traced, quarantined and tested to ascertain their status. Positive contacts also get quarantined and treated.
With this, the transmission gets halted at the imported and local transmission stage and the cases usually do not overwhelm the health care system. These cases get well treated and recover eventually.
But the moment a country/state reaches the community transmission stage, the disease starts to spread explosively affecting hundreds if not thousands in a short period of time hence totally overwhelming the health care system and leading to deaths.
Today, official statistics has it that China has defeated Covid-19. After recording more than 80,000 confirmed cases and 3,136 deaths, most cities in China have now spent days without registering a single confirmed case, partly thanks to strict adherence to lockdown by Chinese people.
Hence, the need to religiously uphold measures of social distancing and adherence to lockdowns so as to help flatten the curve by breaking the chain of transmission.
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What are the consequences?
As Nigeria braces up for total lockdown in its quest towards containing the spread of Covid-19, a lot of concerns have been raised on the socioeconomic consequences of the lockdown measures on average Nigerian citizens.
It has been estimated that more than 9 million Nigerians are poor. Most Nigerian families earn their living through day-to-day works in the informal sector. Total lockdowns therefore, would exert tremendous negative impact on most families as most lack food security and depends on daily petty business activities to feed their families. This makes starvation an imminent threat to a large chunk of the Nigerian population as a result of state/country “lockdowns”.
Striking a balance!
For the lockdowns to be effective and be devoid of causing another wave of death due to starvation, there is need for the government, private sector and the general citizenry to out in conscious efforts towards neutralizing the effects of lockdowns on the average and poor citizenry of the country through ways to be discussed below;
The government should review budgetary priorities, suspend unnecessary spending plans and redirect funds to an emergency relief program that would ensure Nigerian citizens don’t starve to death during this essential lockdown period.
The actions of some private sector actors towards supporting the nation’s fight against the pandemic remains commendable. For others who have not yet keyed into this country-saving voyage, we appeal to them to do so as it will go along way in aiding our country in the fight against the virus, the imminent threat of starvation and deaths due to lockdowns.
The general citizenry should uphold the principles of social solidarity and cohesion. The most impactful method through which the imminent threat of starvation can be mitigated is through social solidarity where the relatively rich households come to the aid of the poor and needy. Coming together in a socially distant way and helping one another to withstand this trial is our only hope for survival!
Ringim is a registered nurse, A political and public affairs analyst and advocate of sustainable development. He writes from Zaria via [email protected]