Curfew: Anxiety as another lockdown looms

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Blood sample with coronavirus positive

SAMSON BENJAMIN in this piece examines the implications of the 12am-4am curfew re-introduced by the federal government to curtail the spread of Covid-19 amidst fears of another lockdown.

The federal government on Monday, May 10, 2021, re-introduced a nationwide 12am to 4am curfew as part of efforts to curtail further spread of Covid-19. The National Incident Manager, Mukhtar Mohammed, disclosed this at a press briefing of the Presidential Steering Committee on Covid-19 in Abuja.

Mohammed said clubs, gyms and others would remain closed till further notice.

He said gatherings of religious groups and weddings among others have been reduced to 50 percent attendance, while official engagements, meetings and conferences should continue to hold virtually.

“Further to these recommendations and effective from 0001hours of Tuesday, May 11, 2021, this Phase IV of the phased restriction of movement shall come into effect. We shall maintain restrictions on mass gatherings outside work settings with a maximum number of 50 people in an enclosed space.

“Approved gatherings must be held with physical distancing measures and other non-pharmaceutical interventions in place. Enforcement of a mandatory requirement of a seven-day quarantine for all international passengers arriving from foreign destinations while institutional quarantine for international passengers arriving from the three countries of India, Brazil and Turkey.

“Enforced temperature checks and no mask, no entry policy in all public settings; workplace buildings, businesses and places of worship etc. Access to Government and commercial premises should be denied to persons without facemasks.

“The nationwide curfew will be imposed tonight at midnight and it will run through till 4am. No formal restrictions on movement within the country even as citizens are encouraged to refrain from non-essential movements and comply with all non-pharmaceutical interventions and guidelines.

“People who are above 60 and or with comorbidities are encouraged to stay at home. Only essential international travels are encouraged,” he said.

According to him, hotels are to remain open while adhering to all non-pharmaceutical interventions while schools are to deploy the use of antigen-based rapid tests as recommended in the guidelines by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

He added that indoor recreational facilities and gyms are to close until June 11 when the situation will be reviewed while non-contact outdoor sports such as gulf, Polo and tennis among others are not affected.

Indian strain

The detection of the Indian strain of Covid-19, which is currently ravaging India in Nigeria among other reasons, contributed to the fresh regulations issued by the federal government.

Blueprint reported that the strain was detected by the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in the Redeemers University, Ede, Osun state in April and has communicated to the NCDC.

Expert’s take

Meanwhile, the chairman, Committee on Infectious Disease for the Nigerian Medical Association, Enugu branch, Dr. Nneka Azu, in a chat with Blueprint Weekend, said the new guidelines released by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on Covid-19 to further curtail the spread of the virus in the country showed that the federal government was being proactive.

Azu said the new guidelines were essential, describing them as proactive steps by the government to combat the spread of the virus across the country.

She said, “It is due to what is happening all over the world actually. I think the government is just trying to be proactive instead of being reactive. So, that is what is going on.

“We are having variants in some countries. We have increased social meetings everywhere now, relaxation of public health and social preventive measures all over the world now, and a lot of people have not received the vaccine.

“So, some countries have what we call a third wave or a fourth wave, and because of that, a lot of people are getting the infection afresh because they have relaxed public health preventive measures. So, I think the federal government is just trying to prevent that from happening here.

“If you look around, a lot of people have stopped wearing face masks and using hand sanitisers. We can’t even say that health workers are left out.

“We have all let our guards down, and I think the government is just trying to prevent what is happening in places like India from happening here. That is why the new measures are out.”

She said until Covid-19 was defeated in every part of the world, Nigerians had to keep putting up preventive measures to curtail the pandemic.

“We cannot defeat Covid until Covid has been defeated all over the world because the way it works in public health is that if we still have this pandemic even in one country, it can spread to other countries of the world.”

Activist kick

However, the national president of the Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice, Barrister Mike Iheoha, faulted the new guidelines released by the PSC on Covid-19.

Iheoha said while his organisation was not opposed to the measures and safety protocols being undertaken to curtail the spread of the disease, he said the organisation was concerned about the continued locking down of the economy.

He said, “No doubt that the continued closing down of bars, recreational centres, nightclubs and restaurants breeds unemployment which is a dangerous omen to the society.

“Already, millions of Nigerians have been displaced by the lockdown of the economy last year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Many of those unemployed minds are becoming a burden to society.

“The hike in kidnappings, armed robberies, cultism and other social vices in the country are direct consequences of unemployment. The federal government should not by act or omission relieve additional work force into the idle market. Nigeria is presently under siege. No part of the country as we are all aware is secured. The PSC should not create an additional set of unemployed minds to endanger the society.

“There is no spike in the spread of the disease. What Nigeria needs now is a national emergency to tackle our intractable conundrum which is insecurity. The only lockdown the country needs now is a partial state of emergency.”

Nigerians react

Meanwhile, Nigerians who spoke with Blueprint Weekend expressed divergent views on the new restriction guidelines.

Ishaku Ibrahim a civil servant said a lockdown for a short period was necessary now given what is happening in other countries.

He said, “I actually think a lockdown for a short while or stricter rules should be considered. Though if the government has to order a lockdown, there should be provisions for businesses and families that would be affected. The last one was not handled well at all and I don’t think Nigerians would take the government seriously again because of that but it is becoming scary. I think a lot of Nigerians are not seeing the deaths so close to home. Many Nigerians either think Coronavirus is a scam in Nigeria or it is not life threatening.”

However, Helen Ogah, a fashion designer, said Nigerians could not afford another lockdown. “This is when the National Orientation Agency (NOA) needs to do massive campaigns and enlightenment, so people can see the reality of Covid-19. Nobody wants to die; if the people know better they will act better.”

Nwankwo Peter, a resident of Nyanya, a suburb in the Federal capital Territory, agreed with her.

He said, “Covid-19 has come to stay. What I think the federal government should do is to channel their energy to sensitising the masses on the danger of the disease and how to go about avoiding it. You can’t lockdown the country where the majority cannot afford two square meals a day. The cost of foodstuff is high and the government must do something about it. I think the negative effects of locking down the country due to the second wave of Covid-19 would outweigh the gains. The federal government should look into the sorry state of our public healthcare institutions and ensure they are functional.”

He added that another lockdown will result in anarchy. “People will revolt against them. Remember what happened during the #EndSARS protest. People came out in their numbers against the government. Nigerians won’t accept another lockdown. There will be no provisions to sustain the masses during another lockdown. During the first lockdown, people were ignorant. Now, the masses are smart.”

For Ayuba David, a student of the Federal Polytechnic Nasarawa, students would not be able to cope with another lockdown because they had lost a lot of ground academically.

“Government must fashion a way of tackling the pandemic rather than ordering a lockdown. I learnt that many countries are vaccinating their citizens. Why can’t the Nigerian government take such initiative? Can’t they see that lockdown is not the solution?” he queried.

Falana’s view

A senior lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, has urged African leaders to increase investment in the area of public health so as to better tackle current and future health challenges in the continent.

He made the call recently in Owerri, Imo state, while delivering a paper on lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Falana who noted that “no one is safe until everyone is safe,” lamented that rich countries of the world were hoarding vaccines to the detriment of the poor countries, stressing that African leaders should begin to take the issue of health services more seriously.

“But the approach to a global public health emergency is not only selfish, it is also scientifically myopic. As long as the virus exists in any country, it could spread to other countries,” he said.

Speaking on some of the lessons learnt from the pandemic, the senior lawyer said that the public healthcare system cannot be developed by applying the logic of market forces.

“Public health services should be treated as social goods because a pandemic is a challenge to the common good. The implication is that the government should invest more in public health.

“Nigeria, for instance, devotes less than five per cent of its budget to healthcare,” he said, adding that the “response of Nigeria to the pandemic has been extremely weakened by the manifestation of poverty in the healthcare system.”

While observing that most of the states were yet to comply with the law on universal healthcare coverage, he stated that health insurance still remained essentially an idea whose time is yet to come in Nigeria.

“Health is still not yet a budgetary priority in Nigeria. In a culture that is bereft of humanism, members of the political and economic elite are content with the situation in which they pay exorbitant fees in private hospitals at home and abroad. Here we are talking of less than 1% of the population. Policy makers are not losing their sleep because the 99% cannot afford quality health care.

“It is, therefore, shocking that with all the billions garnered by the private sector Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACOVID) last year, the federal and state governments are yet to report noticeable improvements in healthcare infrastructure. Not enough molecular laboratories have been built. Ventilators are not in adequate supply in hospitals and isolation centres.”

He lamented that even with all the warnings that the pitiable situations in India, Brazil and Turkey were presenting to the world, Nigeria was not getting prepared for the possibility of another virulent wave with massive production of medical oxygen and other essential materials to save lives

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