By maiwada Danmalam
STATE AND THE FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19: THE DEVIL WE CAN FIGHT WITHOUT GETTING HURT AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA WE CAN CROSS WITHOUT GETTING WET
Two things changed my perception about Covid-19 viz-a-viz lockdowns and curfews swiftly in not more than 24hrs. First is the protest against the stay-at-home order by thousands in Michigan, USA. The second is the unfortunate confirmation of my niece as another new infected victim of Covid-19 in LA, California. The two cases, in a way, told me enough about the cumbersomeness of locking down communities for the purpose of containing the Covid-19 pandemic.
First, State of Michigan, USA is a reasonably wealthy which could afford handouts to its citizens yet, workers came out in thousands; blocked roads, demanding the state reopen after Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended stay-at-home restrictions. This is a state that has suffered 27,000 Covid-19 cases and where more than 1,700 have died from the virus yet, ready to defy orders to stay at home for an extended period. Secondly, Los Angeles, California is one of the richest counties in the United States with a matching level of enlightenment. It’s also locked down and compliance is near absolute with only people on critical services exempted.
My niece’s (Zainab) work place is just 5 minutes drive away from her home and her father, who helplessly happened to be with me in my house in Katsina at the time she called to tell him about feeling the symptoms of the virus, is a very meticulous person when it comes to respecting lawful orders. He was so dumbfounded about the whys and hows she got infected as, even in a normal situation she’s a very reclusive person who keeps mostly to herself in her room. After the confirmation of her infection about 3 hours after doctors were called and tests conducted, we jointly determined she was infected during a short visit to her very close to home work place to pick few things she left behind. This is a reliable conclusion given that her mum and little sister, the only people in the house, were tested along with her and confirmed negative. She’s presently in isolation and Alhamdulillah, getting better.
The two stories above were to prove the limitations of locking down communities for the purpose of containing the Covid-19 pandemic especially in unique cases like Nigeria where respect for constituted authorities and penchant for doing the right things are both very low. If Zainab could go out on a 5 minutes drive and import back Covid-19 into her family home, one could only imagine what people imports back into their homes on days lockdowns are relaxed for citizens to restock. And, if Michigan, a rich state of a first world, could pour out in thousands to protest stay-at-home order, one could only imagine citizens in Zamfara and Katsina could do when the situation is more critical.
In consideration of the aforementioned events, it’s my opinion that underdeveloped countries must evolve effective means of stopping the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic other than communal lockdown and confinement. Two things informed this opinion. First, Covid-19 doesn’t look in too much of a hurry to leave anytime soon. Actually, it look set to remain around longer than to allow communal lockdowns of even strong and disciplined situations like State of Michigan much less, the weak and open to assault situations like Nigeria.
Secondly, lockdowns and confinements are only a short term remedy to the spread of the virus as it’s obvious there’s a limit to both how much governments could do to feed locked down citizens and how much citizens could endure when locked down and hungry. In an economy where most people live below poverty line — where even in a normal situation putting a single meal on the table is a serious business, the chaos is better imagined.
Faced by these two conflicting dangers, it’s only reasonable to assume the immediate danger (in this case, hunger) get the first attention. When citizens get hungry beyond human resistance level, it’s logical to assume they will damn the dangers of Covid-19 to go out in search of food curfews, lockdowns and all. In an extreme situation like that, any attempt by governments to enforce the lockdown would be resisted with everything at the disposal of citizens. Forget the artificial desperation of some citizens in Lagos as caught in some videos that are now viral, the real desperation is on the way unless governments could evolve alternative means of stopping the spread Covid-19 without locking down citizens and submitting them to the ferocious fangs of hunger.
This is not saying locking down communities with confirmed cases of Covid-19 is not without any benefit at this stage of the problem in Nigeria. In the present state of global panic and dearth of solutions, locking down communities and imposing curfews are the best response to the problem but, like I said before, let’s not be derelict to assume the policy is sustainable. It’s not! Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders should only be seen as temporary measures of stopping the spread of the virus before workable alternatives are identified.
So, what are our options? It’s a fact that social distancing is globally helping to drop down infection rates and this is very reasonable given the limited mobility of the Coronavirus. It’s therefore, important for governments to engage aggressive awareness campaigns to enlighten citizens about the dangers of Coronavirus and how easily they could protect themselves against the disease by social distancing and improving personal and environmental hygiene.
It’s my personal and non-professional opinion that governments should concentrate more on improving public awareness and enforcing the Covid-19 prevention protocols than provision of multi-billion Naira isolation centers which may not be needed if reasonable success is achieved with the proposed awareness campaign and social distancing protocol.
It’s advisable for governments at all levels to spare no effort to provide abundant stations in our town and villages for hand sanitizers like the ingenious one I saw fabricated by Engr. Aminu Dayyabu Safana, ED, Katsina State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA), an invention that’s affordable, very easy to use and ingeniously designed to be operated with foot pedals thereby, effectively preventing the contamination of the invention’s critical components like handles etc.
With enough of this invention and similar prevention tools in critical places in our villages and towns like mosques, markets, village and town squares etc, all the government need to do is to enforce compliance to social distancing and prevention of avoidable and unnecessary gatherings. RUWASSA is already a winner in government’s efforts to enforce sanitation in rural communities. RUWASSA is perfectly tailored to deliver results in emergencies like Covid-19. Even more advantageous is RUWASSA’s partnering with UNICEF which put at its disposal an open window to attract UNICEF’s support for Katsina State.
This, in my opinion, may help reduce human to human transmission of the virus and provide a cheaper and affordable option to the lockdowns that would eventually harm our economy in manner best imagined at least, until a more definitive solution to the pandemic is discovered. This should also inspire better co-ordination of government agencies and harmonization of efforts for better results.
In Katsina State for instance, the need to bring under one umbrella agencies like State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Rural Water Supply and Sanitization Agency (RUWASSA), State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Katsina State Health Services Management Board (KHSMB), Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and other relevant and critical agencies and non-governmental organizations, cannot be overemphasized.
With this body constituted and put under the supervision of a joint committee of officials from the office of the SGS, Head of Service and Ministries of Health, Environment, Water Resources, Information to be chaired by the Governor or the Deputy Governor for more effective and swift decision making, I’m sure we will go along way in stopping the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic without lockdowns and the attendant consequences of shutting down the state’s local economy which, in turn, could lead to a more tricky situation of citizens revolting against the lockdown policy.
With particular emphasis on the involvement of Ministry of Information, the need for public enlightenment should be considered critical aspect of government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Government need not only to be responsive to the problem but must be seen as so. At the moment, the State Environmental Protection Agency is doing well fumigating villages and towns across the State but there’s little coverage hence, poor awareness about this effort by the government. Expectedly, Government is been seen as talking more and doing less. Citizens must be updated by the minute about government efforts to encourage support and cooperation.