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Tuesday, 21 April 2020


By Kayode Odunaro

From all indications including positive ones, the Coronavirus pandemic is here to stay with us for some time. Indeed, its effects on the socio-economic life of the human race as it is will reverberate for years to come with prediction of economic recession and possible depression only comparable to the Great Depression of earlier decades of the Twentieth Century. Various measures are in place or being put in place as a first step in containing the spread of the highly infectious viral disease otherwise named COVID-19.

Starting with the banning of the rudimentary way we socialize in greeting via handshakes, hugging and the likes, we graduated to keeping social distance of at least two metres as a preventive measure of curbing the spreading of the virus. We are also living with the restriction of social and religious gatherings to less than 20 persons at any point in time. With a global upsurge in the spread and massive fatalities recorded in USA, Europe, Asia and elsewhere which thankfully is yet to be the replicated in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, total lockdown was the only solution to stop the spread of COVID-19. It worked in the Chinese Province where the virus first made appearance in Wuhan and it was soon adopted by many nations already infected and suffering colossal loss of lives like Italy, India, USA and countries of Europe.

Reluctantly Nigeria joined the band wagon of the lockdown as a means of not only stopping the spread of COVID-19 but also identifying, isolating and treating those already infected. Contact tracing of those in contact with identified victims of the disease was also said to be easily done under a lockdown. President Mohammadu Buhari in a nationwide broadcast declared a two -week total lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun State for two weeks which was subsequently renewed at its expiration for another two weeks while most of the states of the federation in similar version adopted the policy in varying degrees from total to partial lockdowns.

All citizens under lockdown are expected to stay at home except those classified as on essential duties and therefore exempted.  Definitely majority of the citizens forced to stay at home can afford this lockdown in term of their basic sustenance particular those in the private and informal sector. It is even worse for many in the latter category whose incomes are earned daily. Again, there are many that are dependents on others who earn incomes in one form or another but their temporal loss of income rendered all to now be categorized as “poor and vulnerable” basically unable to provide basic sustenance. This has given rise to the issue of palliatives in cash or kind to serve as relief measure for individuals and households under lockdown by government, non -governmental organizations, religious bodies and individuals.

While in advance countries the issue of palliatives in cash or kind can be handled through established structures and availability of reliable data of persons and households, the same cannot be said for Nigeria. From Federal Government to State governments to Legislators and individuals, the administration of palliatives in whatever forms so far can, at best be described as haphazard and at worse, chaotic and just too limited to address even a reasonable percentage of the “poor and vulnerable”. And as the days goes by and the two weeks turns to another two weeks, the class of people falling into the class of “poor and vulnerable” increases dramatically with a possible “hunger pandemic” among the population.

As the days goes by it is clear that the containment policy of lockdown against COVID-19 with limited palliatives cannot be sustained ad infinitum in face of what has come to be term another virus “the hunger virus” which some opine is as bad as COVID-19. Governments and policy makers are left with the choice basically of the “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”. Without a cure or vaccine in sight for COVID-19, containment of the spread of the virus epitomized in lockdowns is highly and professionally recommended. And without durable supplies of palliatives and inability of majority to earn an income and a living, lockdown is looking more or less like imprisonment and with added “hunger virus”, incarceration without food.

At all events the economic implications of COVID-19 is dire with as stated many forecast of a recession and worse.  Job losses that have already started are bound to increase the already glutted unemployment market. The whole world has been grounded economically for well over two months and many whose incomes are based on private sector activities and the informal sector, particularly the large urban and rural paid daily workers, have been boxed into a corner of looming penury that they are increasingly indicating is no longer bearable. As it is the debate is increasingly shifting to relaxing the lockdown or abandoning same altogether so that many can work to earn a living. In USA, there has been protest against continuing lockdown with their President, Donald Trump favourably disposed to relaxing the lockdown and some states already contemplating programmes to open up businesses. Germany has also open up some small businesses and United Kingdom is discussing the issue. It is inevitable that Nigeria perforce must look in the direction of easing the lockdown in its critical centres of Lagos and Abuja as well as generally to allow a breath of economic air for her people. Going through the last week of the lockdown, many are already on their tenterhooks’ end in terms of making ends meet. The danger in opening up suddenly without precaution is that COVID-19 is still roaming wide and wild from daily figures churn out by NCDC. But to open up is imperative for needed Government activities like the National Assembly’s approval of necessary executive actions as well as for those in private and informal sector to eke a living even when a post COVID-19 economic outlook is gloomy to say the least.

What is to be done under the difficult novel circumstances? As it is many private organisations will run into major financial storms that will predictably lead to massive job losses and with the price of Nigeria’s  major source of revenue, the crude oil on a downward spiral making nonsense of the 2020 Budget, economic recovery looks like an uphill task in the foreseeable future. But wringing of hands in anguish is not the way to go but quickly putting our hands on the plough literarily and figuratively. Work must start in earnest while all necessary precautionary measures and protocols on the viral invasion must now be taken and enforced.

To start with we should immediately start a sensitization and an enlightenment of what life after lockdown in a COVID-19/ Post-CCOVID-19 life will entail. Massive publicity should now be given through all platforms including traditional and religious institutions on what working and social interactions will look like going forward. The starting point of such education is to insist that all precautionary measures already in place will continues even with more vigour with possible relaxation of lockdown.  Such includes the recommendation of continuing hand washing regularly/use of sanitizer at entrance into any public space or utilities while wearing face masks once you step out of your house door.  Of course the issue of maintaining social and physical distance should be enforced particularly for events that potentially leads to gathering of people like churches and mosques services, parties, wedding and funeral services and similar.

For office environment, it should be clear that the way forward is to as much as possible cash in on ICT as a solution to maintain physical distance while still transacting business. A lot could be achieved efficiently with phone calls, text messages, video and call conferencing, e-mails, money transfers, ATMs, online orders for goods and supplies and other tools available with the use of ICT. The previous life of people trooping to offices just to make inquiries will now be an anomaly against COVID-19 precautionary measure. Visitors to offices and homes should now be entertain sparingly or not at all for now until a solution is found to COVID-19. And if it now becomes necessary to have physical contact in offices and homes, then the intruder(s) must be subjected to strict performance of all precautionary measures to gain entrances and be made to wear gloves if they are going to touch objects in the office or home. The same process is applicable to public transport that must factor in social distancing on land, air or sea. Of course the assumption is regular fumigation and decontamination of offices, homes, schools and other public places while all and sundry do all the needful. It looks tough, possibly costly and ludicrous way to proceed but in the containment fight against the highly infections Coronavirus, everyone must be brought to the consciousness of the fact that one cannot be too careful.

While the authorities do their work of testing, discovering infected persons and tracing their contacts, isolating persons with the virus, procuring needed equipment and health infrastructure and the world desperately look for a cure or vaccine, welcome to a new world of safety in separation and social distancing.

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