Friday, January 15, 2021

Nigerians say no to another lockdown

As nations go into another round of lockdowns in response to the second wave of coronavirus (COVID-19), Nigerians have warned government against shutting down the economy again, saying the impact of doing so will be deadlier than the effect of COIVID-19 itself.

At the height of the pandemic last year, many countries and territories around the world had enforced lockdown of varying degrees. Nigeria was not left out as it joined others to shut the economy for weeks.

No sooner had the pandemic abated and the world embraced a “new normal” than the UK discovered a new variant of the virus. It shut down London and some other places just before Christmas.

Since then, many countries have been forced to shut down in the bid to constrain the spread of the new variant, which is reported as more deadly. Among them are Germany, Greece, Ireland, Poland and Czech Republic, Italy and The Netherlands.

Just yesterday, Portugal imposed a tougher lockdown as numbers rose. The government ordered a strict nationwide lockdown, similar to one enacted almost a year ago. Citizens will only be permitted to leave their homes for shopping, work, and medical appointments, according to the regulation, which applies from today.

Is Nigeria a case for another lockdown?
AVIATION stakeholders, yesterday, kicked against another shutdown of the economy. They urged the Federal Government to, rather, give priority to on-arrival COVID-19 rapid testing for all passengers.

They advised government to take a cue from the United States, Canada and United Kingdom that had only tightened safety protocols in place of shutdown of the airspace.

Indeed, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday issued a new order requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving from a foreign country to the United States including U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens. This order will become effective on January 26, 2021.

Similarly, British Airways has adjusted its COVID-19 protocol in conformity with the United Kingdom Government’s COVD-19 new regime. Beginning from January 15, 2021, all inbound passengers travelling to England will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result, taken up to 72 hours prior to departure.

Aviation Security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), expected Nigeria and her COVID-19 handlers to be strategic and innovative with control measures that are more suitable to the local experience than following international bandwagon.

Ojikutu said instead of a blanket ban on flights, the government should redistribute all the foreign airlines to four or five international airports and none of them must go to more than one of the four or five, except those from the same country like the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

“We have about 30 foreign airlines coming to Nigeria. It, therefore, means each of the international airports would be having six foreign airline flights. The aim is to be able to effectively and efficiently test, trace and track any infected passenger. Each airport must have testing centres and adequate skilled manpower in sufficient numbers to do the testing 24 hours at the airports for the arriving Nigerian nationals.

“We do not expect many nationals of other countries to be trooping now out of their countries into ours; we can ban those except in essential government demands. My worry about possible government ban on foreign airlines is that it might lead to evacuation flights that give corrupt earnings to the foreign airlines and government officials in the embassies and the ministries but put excessive financial burdens on the Nigerian nationals who will be required to be paying thousands in dollars or thousands for a single way ticket. We need to watch out so we don’t fall into the same temptations we found ourselves during the first wave of the pandemic,” Ojikutu said.

Member of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Olumide Ohunayo, reckoned that the government should not ban international travellers, but to intensify COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests and compliance rate.

Ohunayo said the government had done well with adjustments of protocols for travellers coming from UK and South Africa.

“They have also told these travellers to isolate on arrival into Nigeria. My advice on this is that government should rather designate a place for this isolation so that travellers can be monitored and ensure that test results are all genuine.

“On domestic operators, I have seen that they only observe the safety protocols onboard the aircraft. They should do better and return to the initial period when there was strict adherence at all levels. These are things to do. I do not support another ban on travelling. Let us not put more pressure on businesses that are already down. Let us tighten the screw on protocols, ensure compliance and apprehend those issuing fake COVID-19 certificates,” Ohunayo said.

Travel expert, Sunday Olumegbon, reckoned that there were more avenues to prevent further spread of the virus, than placing a ban on international flights.

Olumegbon said besides the revenue that international flights bring into the country, the Nigerian government should intensify awareness and screening at international entry ports.

He said the situation in the UK once again reinforced the urgent need for coordinated recognition of systematic testing of travellers.

“Governments must cooperate to put mutually recognised testing capacity in place so that borders can remain open to the vast majority of healthy passengers. COVID-19 is likely to be with us for some time. So, rather than travel bans, governments must adopt more flexible and practical policies to manage the risks in a way that enables people to safely work and travel.

“Test, test and test again has been the mantra of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for almost a year now, and we implore governments to act on this advice. I’m surprised that our port health authorities are still following the old routine of just filling forms, telling travellers to pay and go for tests within seven days. Other countries, including Cameroun, are conducting tests at the airports and on arrival. That is the way to go,” he said.

ECONOMISTS, financial analysts and scholars also agreed yesterday that another lockdown in the face of COVID-19 second wave would hurt the economy and Nigerians.

The experts include a development economist and former consultant to United Nations Development programme (UNDP), Dr. Samson Olalere; a professor of Entrepreneurship and Management Strategy, Mrs. Olajumoke Familoni; Prof. Femi Ajayi of Agriculture and Rural Development, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and a former banker and Ibadan-based public affairs analyst, Sanjo Akanmu.

Others are Director, Centre for Economic Policy and Research, University of Lagos, Prof. Ndubuisi Nwokeoma; Professor of Economics, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Sheriffdeen Tella; founder and Managing Director, Cowry Asset Management Limited, Johnson Chukwu,
Chukwu argued that Nigeria could not afford another lockdown because of the high poverty rate in the country.

According to him, an economy where 50 per cent of the total population lives below poverty line cannot afford total lockdown for a second time. Instead of lockdown, he advised government to “close down super-spread places like night clubs, social functions and impose curfew to ensure that people do not go to social events at night.” Nwokeoma,
observed that many countries had been reluctant to declare another lockdown because of the devastating effects of the first experience. He feared that if the world should experience another one, oil prices would crash.

“Under such a circumstance, Nigeria’s economy will suffer more devastation,” he warned. Tella said Nigeria should not consider another total lockdown to avoid loss of jobs, income and government revenue.

“No. We cannot afford another complete lockdown to avoid loss of jobs, income and revenue to government. Short, partial and intermittent lockdown may be introduced if the present situation worsens.

“The country can quickly prevent inflow of people to minimise imported transmission and avoid lockdown. We can’t afford it or it will worsen the current recession.”

Olalere hinged his opposition to lockdown on the argument that the economy could not sustain another lockdown because of the feeble state of the productive sector coupled with poor infrastructure, road networks, and management of the economy.

“Nothing seems to be working. Any lockdown will definitely spur the people to revolt, which the government will not be able to curb,” he said.
Similarly, Familoni said another lockdown would be hard for citizens to bear.

“I hear 75 per cent of Nigerians are on daily income so lockdown will be hard to bear but some ingenuity on how to reduce contact and still have means of livelihood will be good.”

Ajayi and Akanmu argue that in place of lockdown, government should emphasize use of nose mask, keeping social distancing, washing of hands and use of sanitizer,

“If these are not enforced and the country is locked down, the real objective of lockdown, which is to prevent spread of COVID-19 pandemic and the new strain will not be achieved and citizens will only be subjected to economic and related hardship,” Ajayi said.

Akanmu, said: “Instead of lockdown, I think govt should intensify awareness and sensitisation on the need for people to adhere strictly to all covid protocols with a view at reducing the spread and containment of the deadly disease.”

Other authorities that expressed the same view were a development economist, Dr. Chiwuike Uba; an Economic analyst in Rivers State, Mr. Ignatius Chukwu and a professor of Economics at Bayero University, Kano, Murtala Sagagi.

Uba said yesterday, it would be socially and economically suicidal if another lockdown happened in the country. He pointed out that with the economy in recession and other economic indices not looking very good amidst rising inflation, high poverty rate, debt and inflation imposing a lockdown would amount to dealing a final blow on the country and the people.

He said: “The global lockdown driven by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic may likely lead to a glut in oil demands. Most of the manufacturing companies that closed shop during the last lockdown are just resuming operations. Therefore, it would be counterproductive to toe that path for the second time in a country with an ineffective and inefficient manufacturing industry, faced with a very harsh business environment.

“The exchange rate volatility occasioned by multiple exchange rates, low oil prices and output, weak export profile, and domestic revenue mobilization would continue as long as domestic production remains low. And the situation would be made worse by another lockdown. Is the Nigerian economy resilient enough to deal with the social costs (restiveness, high insecurity, demonstrations, deaths, vandalism, etc.) of another lockdown? I don’t think so.

“Nigerians are already groaning under the heavy electricity tariff and fuel pump price, higher food prices, hunger, poverty, high unemployment rate, and high out-of-pocket health care expenditures. Any lockdown (whether full or partial) has the capacity to stifle growth in the economy. For now, I am refraining from discussing Nigeria’s development because we are not ready to take bold decisions on the future. All we need now is aggressive sensitization and advocacy. Unfortunately, the National Orientation Agency (NOA), which is saddled with this responsibility is almost comatose or does not understand its mandate.”

Chukwu warned that Nigeria is not in a shape to face another extreme lockdown. He contended that since the economy is mostly propelled by the informal sector where most citizens don’t have regular income, a lockdown on the fragile economy would spell doom.

He suggested strict implementation of COVID-19 protocols in place of lockdown. Sagagi observed the increasing rate of poverty in Nigeria might be escalated if the Federal Government imposed lockdown.

“Lockdown of the economy this time is not the best solution. As at yesterday, we recorded only 1, 270 confirmed cases, the confirmed cases are just little above 100,000 and the death is just 1,300 and discharged cases over 80,000. When you look at these figures, you will notice that Nigeria is actually facing pandemic but not as other countries, especially in Europe and Asia.

“So, there is every tendency that, because of our young population, the rate and intensity of the virus may not be as pronounced as being advertised, though I am not blaming government for reeling out the warning but the way it is being projected like in United States, UK, I think the dynamic is more different in Africa.

“This is the reason I don’t think Nigerians can withstand another lockdown especially when about 60 per cent of our population lives below poverty line already. When you look at the World Bank projection that says about 2 million Nigerians will further drop below the poverty line in 2021, that is even when the country’s economy is battling with recession, it is delicate to call for another lockdown”

He suggested sustained public sensitisation and education about the preventive and protective measures, which he believed needed to be intensified for people to take precautionary measures seriously.

HEALTH experts, Dr. Chioma Nwakanma and Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor also kicked against lockdown, partial or total, adding that Nigeria should have taken time to create structures that would support its economy, having learnt lesson from the first lockdown.

Nwakanma said rather than copying what other countries do, government should devote time to creating awareness and reviving the confidence of the people in government to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.

“Lockdown is important but I don’t think it is the way to go for Nigeria as a country right now. With the protocols the government has put in place, all that needs to be done is to maintain and enforce the protocols,” she said.

She said having multiple lockdowns would cripple the economy totally, noting that Nigeria should learn from other countries, whose sole aim of enforcing lockdown is to increase contact tracing, testing capacity, have virtual meetings and ensure how every sector can work effectively during this pandemic, which is what Nigeria should have achieved with the first lockdown.

“The only reason lockdowns are enforced is to be able to create measures that are sustainable when people are integrated back into the society, that is what the lockdown is for, not just to keep people in their homes until the virus goes down,” she added.

Dr. Nsofor, a public health physician and Senior New Voices Fellow at Aspen Institute, decried Nigerians’ attitude towards adherence to the COVID-19 protocols and guidelines despite the high number of cases and deaths recorded daily, which he said is six times the cases recorded earlier.

Other health experts that kicked against lockdown were the Medical Director of Medical Art Centre (MART), Maryland, Lagos, and President, African Fertility Society (AFS), Prof. Oladapo Ashiru; and a consultant public health physician and Executive Secretary, Enugu State Agency for Control of AIDS (ENSACA), Dr. Chinedu Arthur Idoko.

Idoko pointed out that prolonged lockdown could lead to spike in the spread of the virus.
He said: “You will agree with me that sometimes the intended regulation of movement and interaction of people during the lockdowns fail to achieve the intended purpose when people living within same neighbourhoods gather together in discussion, domestic social groups as a result of boredom resulting from restrictions. These gatherings form an effective cell of viral transmission. It therefore requires a balanced approach to the control of this virus.”

Ashiru said emphasis should be on enforcing use of face mask and physical distancing.

“There must be zero tolerance for parties and night clubs. Just as Thanksgiving holiday created another spike of COVID-19 in the USA, in Nigeria the current spike we are witnessing is as a result of several holiday visitations from USA, UK, Europe, and South Africa. They have all come and gone. Lockdown now is like closing the barn after the horse has bolted. We need to prevent more spread by educating our people effectively on the consequences of social gathering and not wearing mask.”

To cap it all, the President of the Guild of Medical Directors, Prof. Olufemi Dokun-Babalola, also kicked against another lockdown. He warned that a hard lockdown at this time could be devastating to the economy.

Dokun-Babalola told The Guardian that instead of hard lockdown, measures that could be taken by government to contain the new wave included banning of indoor gatherings, limiting outdoor gatherings to ten, making face mask mandatory and payment of penalties.

The Guardian

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