Africa

REPORTING THE OUTBREAK

Nigeria to ease lockdown and reopen the economy

A member of the Nigerian army performs a temperature check on a visitor at the entrance of the Nigerian Army Hospital in the Yaba area of Lagos, Nigeria, on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Nigerian health authorities said theyre tracing everyone whos been in contact with an Italian man who tested positive for the coronavirus, the first such case in sub-Saharan Africa. Photographer: George Osodi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

With the world weeks into its Covid-19 lockdowns, the damaging effects on national economies has governments eager to lift or ease regulations. Nigeria is no different as it tries to save both citizen’s lives and Africa’s largest economy.

On the evening of 27 April, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced a gradual easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown — to commence on 4 May. The announcement pertained specifically to the West African nation’s three major states — Abuja, Lagos and Ogun — which were the first to introduce restrictions.

In the weeks following the initial 14-day lockdown period, the government implemented measures to try to remedy years of inadequate healthcare in the 36-state country. According to political sources, these measures will ensure the health system can cope with an ever-increasing number of cases as economic activity resumes.

Addressing the nation on Monday, Buhari said gradual easing of the lockdown “will be followed strictly with aggressive reinforcement of testing and contact-tracing measures while allowing the restoration of some economic and business activities in certain sectors”.

Well-known Nigerain health and science journalist Chioma Obinna said the country’s health system was full of inefficiencies that placed it in a precarious position to manage the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The government has since responded fairly, though the responses were a bit late in coming and this has attracted a lot of criticism,” said Obinna, who works for Vanguard Newspapers.

“Before confirmation of the first case, the country had only five laboratories with capacity to test for Covid-19, but the labs have now been upgraded to nine centres, courtesy of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.”

After reinforcing its ailing health system, the government appears confident about reopening the economy. The strict lockdown has, as in many countries, been accompanied by hunger and job insecurity for the country’s poor.

“From the viewpoint of a health journalist, the lockdown was an important measure recommended by the World Health Organisation for countries to apply to stop transmission of the virus,” said Obinna. “Since the beginning of the lockdown, positive cases have skyrocketed but the experts say that was expected.”

  

Early into the lockdown, Nigerians started flouting the regulations by venturing out of homes to engage in commercial activity in order to feed their families.

“The lockdown has brought hardship on a lot of Nigerians,” observed Obinna. “Many who live on daily earnings are voicing that they cannot continue to stay in lockdown without food to eat.”

Nigeria’s daily increase in the number of Covid-19 cases shot up recently, averaging about 90 new cases a day over the past two weeks. According to Obinna, experts have varied views on reasons for this.

“Some experts say it was as a result of the lockdown, while others argue that it is because the country has raised its testing capacity and is now testing more people.”

Buhari emphasised that, after an initial two-week lockdown, 14 extra days were necessary and that premature lifting of restrictions could cost many lives.

“The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable,” said Buhari. “No country can afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement on its economy. I am fully aware of the great difficulties experienced, especially by those who earn a daily wage such as traders, day workers, artisans and manual workers.”

At the time of the extension announcement, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases sat at 343. Two weeks later, 1,385 new cases had been reported.

The relaxation of regulations will come as a relief for citizens working in both the formal and informal sectors. Obinna points out that the economic impact of the lockdown has even reached newsrooms.

“The media world in Nigeria is not exempted. Some gave compulsory leave to 50% of their staff,” revealed Obinna. “The number of pages of newspapers, which used to be as high as 56, is down to 28. The number of adverts placed has also decreased.”

Buhari told citizens that the government would make available resources necessary to get the economy back on track. “To support our businesses and traders, the monetary and fiscal authorities shall deploy all the necessary provisions needed for production to continue and, thus, jobs restored,” he said.

However, many Nigerians are still seeking answers as to why billions of naira donated by companies and individuals to the coronavirus relief cause have not translated into obvious material aid for people.

“Although the president had approved and released some food products and billions of naira for palliative medicines to states affected, the people are saying they never got it,” said Obinna.

Chioma Obinna is a health and science reporter at Vanguard Newspaper in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: supplied

On Wednesday 29 April, African Arguments published an article on how the virus had affected Nigerians and noted that many affected people did not benefit from government aid.

While an easing of lockdown regulations aims to bring back some lost economic activities, the continuation of some restrictions still poses a risk to many livelihoods.

“It has really impacted on the economy of individuals, small businesses, government and multi-billion companies,” said Obinna, adding that even sectors such as public and financial services had been hard hit.

“Right now, the government themselves are thinking of cutting down salaries of civil servants. Some banks have cut salaries of their workers. Many companies may not come back after the lockdown.”

Buhari has promised his people they will be protected by the government. “I will thank all Nigerians again for your patience and co-operation during this difficult and challenging period,” he said on Monday.

“I assure you that the government shall continue to take all necessary measures to protect the lives and livelihoods of our citizens and residents.” DM

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