NIGERIA’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19 AND HER POST-PANDEMIC PLANS
By Timothy Choji
When the first case of the coronavirus was reported on 27th February 2020 in Lagos State, Southwest of Nigeria, the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government left no one in doubt about its preparedness to curtail the disease.
Following the spread of COVID-19 pandemic from Wuhan, China to Europe, USA and other parts of the world, the Nigerian government had acted swiftly by setting up the Coronavirus Preparedness Group on January 30, 2020, to mitigate the impact of the virus if it eventually spreads to Nigeria.
The government followed this up by establishing the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, headed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha to spearhead and coordinate national efforts at bringing the pandemic under control.
The task force, comprising cabinet ministers and heads of relevant strategic agencies of government, met daily to coordinate and oversee Nigeria’s multi-sectoral inter-governmental efforts to contain the spread of the disease as well as review the general COVID-19 situation in Nigeria.
In providing policy direction and guidance, the PTF gave full support to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and all frontline workers involved daily in fighting the disease.
On March 9, 2020, a Nigerian man who had contact with the index case at Ewekoro in neighbouring Ogun State was reported as the second confirmed case of the virus in Nigeria.
Following the advice of the task force, the Nigerian government in March 2020, shut the country’s borders, imposed lockdowns, interstate travel ban and restricted movements of persons to avoid individual and community spread of the disease.
Nigeria began to construct new medical facilities and expanding existing ones. Now the country has sophisticated, hi-tech laboratories in almost all states of the federation. A total of six thousand six hundred and fifty bed capacity for the management of COVID-19 cases was urgently built by the government.
A significant response to the pandemic was the government-funded N500 billion COVID-19 crisis intervention fund and enhanced support to states of the federation for critical healthcare expenses.
Government, working through the PTF, also designed messages on various platforms to create awareness about the non-pharmaceutical protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. Such messages advised citizens on the wearing of face masks in public; regular washing of hands with soap under running water, use of hand sanitizers and maintaining social or physical distancing, among others were introduced, to protect citizens and manage the spread.
State and Local Governments’ response teams were also activated and mobilized to ensure that no part of the country is left out in the fight against the disease.
The NCDC receives periodic materials and financial support from government and private sector operators which led to molecular laboratories which were multiplied across the country, for speedy testing of suspected cases and prompt release of results, so as to contain the situation.
Similarly, isolation and treatment centres were also activated across Nigeria, to cater to patients as part of efforts to flatten the curve of COVID-19.
The Nigerian government also gave out food support in form of palliatives to citizens across the country, through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
The ministry also disbursed four months grants of twenty thousand Naira to the poorest households in the country.
In response to the economic challenges brought about by COVID-19, the government established the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP). This was designed by the Economic Sustainability Committee, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with N2.3 trillion as safety nets to enable businesses across the country remain afloat in the face of the pandemic.
This is a major plank of the post-pandemic plans of the Nigerian government.
Between March and end of July 2020, confirmed cases in Nigeria rose from two to 43,152 of which 19,565 have recovered and discharged, while 879 lives were lost to the disease. As of last week, Nigeria had recorded 65,457 confirmed cases out of which 61,337 have recovered with 1,163 fatalities. The fatality rate of COVID-19 in Nigeria is 1.57 per cent.
Experts have observed that the high recovery rate from the disease and low fatality percentage in Nigeria as compared to other countries are attributable to government’s proactive disposition and response to the pandemic, even before it spread to the country.
With the development of vaccines approved by the World Health Organization, the Buhari led administration has since informed citizens of its readiness to procure a first instalment of twenty million doses to administer to citizens as a way of preventing them from contracting the deadly disease.
According to the country’s Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire, by the end of January 2021, the vaccines would have been made available to Nigeria by the World Health Organization as a donation.
With the second wave of the pandemic being witnessed around the world, the Nigerian Government is already taking steps to ensure that the gains of the last nine months are not only sustained but also improved upon.
According to the PTF, there have been indications that Nigeria was entering the second wave of the infection, given the recent spikes witnessed in the number of infections in the country.
The PTF is already taking steps to ensure that the right things are done to curtail the spread of the disease in Nigeria in its second wave. The PTF has asked citizens to adhere to the Non-Pharmaceutical Protocols in order to flatten the curve of the second wave.
Also, the PTF in stepping up testing and detection as part of renewed efforts at forcing down the spike witnessed in the country.
Nigeria must ensure that the curve of the pandemic is effectively put in check pending when the expected COVID-19 vaccine arrives in the country.