COVID-19 and how to stop its ongoing war on mankind is what’s keeping everyone awake day and night, even my four-year old daughter has somehow caught wind of how to pronounce the word "coronavirus." Nations are probably unwillingly forced to fight this fight on their own as everyone is scrambling to protect its citizenry with limited personnel and resources.
Wuhan, China where it all started from is not yet out of the woods but kudos to the Chinese Government for their outreaches so far particularly to Italy and also to Jack Ma for sending millions of prevention and testing kits to be shared among African countries. The city has now clocked about 60 days of total lockdown and witnessed the past four consecutive days of zero infection.
Unfortunately, the virus has managed to find its way to Nigeria, Lagos taking the hardest hit. Yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari on the recommendation of the presidential task force on COVID-19 closed all land borders, in addition to the earlier directives to shut all international airports. In many states across the federation particularly Lagos, State workers from Level 12 below have been asked not to report to work, mass congregations and all non-essential outings banned. All these measures technically imply that Nigeria is already under lockdown. The government and the people have to find ways to make life go on. We all probably have never experienced anything like this before wherein we fear that there is an invisible virus out there to catch us once we step out of our homes. As a Nigerian currently residing in Wuhan, and in light of the recent COVID-19 developments in our country. I want to share my experience of the lockdown in Wuhan and outline a few recommendations for the government and the people based on my experience.
The Wuhan Experience
The approach of lockdown put in place in Wuhan which effectively started Monday, January 20, 2020, was sequential. At the initial stage of the lockdown, public transportation was cut-off. However, movement of persons was not restricted, private vehicle owners and UBER were also allowed to operate, this lasted for about one week. During this period, shops were open and people had started to stock up their supplies. Afterward, motorized vehicles were banned from moving, which meant that the only means of movement could be by okadas and bicycles. The only places available/open to going were malls, (not open markets) to purchase food supplies. Within the malls, only shops that sold groceries were open while all other shops (clothes and non-essentials) were shut. This second stage lasted for about two-three weeks, during this phase, only one registered member of a household is allowed to leave the estate/community to go out once in a week to fetch food supplies for the family. The final stage, by far the longest and which is still in the place till now is probably the strictest whereby all forms of movement of unauthorized persons were prohibited. We are not allowed to leave our places of abode. The only way we have been getting food supply at this stage is to purchase food items via online e-commerce platforms, not individual orders but group-buy i.e. the entire estate buys its various commodities as one entity and share according to individual order when delivered. To minimize physical contact, several groups were created on WeChat which is like the WhatsApp predominantly used in Nigeria. For each estate, we have groups for live fish, groups for provisions, groups for frozen food items, groups for perishables, etc. If you need an item, you send your request in the group and the organizers pool-buys the group orders once or twice in a week. Delivery of the goods may not arrive the same day the orders are made, initially, it used to take about two days for your ordered items to arrive but now with more delivery/dispatch riders given health clearance, the delivery time is considerably faster, the following day latest. When your package arrives, notice is sent in the group and one member of the family goes to the gate of the estate to pick it up. At the point of pick-up, temperature checks are done and recorded. No one is expected or allowed to jaywalk not even within your estate, we all stay indoors. Mini apps were also developed for every member of a household to record their temperature readings twice a day. Now that the COVID-19 era is near its end in Wuhan, zero infections in the past four days. The lockdown is also being gradually lifted, all essential workers and most government officers have resumed back to work. From what we hear, non-essential workers may resume by the end of March. However, public transportation may not be fully restored until early-mid April. Everyone in the city also has to at some point get some form of health clearance before being allowed to freely move around the city.
How will a lockdown work in Nigeria (Lagos/Abuja)?
I am extremely worried about the dispersion of the incidences across the country but I am equally glad that they are a manageable number. I want to share a few recommendations focused on the effective management of persons and logistics drawn from my experience living under lockdown in Wuhan.
1. This is the time to put the leaders at the local level to work, thankfully a state like Lagos already has LCDA’s. Policies from the top will have to be implemented by them. The LCDA heads will further need or put in place where absent community/ward leaders, estate leaders, and street leaders — all these people will help to facilitate logistics for the free flow of supplies (food and medical).
2. All our hinterlands and villages should be shut now, no one should be permitted to travel from the cities to the hinterlands because those places are likely free of the infections and the government needs them to be healthy and fully functional to facilitate production and supply of food. Emergency/Ad hoc labor who have been medically certified should also be hired now and sent to our food bases to assist in ramping up food production. Companies with relevant knowledge and experience in the agricultural food supply chain should be engaged now.
3. The Government should work with its municipal and community officers to organize residences to coordinate their food supply needs via WhatsApp. Almost everyone in Nigeria now has a smartphone and uses WhatsApp. People are already familiar with how groups work on WhatsApp. It can be creatively explored now to minimize physical contact.
4. The government needs to also work with some accredited pharmacies even at the lowest community level to obtain records of drugs that people are buying or want to buy. This helps with identifying and tracking suspected cases.
5. People have to ensure that their homes are thoroughly disinfected using bleach disinfectants, the compound and by extension the street where you live. There has to be a very effective and cordial cooperation to carry out these tasks. When any member of a family steps out of the house, consider the person contaminated and ensure that you thoroughly disinfect the person’s clothes and shoes using the alcohol-based disinfectants before they enter the house.
6. Just as employed in Wuhan, a sequential or gradual lockdown would be the least shocking approach. To introduce a complete stay at home all at once to everyone will be highly disruptive and the shocks from that may result in a revolt. Homes should be allowed to have one registered member of the household who will go out to get the supplies in the interim until when a communal way of obtaining the supplies can be introduced.
Finally, I urge all residents in Nigeria at the moment to please comply with all directives of government concerning the fight against this virus. The directives I believe will be dynamic based on the routine assessment by the government. The truth is that in a time like this, we cannot always get what we want even if you have the money, the law of demand and supply will fail. At some point, people may even resort to trade by barter, it happened in Wuhan. What has kept the people going through the challenges is the support for one another. The virus is out to test our humanity and in our case as Nigerians, our unity, we have to put aside our many differences to win this fight. Therefore, we have to bear with the government and the existing systems that might be in place to fight the coronavirus.
May God heal our land.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Ayodeji Idowu (Ph.D.), is a Nigerian resident in Wuhan, China