FEARS are growing that Nigeria may have to reintroduce a nationwide lockdown to arrest the growing spread of the coronavirus pandemic after there was a sudden surge in the number of cases following a partial lifting of restrictions on Monday.
On Monday this week, President Muhammadu Buhari partially lifted the lockdowns in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja and Ogun and Lagos states. In place for five weeks, the restrictions had confined people indoors but with their easing, people in the two states and Abuja were allowed to go about their business so long as they wore facemasks and maintained a social distance of two metres.
However, as soon as the restrictions were lifted, there was a melee in Lagos and Abuja, with thousands of people jostling to get to their banks. Most of them were without facemasks and no form of social distancing was observed, raising fears that the government may have to reintroduce a lockdown in the light of this flagrant disregard for health guidelines.
It is no surprise that within 24 hours of the lifting of the restrictions, Nigeria recorded its highest single-day infection rate with a total of 245 new cases on Monday. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), 73 of these cases were in Lagos, bringing the total number of affected people in the country to 2,950, of which there have been 98 deaths.
Apart from ignoring the health guidelines, Nigerians also shunned a government ban on inter-state travel, with policemen asked to man roadblocks collecting bribes to let people pass. Also, in defiance of rules banning gatherings of more than 20 people, public buses were packed in the city of Lagos as it returned to its normal bustling self.
All this has prompted health experts to warn that another lockdown may be on the horizon soon as the disregard for caution will lead to a nationwide spike in infections. Francis Faduyile, the president of the Nigerian Medical Association, said that the decision to lift the lockdown was very premature and risked driving up the rate of infections, which he called a frightening scenario.
Chike Ihekweazu, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, has warned that crowded scenes seen on Monday would result in more infections. However, introducing another lockdown will be very unpopular with Nigerians as the unique nature of the urban economies is centred around petty artisans and traders earning their living on a daily basis.