On March 30, 2020, the Federal Government imposed the first lockdown for a period of 14 days, to examine the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria.
The lockdowns were variously reviewed, but with the government insisting that the COVID-19 Protocols must be obeyed, as the movement of people cannot be forever restricted.
To ensure the enforcement of the COVID-19 Protocols, President Muhammadu Buhari on Jan- 26, 2021, signed the COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021.
Under the regulation, the wearing of facemasks was made compulsory in public places.
The use of facemasks has been accepted and recommended globally as a tool for COVID-19 protection.
By the new federal regulation, no person in Nigeria will be allowed into a public place without a face mask. The face mask must cover the person’s nose and mouth.
A public place under the regulation, are: “Markets (including open markets), malls, supermarkets, shops, restaurants, hotels, event centres, gardens, leisure parks, recreation centres, motor parks, fitness centres or any other similar establishment.”
Also listed as public places includes places of worship; workplace and schools, banks, public transportation vehicles, hostels, boarding houses and detention centres.
Not wearing a nose and mouth mask in a public place is an offence in all parts of Nigeria.
Offenders risk six months imprisonment or N200,000 fine or both.
Disregards of COVID-19 policies
An investigation by our correspondent showed that the face mask policies and social distancing are no longer strictly observed.
Visits to motor parks, gardens, including shopping malls revealed that Nigerians are not wearing face masks or observing social distancing.
Very few people embrace mask-wearing and adhere to public health advice.
Even with the rapid mutation of the virus, Nigerians are not applying these principles as best they can.
Health experts reaction
Some health experts, however, opined that high degrees of consistent communication from those asking people to change their behavior is required. They noted that instead, the policymakers have traditionally focused on enforcement and deterrence.
They also stressed the importance of mass vaccination, as the reality on ground is that COVID-19 has come to stay.
According to WHO, one of the essential factors governing the future of COVID-19 is human immunity to the illness?
Immunity to any pathogen, including SARS-CoV-2, isn’t binary like a light switch. Instead, it’s more like a dimmer switch: The human immune system can confer varying degrees of partial protection from a pathogen, which can stave off severe illness without necessarily preventing infection or transmission.
Dr Samuel Eleojo a public health practitioner, said that a lot of people would be infected, while people need the vaccine to reduce person-to-person transmission.
Eleojo noted that there would be pockets of people that won’t take the vaccines, there would be localised outbreaks, but it would become one of the ‘regular’ coronaviruses.
“But this transition won’t happen overnight.
“The SARS-CoV-2’s exact post-pandemic trajectory will depend on three major factors: how long Nigerians retain immunity to the virus, how quickly the virus evolves, and how widely older populations become immune during the pandemic itself,” he explained.
The expert added that eventually, COVID-19 could become a much milder illness, but for now, vaccination and surveillance were critical to end the pandemic phase.
According to him, while communication is key to shifting mindsets, high-risk have also shown that it’s important for the government to design safety guidelines around how people actually behave, rather than how the government hope people will behave.
“Some Nigerians will find themselves in situations where guidelines are not clear, social pressures make bending the rules attractive, or a distraction makes them forget about the rules,” he stressed.
According to Prof. Olatunji Kolawole, Professor of Medical Virology, the whole world is living with the reality of COVID19 since it was declared in January 2020 by WHO as a global pandemic.
Kolawole, Member, Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee on COVID-19 Health Sector Response in Nigeria, said that Nigerians by implications were not left out of this reality.
He noted that daily rising cases from Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), further reiterate the facts that there were high rates of community transmission, indicating that Nigerians were now living with COVID 19.
“This is of serious concern to me as a virologist, particularly with the rising cases of variants of concern in the country. Unfortunately, there is absolutely non-compliance with the Non- Pharmaceutical Interventions, (NPIs), preventive measures among the populace.
“This could lead to increase in case positivity rates and infection transmission leading to severe cases and invariably rise in numbers of deaths,” he explained.
The professor advised that Nigerians must take responsibility by adhering to all the preventive measures as well as make themselves available to receive the vaccines.
“Yes, high degree of trust by Nigerians on the leaders and decision-makers is advocated and consistent risk communication to the grassroots by the community gate keepers as well as states and local government areas will promote effective containment of the viral infection.
“I strongly believe that if we all as citizens complement government efforts and public -private partnership roles by taking responsibility, surely we will get out of the woods soonest,” he added.
The Society for Family Health, (SFH), Managing Director Dr Omokhudu Idogho, said that the new Delta variant had changed the dynamics of the pandemic in the country.
According to him, cases continue to rise and linked mortality also increases geometrically.
Idogho stressed that more than 18,000 cases and 150 fatality were reported in the last 30 days. “It seems we may have celebrated too early and thrown caution to the wind.
“Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the reality of the third wave. The secrecy around COVID-19 infections and fatality worsen risk perception as is the sense of triumphalism on our invincibility to COVID-19 arising from the success of our response to the first and second wave.
“As a people, we must all recognise that COVID-19 is now a reality, we must reframe our existence to live positively with it. We have to all take personal responsibility to protect ourselves and loved ones.”
The managing director said Nigerians should do this by grabbing the opportunity offered by the second phase of the country’s vaccination programme to get vaccinated.
“We now have a wider spectrum of vaccine to cater for all. We must continue with the non-pharmaceutical prevention methods of face mask, hand washing and minimising close personal contact,” he explained.
Besides vaccination, voluntary compliance to all COVID-19 Protocols remain Nigeria’s best defence against the coronavirus pandemic.