Now that coronavirus is here

The heave of relief sighed by Nigerians with the statement by Reddington Hospital management last Wednesday that the China national who presented himself at the Ikeja branch of the hospital was COVID-19-free was burst Thursday night as the Federal Ministry of Health as well as the Lagos State Ministry of Health confirmed that the first coronavirus case had been recorded in the country with a Nigeria-based Italian, who just returned from Milan in Italy, testing positive to the disease.

Efforts by government officials at federal and state levels since the detection of the disease are quite commendable. Everyone, including the minister of health and Lagos State governor, has been busy assuring the citizens of the capacity of the country to contain the disease.

However, despite the assurances given by top government officials, the question that agitates the mind is how did the airport miss detecting the virus in the man? Earlier in January, the minister of health had informed Nigerians during a news conference that the government would set up a multisectoral committee to scale up surveillance and vigilance at all the five international airports. The minister had said the committee would comprise critical stakeholders in the health, security, aviation and transport sectors and also include development partners based on the fact that air travellers are more likely carriers of the virus. So, if the government told us just a month ago that it had put all the measures in place to ensure the detection of any carrier of the virus, why did the Murtala Muhammed International Airport fail to detect that the Italian had the virus? Did the airport fail to screen the Italian? Was the equipment functional? How did the man get into the country without his status being detected? Did the airport fail to detect the virus or was it that the virus had not grown to the level that it could be detected? Those in charge should find out what really happened to ensure that we are not just wasting time and effort.

If the airport had been able to detect this, the danger of having the virus spread in the country would have been minimal because the patient would have been immediately quarantined and he would have had limited contact with others. Now that the man went to several places and had interactions with many people before being detected as bearing the virus, the chances of more people getting the virus are high.

The point is we cannot, as a nation, afford a weak link. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If in spite of investments in place and efforts devoted to ensuring the safety of Nigerians we get careless enough to allow a weak link, all the efforts will go down the drains and many Nigerians may be exposed to the risk of contracting the disease.

No efforts must be spared to ensure the immediate containment of the disease because not only does coronavirus destroy health, it also destroys economies. Already, Saudi Arabia government has announced the suspension of visas for Muslims in 24 countries where the new coronavirus has spread. This is an effort by the country to slow down the spread of the virus. While it is not clear whether the suspension will be lifted before Ramadan, 7.5million people who usually perform the lesser hajj pilgrimage may be affected by the suspension unless it is lifted land that means a huge loss of revenue for the country.

Japan has also decided to shut all of its schools as from tomorrow. The Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who gave the order, directed all schools to stay closed until the end of the spring break on April 8. Although the move is meant to reduce social contact and halt the spread of the virus, it will also hurt the nation’s economy.

This has also spread to Nigeria as Agip Sapiem, where the infected Italian is working, was on Friday shut down because the man was said to have visited the place after his return to the country.

The point is Nigeria cannot afford to have her economy under lock and key. While our economy operates in full blast, its growth is not enough to stop us from being the country with the largest concentration of poor people in the world. If the economy should be shut down, the number of the poor will escalate in an unprecedented and unbelievable proportion because the bulk of the citizens depend on daily earnings to make a living. So, the onus is on the government to ensure that everything possible is done to immediately contain the disease and free Nigerians from the fear of COVID-19 and its threatening consequences.

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