Pushing e-commerce frontiers as Covid-19 worsens

AS fear heightens over probable backlash of relaxed lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States amidst frightening community transmission of coronavirus (Covid-19), e-commerce remains the most practical and safest method for curtailing the virus and driving social distancing.  The relaxation of lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States effective May 4 as announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in his nationwide broadcast on April 27, has unwittingly added a new dimension to the management of the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) amidst concerns over rising community transmission. The president, in empathy with business owners, workers and residents, who were overburdened by the heavy economic losses, impacted by the seven-week presidential lockdown imposed since March 29, announced the implementation of a phased relaxation of lockdown with people allowed to commute from 6am to 8pm daily as from May 4.

One biggest contest here is, what happens to social distancing? Observers are of the view that, despite the efficient control of travel history-related cases, the major concern remains how to flatten the worrisome spike in community transmission as almost the entire 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are now in the Covid-19 net.  Against the backdrop of the partial lifting of lockdown and the aftermath on Abuja; Lagos – due to its high population density and Ogun State because of its proximity to Lagos, worries being expressed stem from the fear that allowing people to move about freely could adversely impact the social distancing protocol and consequently trigger a fresh spike in coronavirus transmission.  “Now that businesses, workers and residents can go about their daily chores, a spike in the transmission is inevitable,” a concerned citizen said.

Nevertheless, the solutions to these challenges are not far to seek. The good news is that rather than taking the dangerous option of mingling with crowds, consumers can take advantage of e-commerce platforms like Jumia’s e-payment and last-mile delivery capabilities, which are uniquely positioned to be part of Africa’s response strategy to the coronavirus pandemic. Those that desire to make a purchase of essential and non-essential goods that they were unable to get during the lockdown, can also leverage on the services to avoid crowded places thereby eliminating or reducing their vulnerability to coronavirus infection.

While reviewing the partial lifting of lockdown on Channels Television 10 o’clock news bulletin monitored in Lagos some days ago, a former director of the Department of State Service, Mike Ejiofor, explained that influx in people’s movement should be expected in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states on Monday, May 4 and some days after. According to him, the residents, who have complied with the presidential stay at home order for weeks, would naturally want to do as much as they could to recover the lost ground. While appealing to people not to compromise social distancing as they return to work, he urged the government to strengthen compliance with social distancing. A public affairs analyst, Mudorck Essien, advised the government to learn from countries that have implemented relaxed lockdown including China, Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Czech Republic and New Zealand by leveraging e-commerce system to curtail movement and large crowds at physical malls, stores and open market stalls.

Noting, in particular, our peculiar cultural orientation, he said e-commerce operators offerred cost-efficient options to help safety-conscious consumers limit their movements and avoid overcrowded places like brick-and-mortar malls, stores, shops and open markets. He said it is normal for Nigerians to ride on the emotion of wanting to make a quick purchase of those non-essentials they were unable to buy during the period of lockdown especially as there might be fresh lockdown in the event of a fresh wave of coronavirus transmission. “The fundamentals of Covid-19 have not changed. It’s too dangerous to break the social distancing protocol now because of the high risk of person-to-person transmission. One infected person entering a mall or a store can infect a dozen people. One infected person that enters Idumota, Balogun or Oke-Arin markets to buy textiles or other needs can infect hundreds of more people. It just makes good sense to leverage the e-commerce system to sustain social distancing. Let people do their purchases through online transactions,” Essien counselled. A financial analyst, Ayo Ademire, said the return of normal economic activities would automatically trigger an increase in hand-to-hand exchange of physical cash among Nigerians, thus raising the fear of a spike in transmission. To this end, he maintained that a country like Nigeria that seeks to benefit from the huge potentials of the digital economy should begin to optimise the e-commerce system as the practice is in countries like China, the United States and other developed economies. “This is the best time to take advantage of e-commerce operators. They can serve the multiple ends of keeping people safe at this critical time as well as promoting the digital economy. Government should encourage e-commerce players to continue to drive the logistics and supply of goods and also encourage more Nigerians to imbibe digital purchase and payment for goods and services,” he noted.

To stop Covid-19 transmission, although President Buhari had announced other preventive measures including a dusk-to-dawn curfew, indefinite restriction of inter-state movement except for vehicles carrying essentials including groceries, food, agriculture inputs, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment and a ban on social and religious gatherings, regular handwashing with soap and running water, use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, and the wearing of facemasks and hand gloves in public, social distancing remains a critical factor in the fight against the pandemic.

  • Oriade, a media practitioner, writes in from Lagos.

 

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