It is the end of the year. Only if it could also be the end of corona virus!
With the showdown of the year, social gathering with loved ones is a potent healing for all minds still alive. As such, its essence cannot be argued. The festive season is associated with long/short distance traveling, closed/opened space gatherings, (non)religious celebration, fun/happiness sharing, show of friendliness and gifts exchange, a period of reuniting with families, friends and foes alike. Economically, it is a productive period as travelling companies and gifts shops benefit most. The psychological aftermath of these gatherings braces one up for the coming year. Hence the problem statement- the festive season: an accelerator to the rise of the second wave of COVID-19 in Nigeria if caution is wind thrown.
The phenomenon of a second wave is established as portrayed with statistics from countries that earlier than Nigeria had had their first wave of the pandemic -as early as April, 2020, Japan; by August, 2020, European countries such as Germany, Finland, etc. What message does this have for Nigerians in Nigeria who are now on this brink?
As of 17:22 on Friday, December 18, 2020, COVID-19 statistics shown on covid19.ncdc.gov.ng is as follows: 76, 207 confirmed cases from 869, 362 samples tested with 67, 110 discharged cases, 1, 201 deaths and 7, 896 active cases. The general decline earlier noted saw an abrupt end in late November making many concerned citizens and organizations decry the possibility of a second wave. Could it be that no lessons were learnt from similar incidence in other countries?
Let’s look at the measures attributed to have curtailed the spread of the virus. Total lockdown, curfew, restrictions on necessary gatherings and/or bans, accelerated response from the ministry of public health, reinforced testing laboratories and kits, etc came to be effective after the first incident case in February 2020 and are now barely in existence after the steady decline in confirmed cases, thus leading to an upsurge. On what altar would one say that the country sacrificed public health gains for temporary economic gains as the potential of overwhelming COVID-19 is imminent –or rather, is happening?
If festivity is of such positive opulence as earlier noted, what then is the nexus with the rise of a second wave?
This is because an uncontrolled mode of celebration will defy all non-medical preventive measures as the cure is still a ghost. Among such measures are- social distance in small and large gatherings advisably in open spaces, frequent hand washing, use of alcohol based hand sanitisers, appropriate usage of face/nose mask.
Travelling as earlier noted is one of the characteristics of the festive period. The degree of compliance of the transport companies with NCDC regulations on non-medical preventive measures is almost non-existent. Okada riders, not wearing facemasks carry more than one passenger not wearing facemasks as well. Buses and cars are fully packed with passengers having body contact with one another. There is exchange of money without hand sanitising neither before nor after touch. The ventilation is quite poor and verbal communication goes back and forth. It is therefore not surprising that the steady increase in the number of confirmed cases is associated with the ease of the measures and should not be surprising with the occurrence of the second wave.
Social and religious gatherings which likewise characterise the festive period are plugs in this case. Verbal communication in small or large gatherings in open or close space without social distancing and the appropriate use of nose/facemasks is an invitation to the second wave. This is more enabled because the participants are from different households who had had different contacts. This is more of sedimentation process in which weathering agents transport different particles from varied sources and get them deposited in a locale where they become compacted into a rock. In other words, these gatherings are potent for the dispersion and concentration of the coronavirus. This presents a dilemma involving the consideration of the trade-offs between public health and socio-economic consequences.
Thus, great caution must be taken whilst celebrating in this festive season. The NCDC guidelines must be adhered to and wherever possible, events should hold in open spaces with occupant density carefully decided. To enforce this, floor markings and signs to identify the two metres physical distance should be done with spaced tables and chairs separating households. Separate entry and exit points will also prevent people from being forced to be close together. Festive displays should not promote physical interaction while photo opportunities should be organised to prevent crowding.
In addition, contact information of attendees such as name, phone number, email address, date and time of patronage must be kept by event organizers for contact tracing. Frequently touched areas such as tables and door handles should be cleaned hourly with detergents/disinfectants. While self service for food should be discouraged, separate entry and exit points at separate areas should be set up for ordering, payment and collection of foods. To achieve compliance to these measures, announcements and signage may be required.
Should Nigerians not be ready to compile, the NCDC should re-evaluate, restrategise and re-invigorate its COVID-19 response activities across the country to handle an inevitable second wave. Thus, effective public health and social measures earlier used, their impacts on other critical healthcare delivery systems assessed with corresponding acceptance and compliance by the public should be accurately delineated as the second wave would call for triggers for reinstating these measures. As we struggle with this peculiarity, measures to strike a balance between saving lives and minimizing the impact of the pandemic on the economy and social wellbeing of Nigerians have to be aggressively pursued. Giving no excuse to our lacking in advanced science development, the necessary science for making informed decisions and reallocating resources to where they are most needed must be giving utmost priority it begs for.
It is on this note that we wish you –dear avid readers, happy festive celebration. Stay safe always!