Relaxing of lockdowns, even if in phases, is still “very premature” and capable of triggering a catastrophic rise in new coronavirus, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has warned.
The warning is coming as many residents of Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States returned to their duty posts early Monday after being away from work for five weeks.
Last Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari reacted to the pressure to reopen the economy amid widespread hunger and uneven disbursement of palliatives by ordering a phased and gradual easing of the lockdown in the three states from May 4 to 17.
This, he said, was to ease the hardship of lockdown on Nigerians and prevent layoffs as well as reawaken economic activities, although under strict restrictions.
A national guideline issued for relaxing the lockdowns, mandates anyone in public spaces to use non-medical face masks. It also prohibits interstate travels — save for essential travel services — as well as gathering of more than 20 people outside of a workplace.
Daily curfew from 8 pm to 6 am is imposed while commercial vehicles are mandated to carry only four passengers at a time including the driver.
But Nigerian doctors believe the move could bear a catastrophic outcome, raising concern over the spike in infections in the past week.
Nigeria has recorded almost 1000 confirmed cases in the last five days, raising the country’s total to over 2, 558, including over a hundred health workers and 87 deaths.
Lagos remains the epicentre of the disease with 1,107 cases, followed by Kano – 343 which have long displaced Abuja – 278 and Ogun state – 80.
Health experts attributed the spike in infections to ongoing community transmission phase and improved testing capacity, warning that the country is yet to reach the peak of the curve.
“Nigeria hitting over 2, 000 cases in just seven days after reaching 1, 000 figuratively tilts the epidemiological curve towards an upward spike”, the NMA said in a statement signed by its President, Francis Faduyile.
“Nigeria should learn from her neighbour Ghana where the same action produced a 100% increase in infection rate in just a week.”
Within days of easing its lockdown, West African neighbour Ghana confirmed coronavirus cases surged to over 2,000, a 24 per cent increase.
The NMA warned that unless testing is expanded dramatically amid the relaxing of lockdowns, infections could rise exponentially.
Instead of relaxing lockdowns, the Nigerian doctors advised the government to intensify efforts “through mass enlightenment campaigns beyond current attempts to explain the dangers inherent in easing the lockdown prematurely in the face of rising infection rates; and also for the palliatives to reach the needy.”
The NMA said the concern raised by the country’s infectious disease agency, NCDC, that the number of bed spaces for patients could be overwhelmed if the confirmed cases continue to rise is an indication for the government to tread with caution.
The country has about 3,500-bed spaces identified as available for COVID-19 patients but with the rapid spike in infections, the NCDC said it is considering the option of home care treatment if bed spaces are no longer available for patients.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had warned that rushing to ease coronavirus restrictions would likely lead to a resurgence of the illness.
Meanwhile, the Lagos state government has ordered civil servants not to resume work yet due to the rapid increase in infections in the state.