Nigerians Largely Ignoring the Dangers of COVID-19
It is in the afternoon on the last day of 2020 and the sun is scorching inside the bustling Ogbete market in the heart of Enugu city. Chinenye Chukwu is haggling over the prices of her banana fruit with four customers who are standing around her. She is not wearing a mask. She does not even have one inside her bag. None of her customers have masks either. But Chukwu does not care.
She thinks the stories about the outbreak of the COVID-19, the fact that it has resulted in the loss of nearly 1.9 million lives globally, are untrue.
“I can’t wear that mask. I don’t have COVID-19. It is meant for those who have it, if it really exists. But I don’t think it does,” she told me, while attending to her customers.
Like Chukwu, several owners of small businesses inside the ever-bustling Enugu market, including dealers in second-hand clothing, phone accessories, and foodstuffs, are attending to unmasked customers.
On Tuesday, the director-general of the NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, warned that January will be tough for the country because of the spike in COVID-19 infections.
In the past weeks, Nigeria has recorded a spike in the number of infections, a situation Ihekweazu says the country’s health system is struggling to cope with.
He told members of the Presidential Task Force that the situation is disheartening because safety protocol have not been heeded by Nigerians. “We just faced the worst week since we started responding to this outbreak. We had more cases in Nigeria last week than in any other previous week since the beginning of the outbreak.”
He expressed concerns that pictures and videos from across the country paint a very disheartening situation and it appears that messages and appeals over the last few months and weeks have been ignored.
Although the deadly coronavirus is spreading at an alarming speed, many Nigerians do not consider COVID-19 a public health emergency. They move on the streets without masks. Social distancing has completely been forgotten. Many homes have thrown away the culture of maintaining personal hygiene.
Away from the celebrations that accompanied Christmas, friends gathered for drinks, and several marriage ceremonies were observed without strict compliance to social distancing guidelines.
In response to this, Chikwe Ihekweazu says “we will now have to brace ourselves for the consequences of the activities that we have decided to carry out in December.”
Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, has announced a new ban on alcohol sales, while also insisting that mask-wearing will be mandatory in public.
On Sunday, the country’s total coronavirus infections have surpassed one million, days after a new faster-spreading variant was confirmed to be present in the country. With a total of over 1,004,413 cases reported towards the end of 2020, and a death rate standing at nearly 27,000, South Africa remains the worst-hit country in Africa. Morocco occupies the second place spot with 432,079 cases and 7,240 deaths, followed by Egypt with 131,315 cases and 7,352 fatalities.
In a televised speech on Monday, Ramaphosa said “unless we act now and unless we act decisively, the number of new infections will far exceed what we experienced during the first wave and thousands of more people will lose their lives.”
He pointed the finger at “super-spreader” social events and an “extreme lack of vigilance over the holiday period,” insisting that his government had let down its guard and is now paying the price.
The country’s health minister, Zwelini Mkhize, said that a severe variant of the coronavirus has been detected in South Africa, which explains the rapid spread of a second wave that affects younger people. Known as 501.V2 variant, it was said to have been identified by South African researchers and details have been sent to the World Health Organization.
With the increasing rate of infections in Nigeria, like other African nations, the government might be forced to go into another painful lockdown.