That the world is currently going through a crisis the type of which has not been seen in over 100 years is no longer news. In terms of actual spread, the COVID-19 is arguably the most far-reaching and as of today, 185 of the 195 countries in the world have reported the presence of the coronavirus in their territories.
With over 2.4 million infections and over 177,000 dead, it might not yet be the most deadly but it will definitely emerge as having the most impact on the world economy in the last 100 years.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic which peaked between 2005-2012 has already claimed over 36 million lives. It is unlikely the COVID-19 pandemic will ever approach anything close to those numbers. Nevertheless, the implications of this particular crisis on the world and the developing African economies, in particular, are momentous.
The world’s leading economies and most developed nations have been most affected by the spread of the virus. Of the 10 most hard-hit countries, only Iran and Switzerland are not members of the G20, the group of countries that account for about 90% of the world economy.
That is scary and makes the fight against the continued spread of the virus the number one agenda in the world at the present moment. The search for and implementation of control measures has seen practically the entire world going into lockdown with social and physical distancing our new reality.
This, in addition to extensive tracing and testing, is seen as the most practical solution to the global problem, at least while a frenzied search for a vaccine is ongoing. That, we are told, however, might not come to fruition for another 12 – 18 months. The only viable solution at the moment is to slow down te spread through the reduction of contacts and the practice of frequent hand washing or in the absence of soap and water, the use of alcohol-based sanitizers.
These measures have helped in the Western countries and the U.S. and the U.K. are beginning to see a drop in the daily number of new cases and fatalities, even if very slowly. It is hoped that these numbers will begin to drop faster in the coming weeks. Other successes are being recorded in hard-hit places like Italy and Spain. South Korea has been a remarkable success story. The jury is still out on what really happened in Wuhan.
How effective and sustainable are these measures in less structured economies that are more impacted by the effects from restrictions than the health effects of the virus? In South Africa, there have been spontaneous riots and looting in the poor Townships due to the hardship caused by the restriction of movement.
This has also been experienced in Kenya, Malawi, and even Nigeria. While there have been protests in the U.S., Germany, and France, the reasons for the protests there are not a lack of food to eat unlike in Africa and India. Very poor countries with very large informal sectors of the economy cannot afford to remain locked down for too long.
The people do not have the economic capacity to save enough for times like this and the interventions by governments have been largely cosmetic, even if that has not been the intention.
Nigeria has a population (never proved) of about 200 million people, with about 70% of those living below the poverty line in some of the communities with the highest population densities in the world. Social distancing is a joke taken too far to most of the urban poor while the rural poor see the ‘corolafarus’, ‘kranabairus’, or ‘kokoro’, depending on what part of the country you ask as a myth. It is something that is for ‘them’ abroad, China to be specific, and which affects only the rich that have had the opportunity to travel. It will never affect them, and if perchance, they get it, then the native herbs will sort it out.
What is however not a myth is the hunger they face as a result of the restrictions to their movements and the deprivations they are suffering. They are hungry and they are angry. And the grumbling is getting louder. If the current lockdown is extended as is further in the present form, there might be a tipping point ahead.
A fundamental truth is that a lot of the masses in Nigeria are not seeing the effect of the virus beyond how the lockdown is affecting them. They do not know people who have lost their lives to it. They still do not appreciate the fact they could actually be infected by something just because they shake hands with a friend. On a more practical level, some live in compounds of 20 rooms with each room housing 5 or even 7 people and they are expected to self-isolate if they feel a fever coming on? People that sleep feet-to-head so they don’t breath into each other’s faces? Even the more comfortable middle class are struggling to maintain social distancing and they are also getting anxious about the situation. And they are getting fearful of the rumbling going on beneath the surface.
It is about time the government came out with a home-grown approach to this crisis. We cannot keep applying a rich man’s treatment to a poor man’s ailment. The lockdown should be reviewed while restrictions on public gathering and social distancing should be maintained and enforced. The social intervention by the governments at various levels, public-spirited individuals and corporate organisations are sporadic at best and just making a new set of millionaires. I see Nigerians living abroad sharing pictures of what they are being giving as relief items and how they are delivered and comparing it to what is being done in Nigeria.
To avoid being rude, I just say its ‘apples and oranges’. Some of the billions raised as intervention ‘palliatives’ should be directed towards the mass production of reusable masks for the people and which must be worn by anyone coming out in public. This is not ideal but it will achieve more than the current restrictions and people can begin to get a semblance of normalcy back in their lives.
Let us get our thinking caps on. It is working in the U.K. obviously does not mean it will work in Nigeria or South Africa. We are in a unique situation and that requires a unique solution. Even the virus is affecting us in a unique way, going by the numbers. We cannot afford the gathering storm!
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