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 Lagos and second COVID-19 lockdown debate

Lagos and second COVID-19 lockdown debate


WITH COVID-19 infection cases in excess of 1,400 out of a national total of a little more than 5,000, and 33 deaths out of over 160 for the entire country, Lagos State is reportedly weighing its options on whether to repeat the lockdown imposed on the state by the federal government on March 30 or simply continue with the regimen of relaxing the measure. The lockdown lasted for two unbroken weeks in the first instance in April, was extended by another two unbroken weeks, and then extended by another unbroken week, before an indeterminate 8pm-6am curfew was imposed after the easing of lockdown began. For as long as the lockdowns lasted, the rate of infection did not abate. Indeed, even with the imposition of curfew, infection has still not abated. There is no significant statistical difference in infection rate between the lockdown period and post-lockdown/curfew period, but the Lagos State government still thinks there should be a re-imposition of lockdown. It reasons that since Lagosians were not adhering to the rules and regulations guiding the easing of lockdown, they were making a second lockdown inevitable.

Though the state has not presented any statistical analysis to show that the rate of infection was gentler under lockdown than after, it has seemed to discount the fact that before the five-week lockdown the rate of infection was in fact slower than after the lockdown was imposed. In particular, in March, some 71 Lagosians were infected. In April, some 920 Lagosians were infected. And in May, so far, some 1065 people have been infected. These figures translate into 1,196 percent increase in infection rate for April under the lockdown (March 31, one day after lockdown began to April 30, four days before lockdown ended), and 16 percent rate of increase between the end of the lockdown, May 4, to May 13. In other words, the rate of increase of infection between the beginning of lockdown and end of lockdown was 1,489 percent. However, the fact is that the low rate of testing, both before and after lockdown ended, makes it difficult for statisticians to paint an accurate picture of the gentleness or steepness of the infection rate in the state.

Statisticians have managed to give a spatial picture of the infection, indicating which parts of the states suffer infections, but they have been unable to do precious little else. It is, therefore, confusing what picture of COVID-19 infection rate the state is seizing upon to consider a second lockdown. It was a mistake in the first instance to impose a lockdown, because little or nothing was gained from it other than perhaps identifying with the global convention of making general lockdown look sexy. Average infections in March in Lagos were 2.29 persons per day, and in April, the month of the lockdown, 30.67 persons. To consider administering a second lockdown simply because Lagosians are believed to be remiss in adhering to rules and regulations guiding the easing of lockdown will, therefore, be a terrible mistake.

The Lagos State government has now inexplicably decided to pass the decision about a second lockdown to the public through online polling. It is a decision that should normally be taken by a panel of the state’s scientists, medical experts, economists, law enforcement agencies and political leaders. Where the state got the brainwave to go online and subject the proposal to public opinion polling is hard to fathom. Online polling is the wrongest place to go for such a grave decision regarding a pandemic that constitutes an existential threat to nearly all parts of the world. Online pollsters are often concerned with a narrow range of options; they have no means of informing the public what factors to consider in coming to judgement about how to vote. For the pandemic and the lockdown, there is little to suggest that the public is fixated on anything else but the deaths that accompany the COVID-19 infection.

In March, when the federal government first unilaterally imposed a lockdown, many Lagosians actually and sensibly believed it was disruptive of the original measures thoughtfully embarked upon by the state. The state had embraced a gradual shutdown, significantly reduced traffic on the roads, banned religious gatherings and other forms of social entertainments, and encouraged companies to coax their workers, as much as practicable, to work from home. These were necessary first steps; and they were applauded and thought to be fairly effective. In addition, these measures were thought to be cost-effective, not needing wide scale financial or material interventions in the existence of either the middle class or the vulnerable. Unfortunately and heedlessly, the federal government, thinking itself to be decisive, barged in and ordered a lockdown, deigning only to inform the states affected by the rash decision. Since then nothing has been the same. Not only did cases spike, the vulnerable nearly caused a socio-economic revolt. And still the federal government has still been unable and incompetent to administer palliative measures.

It is, therefore, shocking that rather than appreciate all the attendant problems triggered by the federal government’s abrasive measure, including correctly assessing the competence of lockdown to address the rise in COVID-19 infection cases, the state has merely looked at the COVID-19 infection curve that has refused to flatten, and felt the need to blame the public for not adhering to the rules and regulations guiding the easing of the lockdown. Worse, it has felt that the best way to address the problem is either by threatening the people with a second lockdown, which they know is quite disruptive, or devolving the decision to the people themselves through online polling. This is not only unfair, it is hard to understand how the state could come up with what is evidently a retrogressive measure in the face of global easing of lockdowns even as infection rates have not abated in many parts of the world after huge expansion in testing.

A lockdown is useful only when the authorities can do what they cannot otherwise do without a lockdown, such as widespread testing and expansion of facilities for isolation and treatment. Second, it would be a gross dereliction of responsibility for a state imposing a lockdown not to competently distribute palliatives such as financial assistance to endangered companies and factories, and food and provisions to the people, especially, but not limited to, the vulnerable.

In the first lockdown ordered by the federal government, Lagos State was left to grapple with the issue of palliatives and all other attendant complications. The federal government’s palliative intervention was disruptive, tokenistic and controversially targeted. Sadly, too, Lagos simply went along with the federal lockdown without looking at and addressing its local peculiarities like Ogun did. That approach was uninspiring and unfair to Lagosians. The state allowed the good work it had started to be corrupted by an unthinking and panicky federal government. Lagos State must begin to trust its instincts, rather than abdicate the responsibility of determining whether a second lockdown is required. Another lockdown is not needed, and it will be to a considerable extent defied by a people whose lots have worsened abysmally with the first extended and unbroken five-week lockdown.

Ogun State gives three days break in one week in the implementation of its lockdown. It knows it cannot intervene significantly in terms of distributing palliatives to its people. Indeed, it has since given up on that. Yes, Ogun people have more lockdown freedom than Lagosians, but its people have nevertheless become needlessly exposed to all sorts of privations. Yet, a significant number of Ogun people live in Ogun State but work in Lagos. Denying them movement to their work places is counterproductive. Sadly, too, the state has unwisely inspired itself to consider going online to ask for permission to elongate the unproductive lockdown it has elevated as public policy. How many tests have they done during the lockdown? And do they even need a lockdown to carry out extensive tests? Lagos has carried out a little less than 10,000 tests and found about 2057 infected people. But the economy of Lagos is in dire straits, like the rest of the country, and the people are famished. Does the state need another lockdown to carry out more testing? And do the test kits even give accurate readings?

Online is not the place to seek validation for a policy that is clearly heedless and retrogressive. If the state wants to impose another lockdown, let it go ahead and please itself, instead of blaming the people for failure to adhere to rules that should be policed by the state in the first instance. But it must find a better way than it has shambolically done in the past few weeks to ameliorate the dire conditions of the people. It must find ways to provide food and provisions to nearly all Lagosians and give financial succour to distressed companies. The federal government will not do it; it is too distant and aloof. It is thus the responsibility of the states that have imposed lockdown. Those who are voting for lockdown online are not doing so competently. They should instead ask the government to police the easing of lockdown or be prepared to face civil disobedience in case of a second lockdown. Using mass deaths to alarm the people or extrapolating unverified and statistically unsubstantiated mass infections in the coming months is unhelpful. The government has a responsibility to limit the rate of new infections using the most cost-effective means. Forecasting apocalypse or locking the state or country down is hardly the way to go. It should do its work rationally and responsibly and leave scaremongering and simplistic online polling severely alone.

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