For the past 10 weeks, Nigeria seems to be riding firmly along a plateau in its coronavirus epidemiological curve. At least four of the country’s 36 states has officially gone over 20 days without recording a single COVID-19 infection or a death attributable to the virus.
This is according to the coronavirus situation report published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Friday.
The latest NCDC data, which builds on previous ones suggesting that Nigeria’s coronavirus pandemic curve may be taking a downward turn, showed that the states of Borno, Kebbi, Zamfara and Kogi have not appeared in the daily coronavirus update for at least 23 days.
In stark contrast to several predictions suggesting that the pandemic will wreak havoc in Nigeria and much of the African continent, Africa’s most populous country has not been badly hit seven months into the outbreak, unlike many European and American countries.
Instead, there has been a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and fatalities recently.
Daily coronavirus cases have been stuck below 500 since late July. Likewise, deaths have been hovering around 30 per week over the past month, even as hospitalisations have continuously declined, since peaking at over 20,000 in mid-July. On the other hand, recoveries have improved significantly.
Of the over 58,000 total COVID-19 infections so far, nearly 50,000 persons have been discharged from hospitals after treatment while a little over 7,000 active cases remain in the country.
The recent improvement has given a lift to the country’s reopening plans.
Students are fully returning to schools in many states, as prospective youth corps members are told to prepare for camp. While local flights resumed about seven weeks ago, Nigeria has reopened its skies for international flights.
Restaurants and hotels can now open while parks, gyms, and cinemas are allowed to open at half capacity.
While these are considered a welcome development, relaxing too much can be dangerous, if it breeds a false sense of security, health experts say.
They, in fact, believe the steady decline in infections and deaths poses “more questions than answers.”
On Thursday, the NCDC warned that there is likely to be an even more devastating second wave of coronavirus in states such as Adamawa due to the non-compliance to COVID-19 health guidelines.
The health agency said it is only when more persons are tested that the spread of this deadly disease can be addressed and tamed.
Currently, Nigeria has tested just nearly 500,000 of its 200 million population.
The Lucky States – Report
The five states of Borno, Kebbi, Zamfara and Kogi have not recorded a single COVID-19 infection in over 20 days. Likewise, no fatality attributed to COVID-19 complications has been reported within the period.
Even before it reported its index case, Borno was a major concern for even the international community.
The state is at the heart of a humanitarian crisis in the northeast of Nigeria with a large number of people displaced by the over-a-decade long violent insurrection of the extremist group Boko Haram.
Approximately 1.5 million displaced people live in vastly overcrowded camps with poor water and sanitation facilities, limited supplies of hygiene essentials, such as soap and water, and often no individual space at all.
Functioning health infrastructure in Borno is scarce and the capacity to refer patients is extremely limited.
With so many people already vulnerable to outbreaks of severe malnutrition, and diseases such as malaria, measles and cholera, the potential impact of the coronavirus, which has overwhelmed some of the best healthcare systems in the world, was a big worry.
Nonetheless, Borno State has not been badly hit by the contagion. Of the 741 infections reported in the state, 703 have been discharged after treatment while 36 fatalities have been reported.
Only two active cases remain in the state of over five million. And now, Borno has gone 23 days without a single case or death.
How has Borno managed to keep the numbers down? It is likely due to a joint effort of the state government and international donors.
Following the confirmation of the index cases in the state, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners moved in rapidly to help Borno contain the contagion.
The efforts have helped identify, test, and treat cases of COVID-19 in order to prevent and control the further outbreak of the disease, said Collins Owili, WHO’s northeast emergency manager in a statement.
However, there are fears of an outbreak in community clusters especially since Borno is one of the states flagged for inadequate testing due to the inaccessibility of some areas.
Healthcare workers in the northeast of Nigeria face an additional threat – being attacked by insurgents.
Asides COVID-19, natural and manmade challenges in Kebbi state are multifaceted.
The state is battling with floods, which has so far destroyed 90 per cent of the two million tonnes of rice that officials expected to harvest this autumn, amounting to some 20 per cent of the rice Nigeria grew last year, according to Aljazeera. The waters are still rising.
On the other hand, the state is among the major hotspots for Lassa fever, an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by the Lassa virus, a member of the arenavirus family of viruses.
In late May, health authorities were put on alert after Lassa fever claimed 17 lives and infected dozens of people in the northwestern state.
However, the Kebbi government appear to have managed to keep the coronavirus at bay and is now gearing for full reopening of schools and other social activities.
The state has reported 94 infections thus far, of which 85 have been discharged after treatment while eight people succumbed to the contagion.
Only one active case remains in the state of over three million. Kebbi has gone 26 days without a single case or death.
While credit goes to the state government and international donors for the fine containment, health experts believe the poor testing capacity in the state will continue to raise concerns, especially as a second wave of infections is being considered imminent by the NCDC.
Zamfara has always been among states modelled for their fine response to COVID-19. Between May and July, the state did not report a single locally transmitted coronavirus case in more than 50 days to mark a major turning point in Nigeria’s battle against the virus.
On April 25, the Zamfara governor, Bello Matawalle confirmed two index cases of COVID-19 in the north-western state.
This came a few weeks after the state government announced the purchase of 12 ventilators and 20,000 test kits for its isolation centres, according to a statement by the spokesperson of the governor, Zailani Baffa.
On June 8, authorities in Zamfara celebrated 14 days of no new local infections after the state reported 76 confirmed cases, leading to five deaths.
As of the time of reporting, the north-western state has now gone 34 days without a reported infection or death, NCDC data showed.
There are no more active cases of the disease in the state. Of the 78 total infections in Zamfara thus far, 73 has been successfully treated while five patients died.
The milestone will likely be held up as proof of the state government’s ongoing success in limiting the spread of the virus to less than a hundred, despite allegations that local officials are not turning in enough test samples.
Kogi has not reported new coronavirus infections in the past 82 days, NCDC data showed. The last time a case was reported in the state was in late June.
The state is the least impacted across the country with a total of just five infections. Only two patients have died with the last fatality recorded in early June.
The north-central state would have been a model for a near-perfect containment of the contagion but for several loopholes and controversies, including allegations that local officials are not adhering to NCDC guidelines.
The COVID-19 situation in the state has been enmeshed in controversies especially before the index case was recorded. At the time, the state’s COVID-19-free status raised a lot of concern especially because the north-central state borders states with rising numbers of infection.
The government in Kogi has, at least once, scuttled efforts by the NCDC to coordinate COVID-19 testing.
Medical experts and federal officials said the low number of test samples turned in from the states is making it difficult to ascertain if they are actually coronavirus-free but state authorities believe there is a plot to compulsorily report COVID-19 cases in the state.
Even when the index case was eventually reported in late May, state officials said it will not accept any test result “conducted outside the state.”