Despite the appeal by health authorities for Nigerians to maintain social distancing as a measure of containing the rapid spread of coronavirus, many are yet to comply in parts of Abuja even with the current lockdown on the city and two others.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has so infected over 200 in Nigeria, the federal government announced a lockdown on Ogun, the FCT and Lagos, the current epicentre of the pandemic which has killed thousands across the globe.
Apart from the lockdown, the government recommended ways to prevent one from contracting the virus such as good hygiene, frequent hand washing, and social distancing.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also advised that one of the safeguards against the virus at the moment is that people “stay at home” and “maintain social distancing”.
The virus has infected over a million people with more than 50,000 dead across the world. In many nations, the authorities have ordered people to stay at home to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
The federal government on April 1 relaxed the lockdown rules by announcing that only shops and stalls selling food and groceries would be allowed to open to customers in states where a lockdown was imposed, between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. every 48 hours or less frequently.
But when reporters visited some markets and some suburbs of the FCT, they observed that the social distancing rules recommended were not being adhered to by many.
Health experts recommend at least 2 metres distance between persons to avoid the spread of the virus which is usually circulated via droplets from cough or sneezing.
Reporters also noticed that most traders neither washed their hands nor used hand sanitisers as recommended, though many residents were seen wearing face masks and hand gloves.
The open market at Mpape, a suburb of Abuja, is less than six kilometres to Maitama, the enclave of Nigeria’s rich and wealthy class.
However, the market defied the city’s lockdown order, a step to stem the spread of COVID-19.
A visit to the market on Friday between 2:30 and 3:30 pm showed that both the buyers and sellers appeared to have forgotten about the existence of coronavirus as everywhere was congested with people trying to buy and sell wares.
Some of the traders attributed the hustling and bubbling of the market to ‘hunger’ while some said both lockdown and social distancing were ‘myths’ for the poor in Nigeria.
Our reporter observed how people with their cars, bicycles, motorcycles came into the market to buy both perishable and non-perishable goods in the market.
While some consumers haggle prices for tomatoes, some were buying cosmetics. Others also displayed their plastics and shoes for sale despite the federal government directive that only traders in food and essential products were exempted.
Victoria Segun, a trader, said people are hungry and a total lockdown cannot solve the issues.
“It is not possible for me to sit at home with five children, the government did not make any provision for us so how do we eat if we do not work.”
She said the major disease facing the country is hunger and poverty, not coronavirus.
When asked why she didn’t observe the time for closing markets, she said “people are still buying so the market can’t close for now.”
Mama Ibrahim who said she has been selling sells catfish in the market for eight years, said the effect of lockdown has aggravated hunger in her home.
“I am just selling this fish for selling sake, I need to hold money for hand. There is no money to feed the children. I only witness lockdowns during election period and it is for one or two days, two weeks is too much,” she said
Abdul who sells foodstuff said the lockdown has affected him financially. Mr Abdul corroborated what Mrs Segun said
Some traders also said maintaining social distancing is not feasible among the poor.
“Do you know how many of us sleep in the room, the two-metre social distancing is not possible,” a resident said.
Nyanya, Karu, Jikwoyi
PREMIUM TIMES also noticed residents moving around these three communities at the outskirts of the city. The communities host a large number of civil servants, mostly middle class and the lower class.
Although the security operatives, mounted checkpoints along the Karu-Nyanya highway, this did little to deter the movement of okada riders and tricycle operators who made brisk business.
The operators found a way to crisscross the communities in their attempts to avoid the roadblocks and convey passengers.
The Karu market was also open during the approved hours with a massive influx of residents who jostled one another and failed to keep the social distancing measures.
In the innermost parts of these communities, residents gathered in tightly clustered groups, most outside their houses to play games such as luck. In some scattered fields, our reporter also noticed groups of young men playing football, oblivious to the dangers of not maintaining social distancing.
A visit to Lugbe Berger market in Abuja also showed that traders were not ready to stay at home and observe the lockdown directives.
The reporter observed that all the traders were there for their daily business. Also, only the foodstuff sellers displayed their wares while other traders only wait for a customer to request for a particular product.
Some of the traders said they have never closed their stores since the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria because they need to feed their families.
Currently, Lagos and Abuja have recorded the highest numbers of imported cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria because both states are gateways for air travels.
Majority of the recorded cases are persons who came from overseas and while the others are close contacts of such returnees.
The cases of the virus also increased when the country also opened its borders for returnees from Cote d’Ivoire. About 12 out of the 127 returnees tested positive to the virus
Data by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Friday night showed that Lagos has 99 cases, while FCT has 41, Osun has 22, Oyo has 8 cases, Akwa Ibom has 5, Ogun and Kaduna have 4 cases each.
Edo has 7 cases, Bauchi with 3 cases, Enugu has 2 cases, Ekiti has two cases , Rivers, Ondo, Benue has a case each.
Source of concern
Speaking on the implication of non-adherence to social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak, a public health specialist, Niyi Ogungbayi, said such gatherings pose a danger of community transmission of the virus.
He said one of the reasons for the lockdown is to identify people who are carriers of the virus. “It will be difficult to identify people who are carriers if they continue to gather without observing social distancing.”
“The reason for lockdown and social distancing is to identify the unidentified carriers, that is, those who are carriers of the virus but they don’t know they have it. They start transmitting it to people immediately they have the virus,” he added.