There is no evidence yet that the #ENDSARS protests will spark COVID-19 outbreaks in Nigeria despite several safety protocols breached during the national demonstrations, according to health officials.
The #EndSARS protest, in which the youth demanded the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police lasted for at least three weeks.
Thousands of youth trooped out across the country especially from its capital, Abuja, and the commercial nerve, Lagos, defying repeated calls by the country’s infectious disease outfit, NCDC and health experts to avoid mass gathering.
Several COVID-19 protocols including the use of face masks and maintenance of social distancing were breached as there was a mammoth crowd of protesters packed in tight spaces without face masks.
Despite the safety breaches, the daily COVID-19 figures have remained low.
Nigeria’s new COVID-19 infections reduced last week by almost 50 per cent compared to the previous week amid the looting spree and continued mass gathering that followed the protests, a PREMIUM TIMES review of NCDC official data showed.
Last week (October 18 to 24), 623 new cases were reported in the country. According to the data, this is a 48 per cent reduction from the 1,204 cases recorded the previous week.
Impact yet to be seen
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, the NCDC Director, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the impact of the demonstrations might not be felt now ”as COVID-19 symptoms may not have started developing”.
“It takes between two to 14 days for COVID-19 symptoms to develop in an infected person. In some others, they may not develop symptoms. So, we have to monitor this closely for the next two weeks,” he noted.
On the breach of safety guidelines during #ENDSARS protests, Mr Ihekweazu said, “the virus that causes COVID-19 does not differentiate between types of mass gatherings. Whether it is a gathering for religious reasons or for protests, COVID-19 can spread especially where key public health and safety measures are not adhered to.
“We are working with all states to ensure that we can test suspected cases, that positive cases are isolated early and we can prevent further spread of the virus.”
Meanwhile, public health experts while acknowledging that there was a risk the large demonstrations could lead to a rise in coronavirus cases, said the situation raises more questions for Nigeria’s coronavirus management.
Ikemesit Effiong, a forensic health expert, said ”the protests could either serve as a super spreader or further highlight Nigeria’s insufficient management of COVID-19”.
“I think there was very little concern on the implication of the mass gathering in the past few weeks by policy makers and the protesters. Lots of pictured that emerged showed people not wearing masks and breaching social distancing”, Mr Effiong, Head of Research at SBM Intelligence, noted.
He said ‘the larger structural issue’ that has characterized Nigeria’s COVID-19 management policy including poor testing, inefficient contact tracing, lack of inadequate resources to ensure national coverage ”should be of greater concern”.
“How do we trust the numbers? How do we ensure we are testing enough and we can get an accurate picture of not only the possible rise in cases but a connection between that and the protests that occurred in the past two to three weeks?
“There are so many things that still remain unclear,” he said.
There has been a general notion that the coronavirus is no longer deadly in Nigeria leading to flagrant disregard of safety protocols with authorities seeming not too keen on enforcement.
“The virus is still in our country and we cannot afford to drop the ball now,” the official said.
“The movement restriction introduced in some states in the last two weeks affected turnout at sample collection sites. However, we are doing all we can to ensure testing continues.
“Now that we have at least one testing laboratory in every state in Nigeria, we are working with states to increase access to testing.”
Nigeria has increased testing a bit. More than 600, 000 of the country’s 200 million population have been tested so far. However, health experts believe there’s still acute under testing.
As of the time of filing in this report, Nigeria’s COVID-19 case count was 62,371 after it surged by 147 to keep it fifth on the list of African countries hit hardest, behind Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.
Of the over 62, 000 total, about 58, 095 persons have been discharged from hospitals after treatment while a little over 3, 000 active cases remain in the country.
A total of 1,139 people have been killed by the virus in Africa’s most populated country.