COVID-19 Surges in Nigeria as Transport Systems, International Trade are under Tremendous Stress- UNCTAD

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FILE PHOTO: The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. January 29, 2020. Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/Handout via REUTERS.

COVID-19 cases in Nigeria is surging to hit a 3,000 mark and above as transport systems and international trade are under tremendous stress as countries adopt radical measures to bring the pandemic under control.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says the country on Monday recorded an all-time high of 245 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours.

This figure now brings the tally in Nigeria to 2,802, with fatalities hitting 93 after recording six new deaths on the day.

NCDC says a total of 417 patients have also been treated and discharged from the different isolation centres and accredited hospitals.

A breakdown of the new cases shows that Lagos is still on the lead with 76 cases, followed by Katsina’s 37, Jigawa’s 32, Kano’s 23 and the Federal Capital Territory’s (FCT) 19.

Others are, Borno 18, Edo 10, Bauchi nine, Adamawa six, Oyo and Ogun five each, Ekiti, Osun, Benue, Niger and Zamfara one each.

It is, however, expected that cases will continue to spiral upward as the Federal Government on Monday, began a phased process of easing the lockdown in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, and Lagos, the commercial capital of the country after five weeks of restriction on economic, social and religious activities.

In the meantime, early evidence shows that international trade is collapsing, threatening access to goods and critical supplies.

In response, a new United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) policy brief outlines a ten-point action plan to help industries involved in the movement of goods keep free-flowing trade afloat during the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath.

UNCTAD’s Director of Technology and Logistics, Shamika Sirimanne, says “trade facilitation is about keeping goods moving, so we must do our utmost to ensure the crisis doesn’t slow the movement of critical supplies.

“Facilitating trade and the transport of goods has become more important than ever, to avoid logistical obstacles that lead to shortages of necessary supplies.”

The policy brief presents concrete measures to facilitate transport and trade while protecting people from contracting COVID-19.

It echoes an earlier call by UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing during this crisis period.

The foundations for recovery from COVID-19 need to be set today. This includes ensuring transport services, ports and border agencies not only remain operational but are also effectively strengthened to cope with the unprecedented challenges they face.

The action plan is rooted in UNCTAD’s work with both international policy experts and operators on the ground, through its trade facilitation, customs automation and maritime transport programmes.  

10 steps to keep trade moving

UNCTAD proposes 10 policy measures to cover maritime transport, customs operations, transit, transparency and legal issues, as well as technology to enhance paperless trade processes. The plan calls for policies that: Ensure uninterrupted shipping, Keep ports open, Protect international trade of critical goods and speed up customs clearance and trade facilitation, and Facilitate cross-border transport

The others are: Ensure the right of transit, Safeguard transparency and up-to-date information, Promote paperless systems, Address early-on legal implications for commercial parties, Protect shippers and transport service providers alike, and Prioritise technical assistance

The policy brief calls on governments to ensure health measures are implemented in ports and border crossings in ways that minimise interference with international traffic and trade.

It also emphasizes the need for people involved in the movement of trucks, ships, and planes to be given the status of critical personnel.

Transport, trade facilitation in developing countries

Developing countries face particularly challenging conditions. They need enhanced support from the development community, as well as cooperation to keep trade moving.

“Even before COVID-19 struck, many developing countries were already confronted with the challenge of having limited resources to make the necessary investments in transport infrastructure and services, and undertake trade facilitation reforms”, says Ms. Sirimanne.

These measures require further investment in human, institutional and technological capacities, and should thus be given priority by development partners.

UNCTAD already works with developing countries to support their trade and transport facilitation efforts. A key example of such initiatives is the ASYCUDA programme, which offers a technology solution for customs automation and a single window for trade.

UNCTAD also trains officials to build port management capacity, works with national trade facilitation committees and provides technical assistance to improve transport transit in developing countries.

The committees enhance inter-agency coordination to facilitate trade flows, especially in emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Soon after lockdown measures commenced throughout the world, UNCTAD issued a set of guidelines and recommendations for customs agencies and port operators to safeguard trade and transport while fighting COVID-19.

“The action plan released today, with its 10 measures is yet another concrete step in support of safeguarding trade and development in times of pandemic”, Ms. Sirimanne adds.

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