Nigeria: COVID-19, The Girl Child And Biting Poverty-2

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According to medical scientists, coronaviruses, are common in certain species of animals, such as cattle and camels. Although transmission from animals to humans is rare, this new strain likely came from bats, though one study suggests pangolins may be the origin.

They are said to be a group of viruses that can cause disease in both animals and humans. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus strain known as SARS-CoV is an example of a coronavirus. SARS spread rapidly in 2002–2003.

The new strain of coronavirus is called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The virus causes coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19).

The PTF on COVID-19 however, says the pandemic is still very potent as the African most populous country has not reached the peak of the rampaging infection.

The new phase of the lockdown also places a ban on inter-state movement, gatherings with more than 20 people among others.

National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr. Aliyu Sani, who announced the reopening of the financial sector, insisted that restricted opening of worship centres will be granted by states subject to the PTF guidelines.

The aviation industry is also to be reopened this month. Airlines and other stakeholders in the industry were given till June 21 to work out all necessary plans and preparations for the resumption of domestic flights.

Sani says: “The goal of phase two over the next four weeks is to balance public safety with protecting livelihoods as well as allowing the full restoration of economic activities across the country.

“We are not opening places of worships across the board. We are saying that opening is conditional and it is based on these clear-cut guidelines and would only cover regular church and mosque services.

“Effective from Tuesday, June 2, 2020, the easing of the lockdown will be characterised by the following:

“The nationwide curfew will remain in place but the timing of this will be reduced to 10pm to 4am. The purpose of the curfew is to limit social interactions and therefore reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.

“Persons that are on essential duty, including but not limited to those involved in the provision of health care services, media services, and critical infrastructure are exempted from the curfew.

“All interstate travels by individuals remain prohibited except for essential travels and the movement of goods and services. All restrictions on the free movement of goods and services is now removed in this phase.

“There will be a full opening of the financial sector with banks now allowed to operate normal working hours-five days a week.

“The mass gathering of more than 20 people outside of the workplace or places of worship remains prohibited.

“There will be controlled access to markets and locations of economic activities. But local authorities will continue to provide guidance on opening times.

“Restricted opening of places of worship will be based on state government protocols and restrict guidelines of physical distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions. This will apply to regular church and mosques services only.

“In terms of general movement, persons may go out for work, go to buy necessary food and for exercise provided that they abide by the curfew hours.

“Movement between local government areas is strongly discouraged unless for critical reasons such as healthcare and work.

“I will like to emphasize that it is still safer to stay at home and avoid crowds. The pandemic is not over in this country and the relaxation of some of the rules doesn’t mean that it is safer to go out. If you do not need to go out please continue to stay at home.

“Hawking and trading is also prohibited and we will be looking into this in later details with state authorities.

“The aviation industry requested to start developing protocols to allow for domestic flights to resume anytime from June 21 onwards. Airlines must ensure physical distancing by reducing passenger capacity, ensure the provision of hand sanitizers, and appropriate person protective equipment as well as carrying out temperature checks at points of entry and departure and ensuring that airports are not congested by either non-travellers or by airport staff.

“With interstate travels, movement across state borders remains restricted other than the free movement of goods and essential travels. Security services are requested to please cooperate with members of the public and ensure that goods are provided with free passage as this particular phase is directed at ensuring the economy starts moving again.

“With intra-state travel, we will implement new travel processes for areas of the country with high burden local government areas and this will be restricted to essential travel but for the moment with intrastate travel, all the prior guidelines will remain, including reduced occupancy for buses and taxis, the need for a temperature check and where available, the provision of handwashing facilities and the maintenance of physical distancing.

“For the industry and labour sector in terms of working hours, normal working hours will apply to offices other than government offices provided this is kept within the curfew hours of 10pm to 4am.

“Offices are to maintain working at 75 per cent capacity while maintaining the two-metre physical distancing.

“For government offices, they can open between the hours of 9am to 2pm. So, no change in opening hours but can work from Mondays to Fridays. Prior to this, we allowed a three-day working week. However, only persons that are within the grade level of 14 and above at both the federal and state government levels will be allowed to come into work. We will encourage staff to continue to work at home if possible, including the business and private sector, making the best use of technology that is now available.

“Hotels may reopen but must observe all mandatory non- pharmaceutical interventions.

“Restaurants, other than those in hotels must remain closed for eat -ins but are allowed to prioritise and continue practising the takeaway system.

“The Federal Ministry of Education has been instructed to work with school owners to prepare students that require exiting exams to allow them to take exams early in the next phase of the lifting of the lockdown.

“State governments and security agencies are enjoined to ensure effective and strict enforcement of these guidelines while respecting the exemptions that have been approved by Mr. President.

Poverty

However, experts have been saying that Nigeria’s economy needs quick and stable growth over a few decades if it is to create jobs for some 30 millions of its unemployed citizens and lift some 100 million others out of extreme poverty.

Nigeria since overtook India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with around half of the country’s population of over 200 million, thought to be living on less than $1.90 a day.

Findings by the World Poverty Clock compiled by Brookings Institute showed that more than 643 million people across the world live in extreme poverty, with Africans accounting for about two-thirds of the total number.

The figure is projected to rise in Nigeria like in other African countries. The researchers had predicted that by the end of 2018, Africa as a whole was to have about 3.2 million more people living in extreme poverty than they were at the time of the research.

Despite being the largest oil producer in Africa, Nigeria is still struggling to translate its resource wealth into rising living standards.

Before the COVID-19 triggered economic crisis, Nigeria’s 2020 budget was pegged on the presumption of oil selling at $57 per barrel. The novel pandemic has dragged the budget into a large deficit. Presently, the price per barrel fluctuates between $20 and $29.

Nigeria’s revenue is 80 percent oil receipts. The oil market plunge is further exacerbated by the oil production rift between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two countries who have for some years led efforts to balance World Oil Prices, through the OPEC+ arrangements between OPEC members and non-OPEC oil producers.

Those who know, say the production rift stemmed from Russia’s non-alignment with OPEC’s (Saudi Arabia-led) proposal to cut down on oil production (reduce supply) to cushion the plunging of oil prices below the International benchmark of about $66 per barrel.

This production rift may lead to Russia’s reneging on the OPEC+ arrangement, which has the effect of removing the cap on production, allowing OPEC and non-OPEC oil-producing states increase production to volumes as can be commercially viable.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that the Nigerian economy advanced by 2.55 percent in the last quarter of 2019. Arguably, if the pandemic is not contained, and the oil price continues to plunge, the Nigerian economy may worsen. The overwhelming dependency on oil receipts has plunged the economy into a recession.

In the meantime, while no date has been fixed for the reopening of schools, banks were given an immediate go-ahead to operate fully. Hotels got the green light to reopen “but must observe all mandatory non-pharmaceutical intervention”.

Even when businesses were under lockdown, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has been confirming new positive cases in three digits with deaths still in two digits. At the current trend, the country is likely to record 20,000 cases by or before June ending.

In 2016, Nigeria’s economy nose-dived into recession following a slump in oil prices and a sharp fall in oil production.

To, therefore, lift 100 million of its impoverished people out of poverty, Nigeria will require a lot of energy, regardless of what sector gives it the growth. For instance, in agriculture, fertilisers, tractors, and combine harvesters are needed to make the country’s agriculture more productive. It all requires energy. Energy is also required to power the computers, phones, data centres, and communications infrastructure that the technology sector needs to work.

The importance of energy cannot be overstated. The Industrial Revolution, which caused living standards in Europe and the US to dwarf other countries, was made possible by a steep increase in energy consumption. In more recent years, China’s rapid economic growth has been accompanied by an increase in energy consumption of 210 percent between 2000 and 2017.

Without the doubt, backstage politics and strategy involved in oil prices will continue to affect Nigeria. Presently, the new cuts set Nigeria’s daily production to an average of 1.4 million barrels per day; 300,000 barrels less than the 1.7 million barrels in the adjusted 2020 budget, indicating leaner days ahead for the country.

At the moment, the country is stuck with cargoes of crude oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), as COVID-19 takes its toll on its biggest buyers.

Perhaps, the reason Russia and Saudi are playing the game of chicken is their reserves. Russia has reportedly spent the past five years building around $570 billion in reserves.  Agency reports quote officials as saying the reserves can allow it to cope with a low oil price environment for up to a decade.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has also built around $500 billion in reserves. In contrast, Nigeria’s excess crude account which started at $20 billion in 2007 has been depleted to less than $70 million as at February 2020.

Additionally, when oil prices fall, Saudi Arabia always has the option of producing more to reduce its losses. Nigeria’s ability here is limited.  Clearly, Nigeria is involved in a volatile market in which it has little control over.

New Coronavirus

In the meantime, the recent COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province of China. Reports of the first cases started last December.

Around 80 percent of people with COVID-19 reportedly recover without specialist treatment. These people may experience mild, flu-like symptoms. However, one in six may experience severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing.

The new coronavirus has spread rapidly in many parts of the world. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. A pandemic occurs when a disease that people are not immune to spreads across large regions.

The first confirmed case in Nigeria was announced on February 27, 2020, when an Italian citizen in Lagos tested positive for the virus, caused by SARS-CoV-2. On March 9, 2020, a second case of the virus was reported inEwekoro, Ogun State, a Nigerian citizen who had contact with the Italian citizen.

On April 13, millions of Nigerians waited anxiously for a televised address by President Muhammadu Buhari. The day marked the end of an initial two-week lockdown imposed on Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, three states on the frontline of Nigeria’s battle with COVID-19.

Opinions on which course of action the president should take were varied. Some citizens wanted the stringent restrictions lifted immediately to support economic activity, while others supported them but longed to hear news of relief packages or cash transfers for businesses desperately in need of help.

In his televised address, President Buhari extended the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja for another two weeks to enable health authorities to tackle the spread of the rampaging COVID-19.

“It is a matter of life and death”, the president announced. “The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.”

The numbers of confirmed cases in Nigeria have spiked. There were just two confirmed cases of the disease in mid-March with no deaths. Today, while the positive cases are racing to 20,000, the death toll is strolling to 400.

On April 18, the Presidency announced the death of Abba Kyari, the then Chief of Staff of President Buhari, and one of the most powerful men in Nigeria.

Hopefully, from next week states in Nigeria will be conducting COVID-19 tests. It will no longer be exclusively handled by NCDC, its Director-General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, says.

Speaking during the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing in Abuja on Thursday, he said the tests will be possible with the activation of the GeneXpert platform. “We have provided the testing infrastructure and the reagents. By the end of next week, we hope to roll out the GeneXpert platform.

“Already, three states have started. By the end of tomorrow (today), we will have the GeneXpert in seven states. By the end of next week, every single state in Nigeria that wants to will be able to test within its boundaries”, he said.

GeneXpert machine, used to test for tuberculosis, is now repurposed for COVID-19 using a different reagent (cartridge). It tests far more samples than the standard PCR machine, has the same level of accuracy and produces results in less than two hours.

Ihekweazu says the shortest possible timeline for the development of any vaccine will be next year, arguing, “if we have a vaccine in 2021, it will be the fastest time to the development of a vaccine ever. The normal timeline for vaccine development has been between five to 10 years.”

World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Representative, Dr. Fiona Braka, says it usually takes many years to develop a vaccine.

COVID-19 PTF Chairman, Mustapha says tracing and testing of cases had been made more difficult because of the fear of stigmatisation.

“Let me emphasise, therefore, that COVID-19 is not a condition to be ashamed of as it has no respect for status, nationality, race, creed, tribe, etc. Every person infected must be treated to prevent the spread and avoidable fatalities”, he said.

While urging hospitals not to reject patients but to follow the protocols for managing COVID-19 after getting accreditation, Mustapha said he will return Nigeria to lockdown if he had the powers to do so because some persons are “already romancing with COVID -19” in the manner of Tom and Jerry.

“With 500 plus fatalities, you can’t be ignorant. You can’t say you don’t know of anybody that has fallen victim either by way of name or pictures but today they are no more”, he says, pointing out that the PTF will submit its first assessment report to President Buhari next week.

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