Mofelola Olayanju (Graduate Research Assistant at the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development, University of Lagos)
HOW COMMUNITIES CAN PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN CURTAILING THE SPREAD OF COVID-19 IN LAGOS STATE
The Lagos State Government recently eased the lockdown on the state after nearly a month due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This has allowed the reopening of businesses and free movement within the state. This was done to alleviate the harsh economic impact on the livelihoods of the vast majority of the population — the low-income earners — who live ‘from hand to mouth’. The difficult situation facing many is observable from the comment of a citizen who told Al Jazeera, “I know the lockdown is for our own safety, but I and my family needed to eat to survive. It was tough” .
Although there was still a gradual increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state, it was inevitable that the lockdown had to be eased. Despite the orders that have been put in place by the government to facilitate the gradual ease of the lockdown, many citizens have been seen flouting regulations, not maintaining physical distancing and even wearing face masks in public. This led to the Lagos State Government announcing the possibility of reverting to full-lockdown if there is no improvement in adherence to the public health guidelines .
The State Government, which has been proactive since the outbreak, has also made plans to decentralise the management of the Coronavirus. According to the Lagos State Governor, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, this plan will involve introducing community management of cases, by accrediting primary healthcare facilities for the management of mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19 patients. This is another step in the right direction, but a lot still needs to be done to abate the spread of the Coronavirus and the severe effects of a lockdown —be it partial or full— on the livelihoods of the people.
The way forward: Community Lockdown
The Coronavirus is an infectious disease spread to most countries of the world just within a few weeks. In Nigeria, every state in the country except Cross River State has recorded multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19, with Lagos leading the pack with 7,461 confirmed cases as of 17th of June, 2020 — roughly three months after the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 as a Pandemic . The lockdown approach which is a severe measure, but also a logical way to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, has been adopted by many states. Yet, this approach has not been applied at the Local Government/Community level.
Stats disclosed by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 as of 29th of May 2020, showed that 20 Local Government Areas account for 60 percent of coronavirus cases in Nigeria. This shows that some local governments are more affected than others. According to the stats, Lagos Mainland, Mushin, and Eti-Osa had the highest number of confirmed cases in Lagos, at 1274, 459, and 403 cases respectively — almost half of the total number of confirmed cases in the State . One can only speculate the cause of this disparity in the number of confirmed cases within the local governments. Notwithstanding, the pandemic needs to be addressed at the Local Government level, and possibly the Community Level.
Communities serve as the bridge between households and the State at large. So there is an urgent need to adopt more community-driven solutions and lessen the burden on the State Government. First and foremost, this approach should involve the reintroduction of a partial lockdown at the Local Government. It should also involve adapting some of the total lockdown regulations that were in place, such as the restriction of vehicular movement, working from home, essential services only, etc. People of essential services such as medical practitioners and security operatives should also operate at the local government level, though they may be allowed unrestricted movement within the State due to the peculiarity of their jobs.
There will be a need to make provision for trading within communities, while also allowing businesses to operate. This should bring about solutions that will see a radical change in supply chain routes and trading zones of both goods and services, which will take place at the local government level. By virtue of this, new opportunities will spring up for those who are unemployed or have become idle as a result of not being able to travel outside their local government. There will however be a need to ensure strict management of the movement of essential goods such as food and those required for businesses to run smoothly, between local governments. If strictly adhered to, the Community lockdown approach will control the spread of the Coronavirus. Just as the pandemic is being managed from the global level to the household level, the local government should be no exception.
Though everyday life has been hampered by the Coronavirus pandemic, there is a need for concerted effort in confronting the unprecedented challenge before us. This strategy may very well be the only sustainable means of curtailing the spread of the Coronavirus, pending the discovery of a pharmaceutical solution. This strategy should reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in some local governments, while others will be more gradual due to the high number of cases already recorded within these locations.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria.