Corona Virus (Covid-19): The Way Forward
Being the Text of the Address of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni, to the World Press on Thursday, March 19, 2020, at Labour House, Abuja.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are all aware of the global prevalence of corona virus otherwise code-named Covid-19. Today, the entire world lives in the dread of Covid-19. To underscore its severity, the Covid-19 disease has been recorded in about 140 countries. More than two hundred thousand people have been infected across the globe. Consequently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 11, 2020 declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Since then, the spread of Covid-19 has worsened and more deaths have occurred.
Country responses to the pandemic are varied but largely dependent on the severity of infections, spread of infection, and capacity or state of preparedness of the countries affected. Sadly, never in living memory has any pandemic led to the quarantining of this number of people across the globe as countries lock in millions of their citizens, lock down entire regions and shut doors against travelers from other countries especially the ones considered as epicenters of Covid-19 disease.
Nigeria, like other countries at risk, has fashioned a national strategy for combating the virus since the first detected case in Nigeria on February 27, 2020. Our national strategy includes active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing, prevention of onward spread and sharing of full data with the WHO and other relevant authorities. At the moment, there are four diagnostic centres in the country. Also, there are a number of help lines. We have been made to understand that there are a few quarantine centres.
The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress wishes to brief Nigerian workers on our own strategy – the worker-based strategy – which is complimentary to the national strategy. A worker-based strategy is necessary given that workers are at frontline risk given their exposure at points of entry or departure, or hospitals or any other place of interest. In the face of Covid-19, workers are also exposed to secondary risks such as threats of loss of jobs or actual job losses.
A worker-based response is also essential given that in times of national or international emergencies, sectoral or organizational responses are usually helpful in minimising impact and finding sustainable solutions.
In furtherance of this, the Congress has decided to issue this as an advisory to workers, governments and private employers of labour, both formal and informal, across the country. The advisory focuses on creating awareness of the workplace issues on Covid-19, fashioning a support base, designing negotiation strategy that safeguards workers, as well as ensuring that our workplaces are healthy and safe.
According to the World Health Organisation, Corona Virus “is a group of viruses which normally cause mild illness, with symptoms similar to a common cold”.
The WHO also says that the disease is airborne and contracted by breathing in viral droplets, ejected during coughing, sneezing or even breathing. Viral droplets can travel up to six meters, making person-to-person transmission very probable.
The symptoms of Covid-19 “include fever, fatigue, dry cough and difficulty in breathing; as well as other symptoms related to the common cold. The symptoms take an average of five days to manifest. The Covid-19 virus can also spread through particles known as aerosols, released from the lungs. These can travel further and can remain in the air or on surfaces for several hours. The WHO says that “in more severe cases, the virus can cause pneumonia, and infection which causes the inflammation of the lungs and breathing difficulties.
In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone is at risk especially the elderly ones or people with already compromised health conditions.In light of this, Congress adopts and recommends the hygiene measures by WHO, and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). We encourage workers to wash their hands frequently with soap under a running water source for at least twenty seconds. We should also desist from putting our fingers in our nostrils or wiping our eyes or mouths with bare hands. Workers should maintain reasonable person to person distancing at work. For now, we should avoid handshakes or hug. Upon discovering any of the Covid-19 symptoms, we are advised to report to the closest clinic. It should, however, be noted that a confirmed case is not a death sentence given the recovery record in the country.
Employers are duty-bound to provide facilities for dispensing running water as well as hand sanitisers at work places within the reach of workers. Employers should maintain well-ventilated and routinely sanitized work spaces as well as take other measures for preventing and containing the spread of Covid-19. They should also put in place processes and mechanisms for continual worker education on the virus.
With about four confirmed cases in Nigeria, there is strong probability that many mores cases may be discovered soon which may lead to large scale services withdrawal. In more developed climes, people are working from home in order to mitigate further spread. In our workplaces where this can be done, workers should be encouraged to work from home. In such cases, workers’ emoluments should not suffer.
Given the impact of Covid-19 on the global economy, especially with the fall in the price of crude oil, Nigeria is likely to be affected in the short to medium run. Businesses should not panic and take adversarial measures against workers. Although government is under pressure, it should put in place policies to mitigate business and social impact.
The actions of government would be critical in containing Covid-19. We urge government at all levels to strengthen emergency response mechanism. States should set up disease surveillance activities. Persons arriving Nigeria from countries with up to 1000 Covid-19 cases should be quarantined in suitable healthcare facilities. The advice to self-quarantine is counter-productive given the socio-economic realities in Nigeria. Contact tracing of positive cases should be stepped up. Health givers should be resourced with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), face masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. Finally, timely dissemination of relevant information is critical in the war against Covid-19.
On our part, we are ready to work with employers and governments to ensure that workers get the needed support, and employers a fair deal in these trying times. We should see the Covid-19 pandemic as a challenge to revamp and reposition our healthcare facilities and system.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni