Being the Text of a Press Release by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni on 25th March, 2020 on the Prevalence of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Nigeria.
The reality and panic of the Convid-19 pandemic is gaining momentum by the day in Nigeria. Currently, the incidence rate hovers below 50 cases. It is possible that this number might increase as contact tracing tracks down persons who were in close proximity with infected cases. Clearly, there is need for robust and coherent response to focus on prevention, containment and management.
It is re-assuring that the Lagos State Government has taken proactive measures to contain and manage Covid-19 outbreak in spite of its large population density. We call on other states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to be similarly proactive drawing lessons from other climes battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the national level, there is a national strategy against Covid-19. We have, however, noticed that the strategy is not being diligently pursued. For instance, a key component of the national strategy is to conduct on-the-spot check at ports of entry, order self-quarantine for 14 days, and do contact tracing cum follow up where necessary.
From the onset, we expressed our doubt about the efficacy of the self-quarantine strategy. Now, our fears have been proven right by the multiplicity of cases including some of our members who returned from trips abroad without appropriate information and actions at the port of entry, apart from instructions to self-quarantine. We have been informed that there are inadequate facilities for on-the-spot check in our ports of entry. Even tracking processes are not conforming to global standards to confront the situation. To compound the situation, elitist syndrome or the Nigerian ‘bigmanism’ has severely impaired our response as some senior government officials refuse to subject themselves to routine test, self-quarantine and tracking. These negative attitudes contribute to rising number of Covid-19 infection in Nigeria.
No doubt, we are not prepared for the avoidable tragedy that looms over us. We do not have requisite infrastructure for diagnosis and treatment on a large scale. If advanced economies are finding it difficult to manage treatment situations with all their infrastructures. The situation can be better imagined with our weak systems and in some cases non-existing infrastructure and response capabilities. Outside of Lagos State, no other State including the FCT can boast of standard quarantine centres and facilities for the treatment of Covid-19 cases.
We must commend the partial lockdown of Lagos and other cities but we foresee an expansion of this extreme yet necessary initiative if we must contain the Covid-19 pandemic. We must commend our members in Lafarge PLC and the management of the company for their exemplary collaboration in responding to the index case. As we go further, we would require more of such collaboration between the unions and employers to tame this pandemic. We also salute the enormous sacrifices of health workers and medical practitioners who have worked day and night in the fight against this pandemic.
As it is, we foresee a situation where more factories and workplace will experience closure and reduction in working hours. We insist that workers must not be cannon fodders for these socio-economic fallouts.
In all of these, we demand job and wage protection. To make this possible, factories and businesses will require fiscal stimulus, financial aids and other macro-economic support incentives at this critical time. For millions of workers in the informal sectors including our members in the transport, in the markets and all categories of artisans who are involved in involuntary lockdown, we demand cash grant through their associations to enable them cope during this difficult time. In the light of the foregoing development, we would like to make further demands under the following overarching areas of national health priorities:
Given the prevalence and devastation caused by the Covid-19 virus pandemic even in countries with very strong and resilient health systems, it is important for all governments especially our own government to deal with this pandemic as a national emergency.
We call for broad lockdown of the country with exception to the provision of essential goods and services. Such large-scale lockdown should be accompanied with appropriate support systems that allow workers who provide essential services to function and in a manner that provides protection and sustenance to them and their families.
On a population wide level, lockdowns must be exercised in a way that guarantees citizens especially the vulnerable groups including those without income access to essential goods and services to meet basic needs. Anything short of this would be an invitation to mass hysteria, confusion and widespread unrests which would extremely complicate the current prevalence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We also wish to reiterate our earlier concerns on the directive by government for exposed citizens to self-quarantine. The recent exponential rise in the cases of Covid-19 infection mostly by citizens who returned from countries with worse case prevalence proves that self-quarantine would be largely ineffective in our clime owing to a mix of factors including economic, social, religious and behavioral.
Government should provide suitable quarantine facilities that inspires confidence in citizens and assures everyone that infection with Covid-19 and subsequent isolation is not a death sentence. Putting in place other preventive measures against Covid-19 such as hand washing cum sanitizing including fumigation of public places, proper protective equipment for health workers, social distancing, and prompt reporting and follow up on suspected cases is clearly far better than treatment.
We call on government to urgently invest in mass testing and treatment of established infections with Covid-19. Mass testing at this point is very critical as it will help identify infections long before further transmission.
It is re-assuring that over 80% of the reported cases made very successful recovery. Government must invest urgently in ample provision of test reagents, drugs, ventilators and other clinical facilities, that can facilitate quick turn-around for those infected with Covid-19.
- Control and Support Measures
At this level of the pandemic, it is important for trade unions to reach out to governments and private sector employers, as part of the control measures, to support workers in the health and utility sectors who are in the frontline of the defense against the Covid-19 onslaught.
Health and utility workers should be supported with personal protective equipment, face masks, hand gloves, sanitizers and other necessary preventive kits. They must also not be allowed to over stretch themselves as fatigues and burn out would increase their vulnerability to infection and or inability to render help to the needy. We posit that shorter shift regimen would be of utmost advantage at this time.
It also very important for government and private sector employers to provide special incentives such as special duty allowances, water, food, sanitary amenities and proper rest lounges for health professionals and workers in the frontline of the fight against the Covid-19 virus.
We also call on our government to mobilize and train a standby health workforce in case the current level of infection in our country escalates. The standby workforce should be trained especially with specific knowledge on dealing with Covid-19. It would also be useful to call in experienced healthcare givers no longer in active service and whose health are reasonably robust to be part of the war against Covid-19. At the rate of this pandemic, all capable hands must be on deck.
Finally, we reiterate our call for government to consider a national lockdown for a reasonable period of time if the current level of infection escalates. In line with Section 45 of Nigeria Constitution which empowers government to limit citizens’ rights in the favour of public safety, we encourage citizens to comply fully with government directives on public orders on Covid-19.
Ultimately, we will overcome thispandemic because where there is the will there will always be a way. Certainly, our will to survive is stronger than the strive by Covid-19 virus to infect, demobilize and kill!
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni
25th March, 2020