A year ago today, the severity of coronavirus disease was only just coming into our global consciousness. We would go on to remember March 2020 as when it all began. I remember that I had just resumed for the last semester of my final year in university, exhausted in advance, and at the forefront of my mind was the bulk of schoolwork that lay in wait for me. The whims of the coronavirus disease were not yet – as it would only a month later when I was thrown into an unending cycle of lockdown- a clear dictator and top priority in my life. It wasn’t until Mid-March that my new normal began. When I sat over dinner with my sister reviewing the past year’s trajectory with COVID-19, she spoke about how lockdown began for her on her birthday, on the last day of February. Unlike me, her awareness of the impending doom took shape much earlier; Its transformative impact in her life forming a bit sooner.
Beyond my sister and me, it was the same across the world. The time disparities in when we became actively aware of the novel coronavirus. When it moved from simply a faraway Wuhan problem to a global pandemic, headlining the news and altering the course of the world. For Nigerians in Nigeria, it took us even a little longer to fully come to terms with and acknowledge the existence and severity of the virus.
Notwithstanding, the global impact of COVID-19 has been inarguably colossal.
It shut down borders, plunged economies into a state of chaos, ushered tremendous loss yet created no room for proper grieving, transformed institutional structures, coined the phrase ‘the new normal’, and gave us a peek into what an apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movie trope would look like in real life.
The journey so far has been life-changing, perhaps even more so for Nigeria. From 1 to 155,000 cases in a year, would it suffice to say the odds have unexpectedly been in our favor? Or should we be worried?
A Global Journey
The first coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province of China, in December 2019. It was initially reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31, 2019, and a month later, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global health emergency. The Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses issued a statement announcing an official designation for the novel virus: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 was termed COVID-19 by the WHO, the acronym derived from “coronavirus disease 2019.” By March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, its first such designation since H1N1 influenza was declared a pandemic in 2009 and in two months, it had spread to over 200 countries.
Since then, the world has recorded over 114 million cases and 2.5million + deaths in what has been a public health crisis on a scale that rivals its 1918 counterpart.
Nigeria: The numbers, the nitty-gritty
In Nigeria, things were a lot more slow-paced. The first coronavirus disease case was confirmed on the 27th of February, 2020 after a Nigerian-based Italian returning from Italy on the 25th of February tested positive by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital(LUTH). 11 days later, a second case was recorded.
From then on committees were set up, the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 was established, the Federal Government-funded COVID-19 intervention fund was set up to support states with critical healthcare expenses, PPEs were shipped in en masse and the Ministry of Health released its first set of health guidelines.
The president banned flights from countries with high rates of ongoing transmission of COVID-19 on March 18, 2020, five days later, announced a total closure of the nation’s airspace and land borders, and by the end of March had several states going into lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.
Since February 2020, Nigeria has significantly increased its molecular laboratory network for COVID-19 testing, from two as of February 27 to 28 fully functional laboratories in states across the country, conducting 1,489,103 tests so far. The collaboration between NCDC and state governments, as well as private sector partners such as 54Gene, EHealth Africa, Shell Petroleum and Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), and Dangote Foundation, amongst others, was instrumental to the expansion of the COVID-19 testing capacity. However, many health experts believe the official data under-reports both infections and deaths because of the country’s limited testing capacity. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has so far conducted test figures less than one percent of the country’s 200 million population.
Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of the 155,000 people infected by COVID-19 in Nigeria have recovered after treatment, indicating the level of success the country’s public health professionals have recorded in containing the virus. The death toll is also less than two percent of those infected. As of the 17th of February 2021, the total number of recoveries and deaths stood at 112,453 and 1,799 respectively.
March 2020 vs March 2021
From an outward perspective, Nigeria has fared not too badly. When compared to her global counterparts recording thousands of deaths per day, it is easy to say that the COVID-19 crisis was well managed. However, poor primary healthcare, the dwindling state of healthcare infrastructure, and a limited testing capacity beg to differ. Less than 1% of the country’s total arguable population have been tested and so the numbers from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) are most likely grossly underreported. Not to mention the different cultural perspectives to diseases and epidemics, the deep religiosity of Nigeria’s majority, and their distrust.
Unlike others who are acclimatizing themselves to a second and even third wave, Nigerians are acclimatizing themselves to life as it used to be. Lockdown rules have completely eased and the wearing of face masks shunned in some places. Although COVID-19 is still very much as threatening as it was a year ago, Nigerians seemed to have moved on without a care in the world.
Nigeria hopes to vaccinate more than half of its 200 million citizens in the next two years. But the country is yet to receive its first batch of vaccines with the first four million doses expected in March after the initial February target was extended. Many Nigerians are also deeply skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccines and it is yet unknown how vaccinations will pan out for the general populace.