Lockdown: Don’t lift ban on public gathering now, Group urges governors

By Chimezie Godfrey

The Health Sector Reform Coalition (HSRC), has called on state governors and the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, to cancel directives to lift the ban on religious and other gatherings until the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, and the Federal ministry of health advise them to do so.

In a statement on Friday signed by the HSRC’s COVID-19 Response Task Team Co-chairs, Dcn. Mike Egboh and Dr. Chizoba Wonodi, the coalition expressed shock and fear over the lifting of ban on some gatherings, Easter service, and Friday prayers by some states. 

The Coalition commended the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos, Ogun and other states across the country but noted that it is important to contain the spread of COVID-19, avoid the high number of deaths that might follow and the disastrous effects on the health system and economy, as seen in countries like US, Italy, Spain, UK, amongst others. 

According to the statement, the HSRC with its membership of over 100 non-governmental actors, working to improve health care and development across every state in Nigeria, recognises and respects the importance of worship and religious celebrations to Nigerians. 

It also acknowledges and value the role of religious leaders and faith-based  organizations in providing spiritual support through faith for their followers in a healthy and safe environment. 

But  noted that options are limited for now in the best ways to fight the spread, adding that scientific evidence and experience from developed and developing countries reinforce that avoiding crowd, physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory hygiene are still the best ways to prevent the spread and associated deaths. 

It also pointed out that with the high number of people living in poverty, high prevalence of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes (underlying diseases) and very weak health systems, it will be catastrophic if the virus spreads widely in the country.

It revealed that data from the WHO and Johns Hopkins shows that 1.6 million people have tested positive and more than 95 thousand have died from COVID-19 between December 2019 to April 9, 2020. 

It disclosed that While majority of infections and deaths have been in developed countries, both infections and deaths are also rising in Africa. 

It further noted that trends from other countries shows that without drastic measures such as maintaining lockdowns and distancing, the numbers can easily rise exponentially over a short time. 

“Because our testing is grossly inadequate, the true numbers of cases in Nigeria may be hidden. It is highly likely that community spread is happening because up to 85% of the infected may be asymptomatic yet capable of transmitting the virus. 

“Our containment is still in the nascent stage, this is not the time to relax our guard. The couple of weeks are very critical in containing an upsurge in the number of confirmed cases. 

“As the Health Sector Reform Coalition of Nigeria, weImplore our governors to cancel all plans or reverse the directives to lift the ban on religious and other  gatherings until the NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health advise otherwise, no matter the pressure, this is not the time for populism. 

“Call on the federal government and state governments to increase the delivery of economic mitigation packages to households and individuals that are in need, to reduce the pressure on people to go out for their daily living,”the statement read.

The Coalition also pleaded with all Nigerians to continue to listen to the advice of health experts represented by NCDC and WHO at this critical time, adding that nothing is more important than staying alive.