Nearly four weeks after sub-Saharan Africa’s first COVID-19 case, the coronavirus has managed to halt yet another commercial hub. This time it is Nigeria, which has had to take unprecedented measures in order to combat this global pandemic. The lock-down in the continent’s most populous country began on Monday night and was set to last at least two weeks. The region’s economic stronghold of Lagos and neighboring states have suddenly been immobilized, causing widespread panic in a population of more than 30 million people.
Initially, there was an almost optimistic public perception with regards to combating the virus. This stemmed from witnessing the government’s ability to manage the Ebola outbreak in 2014, coupled with the knowledge of how fast ‘patient zero’, an Italian contractor from Milan, had been identified as having been infected with the virus. According to the BBC however, after five deaths and a steep rise to 232 people currently infected, President Muhammadu Buhari has deemed the sudden lock-down of utmost necessity; a “matter of life or death”.
This has resulted with the Nigerian middle-class rushing to stockpile household necessities, a phenomenon now common in numerous countries battling the coronavirus, which in turn has driven up the prices of essential goods. Less fortunate citizens are in a state of panic, with many unable to stockpile basic supplies since the sudden price inflation. Many Nigerians live hand-to-mouth, often on less than $1, which has now caused a real gloom in desperate communities. The economic impact of the lock-down will have particularly concerning effects on the informal workers relying on daily earnings to survive.
Nigerian families also tend to live under one household, therefore many older members are at risk during this lock-down, especially if the younger ones do not act responsibly. Multi-generational households are also common in Italy and Spain, regarded as a key contribution to their high death toll. An additional concern is that if the death toll rises significantly, many urban city dwellers may disregard the quarantine and travel to more remote villages where the elderly population is higher. This would inevitably disrupt the government’s containment strategy.
In addition to the lock-down, Nigeria also faces other economic strife with plunging oil prices. This will have a significantly impact the Nigerian economy. Being the eighth largest exporter of oil in the world, 90% of all export earnings in Nigeria are tied to oil. Hence, in addition to its domestic industry, Nigeria’s exporting capacity has also been severely limited. Many households are now experiencing severe power shortages, which are commonplace in most communities, and as such, working from home will be a worrying situation.
Receiving about 5% of budget spending during the last decade, the healthcare system will also inevitably struggle as a result. During his election campaign, President Buhari had promised to decrease medical tourism, where government officials and elites travel to foreign countries to seek medical treatment. However, the President himself was criticized for spending more than five months in the UK receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment. With the lock-down now imposed, Nigeria’s elite must now face the same fragile health system as others, which is already at risk of crumbling according to the Nigerian Medical Association.
For the most vulnerable under quarantine, the President has announced conditional cash payments as well as food rations in the coming weeks to ease the hardship felt by many. This will help cushion the blow. However, for many people in Nigeria, this lock-down – which will likely last longer than a two-week period – will truly be a matter of life and death.
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