The COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first confirmed case in Nigeria was announced on 27 February 2020, when an Italian citizen in Lagos tested positive for the virus. On 9 March 2020, a second case of the virus was reported in Ewekoro, Ogun State, a Nigerian citizen who had contact with the Italian citizen.
On 28 January, the Federal government of Nigeria assured citizens of the country of its readiness to strengthen surveillance at five international airports in the country to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The government announced the airports as Enugu, Lagos, Rivers, Kano and the FCT. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control also announced same day that they had already set up coronavirus group and was ready to activate its incident system if any case emerged in Nigeria.
On 31 January, following the developments of COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China and other countries worldwide, the federal government of Nigeria set up a Coronavirus Preparedness Group to mitigate the impact of the virus if it eventually spreads to the country. On the same day, the World Health Organization listed Nigeria among other 13 African countries identified as high-risk for the spread of the virus.
On 26 February, a Chinese citizen presented himself to the Lagos State government on suspicion of being infected with coronavirus. He was admitted at Reddington Hospital and was released the following day after testing negativ
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.
Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.
The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol based rub frequently and not touching your face.
The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow).
At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. WHO will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings become available.
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To prevent infection and to slow transmission of COVID-19, do the following:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub.
- Maintain at least 1 metre distance between you and people coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Stay home if you feel unwell.
- Refrain from smoking and other activities that weaken the lungs.
- Practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel and staying away from large groups of people.
COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.
Most common symptoms:
- dry cough.
Less common symptoms:
- aches and pains.
- sore throat.
- loss of taste or smell.
- a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes.
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- chest pain or pressure.
- loss of speech or movement.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have serious symptoms. Always call before visiting your doctor or health facility.
People with mild symptoms who are otherwise healthy should manage their symptoms at home. On average it takes 5–6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days.
In the last several months, COVID-19 has taken up nearly every news headline in nearly every country in the world. The health impact, testing, confinement, and trying to curb the pandemic have rightly been at the forefront. In the developed world, conversations have been about corporate losses and the availability of unemployment benefits. But low-income countries experience a different reality: in sub-Saharan Africa, over 70% of workers are self-employed and a vast majority operate in the informal sector. Many bottom-of-the-pyramid Africans eat with the money they earn everyday. Within this context, when a second massive swarm of locusts covered the sky like a Biblical plague in East Africa in April, devouring vegetation and presenting “an extremely alarming and unprecedented threat” to food security and livelihoods, as expected, this piece of news barely made a splash.
On the African continent, where McKinsey predicts that up to 150 million jobs could be affected through losses and salary reductions, a temporary locust invasion has far-reaching consequences. The first, in January, was the worst that some countries had seen in 70 years and affected vegetation and pasture that covered more area than the entire land mass of the UK. The current invasion is estimated to be at least 20 times worse – and could become 400 times bigger by the end of June. In my home country of Ethiopia, over significant amount ofcrop land and pasture landis impacted by locusts, severely disrupting food supply. Already one million people have been pushed into hunger. In a region where six out of 10 people experience moderate to severe food insecurity, the consequences are devastating.
What’s worse is that the locust invasion is just one of many drivers of food insecurity on the African continent before COVID-19. The ongoing conflicts in the Sahel has pushed many households into extreme hunger, while widespread flood and drought continue to hinder both food production and consumption across the region. Even before COVID-19 hit, 135 million people were living under severe threat of hunger.
How will COVID-19 affect food security in Africa?
Enter the pandemic. COVID-19 has not only prevented an adequate response to the locust invasion, but has also exacerbated food insecurity across the continent. For many, starvation will be a deadlier threat than the virus itself.
COVID-19 has sometimes been referred to as the great equalizer, as the rich and poor alike have been infected. But the contrast between the developed and developing worlds cannot be more stark: as cookbooks aresoaring in popularity in the West, the poor areprotesting on the streets such as we have seen in Senegal, in a desperate attempt to find any solution to stave off hunger. While flour sales in the US rose154% in March and stores run out of yeast, those in Kenya’s largest slum recently set off a stampede to get to flour and oil handouts, leaving scores injured and two dead. For those living in extreme poverty – less than $1.90 a day – if they cannot eat, starvation is a reality. The impact of COVID-19 on food security shows that this crisis is anything but equal.
Undoubtedly, the biggest impact will be from the significant income losses: up to 80 million people are projected to fall into extreme poverty in Africa in 2020 as physical labour is restricted and remittances decline by 20%, the biggest amount in recent history. Falling remittances are no joke – they make up a substantial share of income: for instance, in Nigeria, the country with the largest population on the African continent, remittances are equivalent to the size of the federal government budget.
Ironically, even with a locust invasion, food is not in short supply globally; the challenge lies in getting it from the breadbaskets of the world to where it is most needed quickly and efficiently. This requires massive, global coordination of efforts hitherto unseen. Instead, many countries have become more insular: unnecessary hoarding is becoming increasingly popular, and 8 countries have imposed binding export restrictions on food that can lead to global price spikes. This will affect a large proportion of African countries who are net food importers. In countries like Angola and Nigeria, this problem will be compounded: Angola imports over half of its overall food and has seen its currency decline against the US dollar by nearly one-fifth due to falling oil prices. This makes the relative price of food even more expensive.
The supply of food that is produced locally has also been severely disrupted. In addition to locust invasions, social distancing and supply chain disruptions affect the ability of farmers to produce food and get it to market. World Bank estimates suggest that agricultural production in Africa could decline by 3-7% in 2020 if trade blockages are enacted, exacerbating the challenge of poor food access.
In countries like Nigeria and Ethiopia, the poor spend 60% of their consumption expenditure on food. It only takes basic arithmetic to calculate that the combination of income losses, impending price spikes, and supply chain disruptions will make food inaccessible for the poorest.
Food security during Ebola
We don’t have to go that far back to learn from history. The Ebola outbreak that hit West Africa between 2014-2016 pushed 750,000 people into food insecurity in three countries alone. In 2014, nearly half of all Liberian farmers were unable to cultivate due to disruptions in the supply chain and labor market shortages, leading to price increases and leaving thousands hungry. In Sierra Leone, over two-thirds of households had to undertake coping strategies to ward off hunger.
We cannot let history repeat itself. If nothing changes, by the end of 2020, COVID-19 will double the number of people experiencing hunger so severe, it is a threat to their life and livelihoods, to over a quarter of a billion people. That’s equivalent to more than 80% of the population of the United States, more than triple the number of visitors to France in 2018 – the country with the most international visitors, and more than 100,000 people experiencing acute hunger for every one of the 2,604 billionaires in 2019. Let’s also remember that in Bob Marley’s own words, “a hungry mob, is an angry mob”. No one should have to make tragic choices between protecting their health on the one hand, and ensuring that they do not die of hunger on the other.
What should leaders do to prevent a hunger crisis?
Even if individuals do not have a choice, leaders do. Now is no different. Solidarity across borders is of the essence. More urgently than ever, ensuring continued food supply is needed through the establishment of a food corridor. Latin America recently formed a regional trade bloc for food supply to flow where it is most needed; African governments must do the same. Reducing or suspending tariffs on imports of staples and ensuring that farmers can access loan packages will be essential to ward off hunger. To protect the most vulnerable, governments must expand and improve food assistance and social protection programs.
Meanwhile, donor governments should resist protectionist measures in exporting and importing food, but also provide assistance for pesticides to ward off the locust invasion. And all actors must enact an immediate debt moratorium – from multilateral, bilateral and private sources – for 2020 and 2021 so that governments have the resources to expand social protection in their countries. They must do everything in their power to reduce the cost of sending remittances. And donors must fund the $6.7 billion requested for the Global Humanitarian Response Plan and the $1.5 billion for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme, which will help reach the poorest and protect local food supply.
Thirty-five years ago, my home country, Ethiopia, was pushed to the brink of starvation. We experienced food insecurity so severe, it resulted in one million deaths. Today, the warning signs are clearer than ever: if we do not act now, a lack of food access can kill millions more. I don’t want to wait for that outcome. I hope you don’t either.
Mimi Alemayehou, is a board member of the ONE Campaign.