Corona virus is a family of respiratory viruses. The proper name of the virus causing this outbreak is ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2’. The disease this virus causes was formally referred to as ‘2019 novel coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCoV’ but on 11 February 2020, World Health Organisation (WHO) announced an official name for the disease called ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019’ shortened to ‘COVID-19’.
We start by clearing up two often interchangeably used terms. Corona virus is the virus while COVID-19 is the disease condition.
The first case of COVID-19 was seen in a city called Wuhan, China in December 2019. Many health experts believe that this new strain of coronavirus likely originated in bats. The first transmission to humans was in Wuhan. Since then, the virus has mostly spread through person-to-person contact.
According to statistics gotten from Worldometer as dated 20th March, there have been about 245,916 coronavirus cases and this has resulted in about 10,048 deaths. Therefore, COVID-19 has a mortality rate of approximately 4%. Compared with similar outbreaks like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the past, this percentage of deaths is comparatively low. However, because there is a vicious spread of the corona virus, a very significant amount of people are still dying on a daily basis. This is why it is a big deal.
This made the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020 to declare Covid-19 as a Pandemic.
A pandemic occurs when a disease that people are not immune to spreads across large regions.
The coronavirus travels in heavy droplets of air. So, it is not just transmitted by breathing the same air as a carrier but rather when people with COVID-19 breathe out or cough, they expel tiny droplets that contain the virus. When these surfaces are touched, the viruses are transferred which eventually enter the lungs on advent of touching the face. Therefore in order to get the virus, one has to come in reasonable close proximity with someone who has the virus. Close contact is within around 6 feet. The disease is most contagious when a person’s symptoms are at their peak. However, it has been confirmed that coronavirus can be asymptomatic for a period of 14 days. So, it is very possible for someone without symptoms to spread the virus.
The symptoms of coronavirus are very similar to those of the common cold and flu. These include fever, cough, shortness of breath etc. In 80% of these cases, the symptoms are going to be very mild not affecting the lungs much.
The graph below from the Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19 shows the typical symptoms of COVID-19.
The WHO estimates that 1 in 6 people affected by this COVID-19 come down with potentially severe breathing difficulties. So, the chances of surviving COVID-19 depends on age, medical problems and how it affects the lungs viz-a-viz immune system. The chances of dying from this, increase significantly as one gets older. People of over 80 years old have up to 10% mortality rate. Also, people with various respiratory diseases are also at a higher risk of death from coronavirus.
The growing question on the lips of concerned Nigerians like me is
“Is the Nigerian healthcare well-equipped to handle this COVID-19 pandemic?”
To answer this question, it is worth comparing our response to the first few confirmed cases and measures put in place to prevent spread of contamination with the actions of Asian countries like China, Singapore, and South Korea etc. We start from China because of obvious reasons – it was the origin of what has become a worldwide pandemic now.
China’s belated response was extreme and immense. This involved an all-encompassing lockdown of Wuhan and the entire Hubei province. Now many might feel that this level of clampdown and restriction should not be reciprocated by our health care system in Nigeria as the number of reported cases is not up to that of China. But we can see the consequences of not implementing this. As at 27th February 2020, the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Lagos, Nigeria (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control NCDC Situation report). The second case of COVID-19 was confirmed on the 9th march, 2020. 3rd case was confirmed 17th march. The next day 18th march after approx. 24hrs, a drastic increase was confirmed, as 5 more cases were confirmed bringing the total number of cases to 8. As at 19th march, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health had announced four new positive cases confirmed in Lagos state. Today, 21st March, the National Council for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed 10 new cases – 7 in Lagos, 3 in Abuja bringing it to a total of 22 confirmed cases. There has been an alarming 83% increase in reported cases in just under 2 days!
From the graph created above using the number of cases reported, we can see that there is a very rapid increase in spread of contamination over the last week. Are we allowing this pandemic to escalate due to our carelessness?
The problem is that Lagos is such a populated state and the fear is that there could probably be more cases which have not yet been detected. The whole occupants of Lagos and other affected states which include Ogun, Ekiti have to all be tested. Placing a restriction on these states is non-negotiable so as to contain spread.
Families in Beijing and other affected cities in China were all instructed to stay indoors. Despite all these, the panic levels were reduced because a similar epidemic occurred way back as 2002/3. This was the SARS outbreak. So in a way, they had ideas on how to react. Bringing it home, this is the first pandemic of its kind hitting Nigeria. And it is crystal-clear that we do not know how to react. We are treating a pandemic of such severity with kid gloves. Consequently, we are adopting old measures that should have been put in place weeks ago while we should instead be adopting newer ones now. As at 21st March 2020, 20 of the 22 confirmed cases all have travel history outside Nigeria. Why weren’t the Nigerian borders closed to people coming from countries ravaged with this virus earlier than now? It wasn’t until 18th march before the Nigeria Federal Government placed travel restrictions on China, Italy, South Korea and other countries with high-burden of coronavirus. This most definitely should have been put in place weeks before now.
As at 19th march, the Federal ministry of education ordered the immediate closure of tertiary institutions, secondary and primary schools nationwide. This is totally in line with measures needed to be taken. Social gatherings, market places and ‘over-populated’ places of worship should be restricted. The importance of social distancing is what should be sung into the ears of Nigerians. This is no jokes and we are expected to act with all seriousness accordingly.
Testing kits should be made available nationwide by the ministry of health. Testing should be carried out more often. And in the case where due to the enormous population of Nigeria, it is not feasible to test everyone, sick patients and basically anyone who shows symptoms of flu should be tested. The government should also find a way of destroying various myths flying around concerning this COVID-19. There is no such thing as “Corona virus doesn’t affect black man blood”. Coronavirus is capable of affecting anyone. Being overly religious and tending towards careless cannot also help; as prevention is always better than cure.
The question most people would be thinking of is ‘Is there a cure or vaccine for coronavirus?’. It has been touted that some drugs like Chloroquine have been able to cure some cases of coronavirus but this has not yet been universally adopted by the WHO as a standard cure for coronavirus. Till this is confirmed, there is still no cure for the virus. Scientists are however, working tirelessly to ensure that this virus is isolated and a vaccine discovered. So we are to keep our fingers crossed. Before then, what are we expected to do? Proper hygiene. Washing of hands frequently as this coronavirus settled in droplets can be picked up by the hands. Maintain social distancing and avoid crowded areas. Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early.
In conclusion, it must be reiterated that “CORONAVIRUS IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE”. Therefore, this should not be a period of panic, paranoia and anxiety. We are all advised to be alert and not anxious. Please do stay at home and avoid unnecessary travels. Personal hygiene cannot be over-emphasized, it is key. Those who sell materials like hand sanitizers, face masks, should not hike prices. This should not be a time and period of inflation and of extreme money making agendas. All hands must be on deck because human existence is threatened and we cannot give up now.