After a month-long lockdown, Nigeria will begin easing coronavirus restrictions in some major cities next week.
Nigeria’s president Buhari on Monday evening (Apr. 27) announced “a phased and gradual easing of lockdown measures” in Abuja, Ogun and Lagos states from May 4. The new response approach, Buhari claimed, is due to the “heavy economic cost” of the lockdown and the need to “balance the need to protect health while also preserving livelihoods.” The new measures include a ban on interstate travel, mandating the use of face masks and a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am. Existing restrictions on large social and religious gatherings will also remain in place.
Nigeria’s decision comes on the heels of Ghana becoming the first African country to ease its lockdown in Accra and Kumasi last week. South Africa also plans a phased easing of its lockdown starting on May 1.
The economic merits of Buhari’s decision are obvious given the impact the lockdown has had, particularly on the informal economy. In the absence of relief packages from the government, ordinary Nigerians have increasingly filled social welfare gaps, from food banks to online donor platforms. The economic pains may yet worsen as the International Monetary Fund already predicts Nigeria is headed for its worst recession in 30 years.
Yet, the easing of restrictions come at a time when Nigeria’s rate of confirmed cases is reflecting sharp growth: the country has seen a nearly ten-fold increase in the total number of cases during the lockdown period.
The increase in case numbers partly exposes the inadequacies of the lockdown measures. Despite restrictions on movement and public gathering in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun state, ongoing interstate travel during the period meant Nigerians could travel in and out of those states until recently.
There’s also the question of Nigeria’s testing capabilities. One week before the lockdown was implemented, Nigeria had conducted a startlingly low number of tests, which paled badly when compared to African countries including West African neighbor Ghana which has done around 100,000 tests for a population of 27 million compared with Nigeria’s 11,000 for 200 million. South Africa, with a population of 56 million, is conducting around 10,000 tests a day.
While testing numbers have increased during the period of the lockdown, Nigeria is still testing significantly fewer people than believed necessary, medical industry insiders say. For his part, president Buhari says the lockdown has “yielded positive outcomes” as the Nigeria’s current number of confirmed cases is much less than the 2,000 cases that initial models predicted the country would see within a month of its index case.
The easing of restrictions in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa follow similar actions by some of the worst-hit European countries, including Italy and France. Collectively, Africa has recorded just over 32,000 cases with South Africa, Egypt and Morocco being the worst affected.
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