Last week Tuesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged “evidence emerging” of the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus after a group of scientists urged the global body to update its guidance on how the respiratory disease passes between people.
The WHO had previously said the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease spreads primarily through small droplets expelled from the nose and mouth of an infected person that quickly sink to the ground. Following the recent development, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) told Nigerians that increasing evidence suggested the possibility of airborne transmission of COVID-19 could not be ruled out yet.
The Director General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, explained that the initial understanding of COVID-19 was that spread was primarily through droplets from respiratory tracks but “as we studied transmission, studied clusters of this infection, we saw increasing evidence from clusters of infections where droplet transmission did not seem to be enough to explain the clusters that we are seeing, adding that increasing evidence has emerged that you cannot rule out the airborne transmission of the virus. Chikwe cautioned that evidence on the airborne transmission of COVID-19 reinforces the need for strict adherence to preventive measures, such as avoidance of mass gatherings and the use of facemask.
He noted that with the emerging evidence of airborne transmission of COVID-19, indoors activities are riskier than outdoor activities, especially when there are many people in a small room, without adhering to physical distancing and without facemasks. According to him, closed spaces in restaurants or small rooms with very poor ventilation increases the risk of transmission, hence, the need to strengthen further the avoidance of mass gatherings or gatherings of any nature in small spaces”.
Despite the geometrical rise in the cases of Coronavirus disease and fatality in the country, most Nigerians seem to have thrown caution to the wind and have gone back to the lives they were used to before the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
Efforts being made by government through the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and the NCDC to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in the country are being undermined by the skepticism, poor public perception both leading to lack of compliance. Developments around the world in recent times have been quite instructive and they further underscore the need for compliance and for caution. The Federal Government of Nigeria while announcing a further extension of the second phase of the lockdown lifted the ban on interstate travel and local flight operations. However, a look at the gradually but fast increasing number of COVID-19 cases nationwide is proof that Nigerians must not throw caution to the wind or return to the our pre COVID-19 lifestyles as government has severally said that the reasons for the gradual easing of the restrictions are to enable the resumption of economic activities and provide people with a means of maintaining their livelihood despite the ongoing pandemic.
However, this also calls for greater responsibility for the Nigerian population. A public health physician and founder of TalkHealthNaija, Dr. Laz Ude, told The Guardian that the new evidence that COVID-19 can be airborne, makes it more imperative for the Nigerian people to adhere strictly to the COVID-19 infection prevention guidelines, especially the use of face masks, maintenance physical distancing and avoidance of crowded places.
Ude observed that drivers and flight operators should respect all the infection prevention and control protocols while passengers should also decline boarding of crowded vehicles or flights as a sign of citizens taking responsibility for their health.
He said, “Nigerians who suspect that they have the infection already should call their state hotlines for testing. Those who cough should stay at least two metres away from others where possible or cough into their elbow.”
According to experts, the scale and dynamics of the spread of COVID-19 means that the health of everyone depends on individual actions or inactions.
Given the ongoing community transmission in the country and the resumption of interstate travel, increased movement will mean that there is a higher risk of infection even for those who have not travelled.
According to PTF, unless necessary, we should continue to avoid interstate travel as this poses a greater risk to people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 that is, people who have underlying health issues such as diabetes, asthma, cancer which weakens their immune system or are over the age of 50. Any infection may cause who may have severe complications or even die possibly lead to death from the disease.
Statistics on the impact of COVID-19 on the elderly population emanating from other countries like Italy, United Kingdom and United States also shows that a significant percentage of their elderly population has been hardest hit by COVID-19 and many have had severe complications or died with nursing homes being the hardest hit by the virus.
According to the NCDC, three out of five people who die from COVID-19 in Nigeria are 50 years old and above. As there is no known treatment for COVID-19 yet, cases are managed based on the symptoms they present on admission or develop during treatment; it is the immune system that fights off the virus that causes COVID -19. For people in this vulnerable group, this could be a herculean task for their body.
To put this into perspective, these are our parents, friends, siblings, uncles, aunties, and grandparents whom we love dearly. Therefore, as interstate travel restrictions are lifted and places of worship have re-opened, there is the need to continue to discourage misinformation on COVID-19 particularly those shared on social media platforms and only share information from trusted sources; help our loved ones grasp the grave impact that COVID-19 could have on them and importantly; help them understand the need to adhere to preventive measures as recommended by the Federal Government.
Experts insist that being proactive about hand washing, the use of masks in public and observing physical distancing will go a long way to ensuring that Nigerians break the cycle of transmission and reduce the fatalities nationwide due to this pandemic.