Here we go again, putting the cart before the horse. Relaxing the lockdown, and opening the economy without a comprehensive strategy are pointless. Opening the economy without a detailed plan is a precursor for a second wave outbreak of the pandemic. The Nigerian government should replicate what South Korea did to ease the pandemic, the curve flattened out and the right measures put in place. South Korea has normalised daily life in the face of the coronavirus pandemic by a robust testing system coupled with an expansive contact tracing operation built on a foundation of massive amount of data. It was able to build a system that affords easy access for testing, and an honest trust was formed between the citizens and the government. Testing is key to managing the disease because it tells where the problem is, and it allows healthcare workers to rapidly contain the spread of the virus.
The Korean government built a reliable contact tracing infrastructure that permits GPS data, credit card data, and surveillances footage. It also gathered information from 28 data sources to perform quick real time analysis to know who has come in contact with COVID-19 patients. This technological infrastructure allowed for easy contact tracing and affordable test, and also allowed to identify those that have been exposed to the virus. The health officials were able to offer quarantine support. According to the WHO, COVID-19 has four transmission classification cases; no case countries, sporadic case countries, countries with cluster cases, and countries with community transmission.
The NCDC confirms Nigeria’s testing capacity output to be 3,000 test cases daily which might increase to 5,000 test cases daily, while South Korea has conducted 634,000 COVID-19 test cases as of May 4. It succeeded in flattening the infection curve by rapidly conducting extensive tests immediately in the early stages of the pandemic. If Nigeria is to quickly make giant strides in containing the community transmission spread across the nation, the testing capacity must increase exponentially to immediately contain the virus.
South Korea recorded her first case on January 20, 2020; the total confirmed cases are 10,801 cases of infection, 252 deaths and 9,217 were released from quarantine after gaining full recovery from the virus and 634,000 people tested as of May 4, 2020. The first case of the virus was confirmed in Nigeria on February 27; fast forward to May 4, it increased to 2,802; 93 deaths, and 417 patients had fully recovered. It is crystal clear that contact tracing and testing are key to solving this humongous problem crippling our social well-being. As of May 4, South Korea had more percentage recovery at 85.3%, death rate around 2.3%; while Nigeria’s recovery rate stood at 14.8%, with death rate at 3.3%. The data shows our response is slow to transmission spread and the single factor is lack of contact tracing digital infrastructure and the required testing to quickly contain the spread. Lagos State is the epicentre of the pandemic with 42.2%; Kano 13 % and Abuja 10.5%. The government needs to allocate more resources into these three hotspots, for the coronavirus spread to be contained.
The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, recently lamented the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment for health workersas well as dearth of reagents and other raw materials for testing. Expanding the capacity for testing is still the only strategy to contain the virus. Incidentally, the demand for testing kits of COVID-19 globally has outstripped supplies, which makes the testing kits scarce and expensive. The wise thing to do is domestic production. The Federal Government must direct the related health agencies such as the NCDC, NAFDAC, and the leading teaching hospitals to come up with strategies that will enable the country to produce health equipment and raw materials that will be used for the fight against COVID-19 locally. The lockdown measure across the country is temporary, the lasting solution is contact tracing and testing. Community transmission is spreading like wild fire, finding people who came in contact with infected persons and letting them know they had been exposed are the greatest challenge the country has in fighting the pandemic.
Scientists have suggested that a formidable contact tracing strategy will inform how to open the economy till a vaccine is found to the virus. A team of pandemic experts from University of Minnesota’s Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in the US predicted that coronavirus was likely to continue spreading for 18-24 months. The scientists also predicted that the virus would keep spreading until the population developed “herd immunity”. The disease shall stop when enough of the population has become immune to the virus.