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Covid-19: India’s case upslope shows why Nigeria must tread cautiously


India on Monday reported a daily record of 90,802 cases, pushing the total of infection to over 4.2 million and overtaking Brazil to become the second-hardest-hit country in the world.

In the last five days, more than 1,000 people have died each day, with 1,016 deaths, on Monday alone bringing the total fatalities in the country to 71,642.

Exactly a month ago, it reported a record daily upsurge 62,170 new Covid-19 infections that pushed it to become the third country to cross the two million mark, following ease of restrictions

India as of Monday had the fastest-growing caseload, a scenario pundits term as the offshoot of hasty lockdown, patchy test and trace system and ineffective safety precautions.

The swathes of issues fuelling India’s case escalation are all familiar with Nigeria’s fight against Covid-19; but while it has yet to yield the sort of results seen in India, experts have warned that if Nigeria does not take it as a reference point of learning, the possibility of a second wave and even reinfection will be unsurprising.

Just as Nigeria has observed phased relaxation of lockdown measure including lift of ban on interstate movement and reopening of its airspace to herald the rebound of the economy, India has equally implemented a similar approach.

Delhi Metro Transit, the largest train network that moves an average of 2.6 million passengers between India’s sprawling capital New Delhi and adjoining areas resumed operations on Monday after closing down in March.

But the effect has been a faster migration of cases from urban hotspots such as New Delhi to rural states like Bahir where millions throng to the cities in search of jobs and where it has proven hard to trace the virus path.

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Since these rural spots are some of the poorest in the country, effective quarantine of those returning hotspot cities has been pockets of struggles as anecdotal evidence indicates.

“This is a virus that came to India on international flights. It landed in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. But because of the hasty lockdown, he adds, migrants took the virus from cities to villages,” Shahid Jameel, a virologist said in a BBC report.

“And numbers started to grow as India began reopening in June – unable to afford the lockdown any longer – and testing increased. People began travelling across states, and even within states more, possibly ferrying the virus along the way.”

Testing in India has also been staggered and below par across the country while isolation is not effectively followed. There is an increase of use of antigen tests, which are faster but less reliable than the RT-PCR test.

A McKinsey & Company’s insight on how widespread COVID-19 testing is correlated with fewer cases demonstrates that in a surprising relationship, countries that have tested more have diagnosed fewer cases per thousand people.

It proposes that testing capacity could be paired with at-scale contact tracing, embedded with privacy by design, and with quarantine facilities to help localize hot spots and prevent a broader resurgence.

However Nigeria, worse than India, is behind in testing and was still targeting to test one per cent of its nearly 200 million across the country. Out of the 36 states, 70 per cent of all tests conducted have only covered nine states including Lagos, Kano, FCT, Plateau, Oyo, Kaduna, Edo Ogun Rivers, Ehanire Osagie, Nigeria’s Minister of Health said in August.

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Nigeria’s 54,587 confirmed cases as of September 3 were filtered from 417,398, showing that low testing rates could be blinding the government to the true picture of things.

The resumption of most social activities and the waning of safety precaution on a faulty general assumption that the virus is drying up as backed by the Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control Statistics pointing to a flattening of the curve is a concern for health expert.

They argue that the measures of saving the economy should not give a false impression that the country has wholly exited the doldrums of coronavirus.

“Even the measures that have been put in place, people are not adhering to it strictly yet. People still go out without face-masks. There is no social distancing in many instances. So community transmission is on-going. Social distancing is not the norm outside organised areas and that will encourage transmission,” Rosemary Audu, head of virology, Nigeria Institute Medical Research told BusinessDay.

Nigeria’s best bet at winning the COVID-19 war remains improving health infrastructure for the disease surveillance and reducing the number of new cases as local capacity to develop a vaccine is a gap unlikely to fixed in the lifetime of this pandemic.

Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in an interview with Oxford Business Group acknowledged this vacuum, saying “The main question now is how quickly we will have access to a vaccine, given that we do not currently have the capacity required to develop our own. This is a deficit that has become very apparent to us and we are determined to do something about it moving forward.”

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