Covid-19: How relaxing ban on gatherings might have triggered second wave in Bauchi and other states
Charles Agwam FASLN
Bauchi State, like other parts of the world, has, in several ways, been impacted by the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic. As of December 15, 2020, available official figures suggest that Bauchi has recorded at least 860 confirmed cases and 14 Covid-19 related deaths.
Although Bauchi recorded only one case of Covid-19 transmission in September (thanks to strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols), the pandemic appears to be resurrecting with new infections surging past 37 in the state.
Bauchi and several other States lifted the ban on religious and social gatherings earlier placed to slow down the spread of Covid-19, after the number of infections and deaths dropped across the country. However, many argue that lifting the ban on religious and social gatherings was too early and might be responsible for the recent spike in number of coronavirus infections across the country.
However, while arguments along this line have raised the question as to whether there is evidence to support the assertion that mass gatherings can lead to resurgence of pandemics, the answer, according to several studies, is yes!
In 2016, Rainey et al., conducted a systematic literature review about mass gathering-related respiratory disease outbreaks occurring in the United States from 2005 to 2014 and found outbreaks of infectious diseases following 72 mass gathering events.
In another study by Shi et al., 2010, using a computer model, it was suggested that mass gatherings can increase the peak of a pandemic by 10%. In other words, we are likely to have 10% more cases with mass gatherings than without.
A survey across some Bauchi towns showed that, except for few people who still wear their nose mask, many have dropped all Covid-19 protocols that were earlier enforced like hand washing, social distancing and other safety precautions.
Giving expert opinion, a physiologist and ASLN fellow, Dr. Kazeem Ajeigbe stressed the need for total adherence to the safety protocols as laid down by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
"It is not entirely surprising that a second wave of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-COV-2) infection is currently ravaging the country. While it might be difficult to put people under a seeming unending lockdown due to economic implications, relaxing ban on gatherings without observing or maintaining total adherence to the safety protocols as carefully and methodically laid down by the NCDC is another way of seamlessly inviting second wave of the infection.
"At any stage of fight against Covid-19, like other previous pandemics in the past, attempts to curb its spread is hugely important. These attempts, which can be generally referred to as safety protocols, are non-pharmaceutical in nature, but are as important as, if not more than pharmaceutical interventions in the fight against the infection.
"Moreover, since the disease is regarded as a contact disease, typical of any respiratory illness, its spread depends on the closeness of others to someone with the disease. Hence, curbing it can easily be achieved by personal hygiene and physical/social distancing. With personal hygiene, the risk of contracting the disease is greatly reduced through regular hand washing with soap and water, use of face mask as well as observing other Covid-19 safety protocols. And where it happens that a person is suspected or confirmed to be infected with the disease, the person should be isolated and cared for by a trained professional until the virus clears out," he said.
Furthermore, the federal government has accused religious leaders of sabotaging the national response in containing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country by holding large gatherings. According to the federal government, many compatriots have let their guards down at observing laid down coronavirus protocols.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, said, “We have observed, rather sadly, that Nigerians, particularly some faith-based organisations have continued to hold events of large gatherings capable of spreading the virus.
“The PTF urges all sub-national entities that signed the protocols with organisations which have the primary responsibility of enforcing the protocols, to step up their roles of enforcement. The pandemic still has a long a way to run and decisions made by leaders and citizens in the coming days will determine the course of events in the next days and months. In addition, in line with the guidance on the use of masks, we need to discourage the practice of removing masks to speak."
Reacting to the surge in transmission of Covid-19 infections, the NCDC warned that the country is on the verge of a second wave of the pandemic, noting that it has ordered the reopening of all isolation and treatment centres, which had been closed due to reduced patient load.
The NCDC disclosed that the country recorded 930 new confirmed coronavirus infections on 16th of December, 2020, as it urged citizens to continue observing Covid-19 protocols that caused the reduction of coronavirus cases few months ago.
"On the 16th of December 2020, 356 new confirmed cases and 6 deaths were recorded in Nigeria. Till date, 78,790 cases have been confirmed, 68,483 cases have been discharged and 1,227 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
“The 1,145 new cases are reported from 24 states: Lagos-459, FCT-145, Kaduna-138, Plateau-80, Katsina-70, Gombe-52, Niger-31, Kano-23, Bayelsa-21, Bauchi-18, Ondo-18, Rivers-17, Ogun-12, Oyo-12, Edo-8, Nasarawa-8, Ebonyi-7, Osun-6, Ekiti-5, Kebbi-5, Borno-4, Jigawa-3, Akwa Ibom-2, Anambra-1," NCDC stated in its report.
However, it is worthy of note that Covid-19 infections in Bauchi state and elsewhere in Africa have been marked by relatively low number of deaths when compared to other regions of the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of December 14, 2020, the overall deaths due to coronavirus in Africa was 56,740.
"About 91% of Covid-19 infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among people below 60 years, and over 80% of cases are asymptomatic," WHO noted. "A mix of socio-ecological factors such as low population density and mobility, hot and humid climate, lower age group, interacting to accentuate their individual effects, are likely contributing to the pattern seen in Africa."
The report further says that some of the most affected countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa have all seen infections drop every week over the past two months. Deaths attributed to Covid-19 have also remained low in the region.
"The downward trend that we have seen in Africa over the past two months is undoubtedly a positive development and speaks to the robust and decisive public health measures taken by governments across the region," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. "But we must not become complacent. Other regions of the world have experienced similar trends only to find that as social and public health measures are relaxed, cases start ramping up again."
In addition, WHO stated that, while governments have made efforts to improve Covid-19 testing, with recent testing rising from a cumulative 74 tests per 10,000 people in 44 assessed countries on 23 August 2020 to 93 per 10, 000 people on 21 September 2020, the level is still low.
"Africa has not witnessed an exponential spread of COVID-19 as many initially feared,” said Dr Moeti. “But the slower spread of infection in the region means we expect the pandemic to continue to smoulder for some time, with occasional flare-ups.
"The response in African countries needs to be tailored to each country’s situation moving forward as we see different patterns of infection even within a country. Targeted and localized responses that are informed by what works best in a given region of a country will be most crucial as countries ease restrictions and open up their economies. Blanket approaches to the region or countries are not feasible.
"Nonetheless, the region’s statistics on testing have been useful for policy as they reflect the patterns of infection within a country, and the missed Covid-19 cases are largely because they are asymptomatic. In addition, there is no evidence of miscalculation of death figures, which are more difficult to miss statistically," Dr. Moeti added.
Notably, though, two weeks after compiling this report, Africa passed the milestone of 3 million confirmed Covid-19 cases, with more than 72,000 deaths, according to the Africa Center for Disease Control. In South Africa where a new variant of the virus that is more contagious was discovered recently, there is a rabid resurgence of the disease. As of January 10, 2021, more than 1.2 million infections have been reported, including 32,824 deaths.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s health minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire has hinted that efforts are on top gear to ensure the country receives some doses of the approved Covid-19 vaccines in January 2021, adding that the country has signed up with WHO and Gavi for access to vaccines immediately they are available.