COVID-19: Nigerians panic, scramble for essential items

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This week recorded increasing panic among the populace as the federal and state governments ramp up plans to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 contagion that has devastated parts of the world.

The gravity of the situation sinks as the authorities of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) declared its camps across the federation closed and state governments––including that of Benue, Enugu, Ogun, Lagos and Niger, among others––ordered the shutdown of schools. The federal government also ordered the closure of Unity schools and universities nationwide, alongside the shutdown of Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt international airports.

By weekend, the grim reality had trickled down to the populace. With the report of rising cases of suspected coronavirus diseases in Lagos, many Lagosians are taking steps to stock up their houses with food and provisions, to forestall being taken unaware in case of a declaration of a lockdown in the state.

From the evening of Thursday, March 19, a huge crowd had started to converge on Enitan Street, in Surulere, an axis with a concentration of four banks––Stanbic IBTC, Access, Zenith and Ecobank. There were endless queues at the ATM points, as they wait to withdraw money.

At the Stanbic ATM queue, a woman who identified herself as Mrs Adebutu told Saturday Sun she was there to withdraw enough money that will last her and her family for two weeks because she doesn’t want to be stranded at any point.

“With the way the virus is spreading, one cannot guarantee that there won’t be a total lockdown soon. My children will be home from this weekend and they eat a lot, so we will need a lot of money,” Adebutu said.

A young man on the queue said he wanted to withdraw all the money in his account so that he can buy drugs and herbs, that will boost his immune system and help him battle the spread of the virus, as well as stock up his house with food and other necessities for as long as it is necessary to self-isolate.

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From the bank, most of them entered pharmacies.

At a pharmacy opposite Conoil filling station on Adetola Road, Aguda, Surulere, buyers were seen loading their shopping baskets with Vitamin C, hand sanitizers, garlic tablets and facemasks. An attendant at the pharmacy revealed they have stopped accepting cash from their customers and prefer POS for all their transactions to stop the spread of the coronavirus through notes.

At Alpha Pharmacy, located on Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, every customer that walked into the store got drops of sanitizer. They were also made to observe social distance while on the queue. A new barrier had also been set up to separate pharmacists from customers. The pharmacists all wore facemasks as they take order and money.

Buyers had to contend with hike in price. Facemask, usually sold at a unit price of N50 was priced at N250, while the smallest bottle of sanitizer, previously sold for N200, carried a N500 price tag.

“We are selling the normal price, just a little addition because of the exchange rate,” the pharmacist tried to explain.

At another pharmacy at Mafoluku, Oshodi, the story is different.

“It’s even difficult to get supply from our distributor that is why we are selling the face mask at N500 each and Chloroquine, which used to be N300 a pack, now sold at N1000,” the pharmacist explained. “Trump’s announcement led to the mad rush for the malaria tablet. My wife left as early as 5am to Ilupeju to see if we can get new supply but she is not yet back because of the long queue she met there.”

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On the street, Lagosians are taking caution. They are becoming uncomfortable when they found themselves in close proximity with someone that coughs or sneezes, signs that are symptomatic of COVID-19 disease. A woman, Mama Evelyn narrated the drama that took place inside a commercial bus she boarded from Oshodi to Ikotun.

“When a female passenger suddenly started coughing for a prolonged period without covering her mouth with either a handkerchief or her palms, other passengers became apprehensive. Another female passenger appealed to the woman to cover her mouth with palms if she does not have a handkerchief. The woman who was coughing felt she had been unduly embarrassed and reacted angrily spewing a stream of profanities in Yoruba,” she said.

According to her, the woman continued to cough and that led to a serious altercation in the bus, between her and the driver on one hand and the rest of the passengers on the other hand. “Before you know it, the complaining passenger stepped off the bus as the woman continued to cough. Other passengers alighted, one after the other. Confused and angry at the same time, the driver turned on the coughing woman and tongue-lashed her in Yoruba for bringing bad luck to him through her coughing. The woman’s attempt to reply his insults further enraged the driver who stopped the bus and ordered her to step out of his vehicle. She did and the driver drove off, still cursing her in Yoruba and the woman replying in kind,” she recounted.

Beyond the individual, religious bodies have also taken serious measures as the week winds up. At the Mountain of Fire Ministries (MFM) Prayer City, located on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, devotees and visitors alike are screened and given sanitizer to clean their hands at almost every point, as they make their way into the expansive compound. The process is repeated multiple times between the main gate and the reception. The church has also suspended deliverance services and house fellowships until further notice.

Other churches take sterner measures. For example, Global Impact Church in Lagos has modified its service in consonance with the directive from the Lagos State Government.

A statement released by the lead pastor, Pastor Yemi Davids, stated that the church’s Sunday services will take place online as it has suspended physical services in Lekki, Surulere and The United States.

“We urge all Global Impact Church members across all locations to join any of the services online from Sunday” which according to the statement will be conducted by a couple of leaders at the Goodland (Ifako branch). “Our weekly Wednesday midweek services will also be streamed online from the Goodland,” the statement further stated.

In the wake of the shutdown, schools in Lagos have staggered their examinations. One of such schools is Mercy Evelyn Group of Schools, located in Ijesha, Surulere, whose pupils wrote a flurry of exams on Thursday, March 21. Some of the exams were initially fixed for Monday, March 20.

A student of Honey Bell College, Abule Odu, Idimu, also confirmed to Saturday Sun that exams scheduled for Monday were abruptly brought forward to Thursday and Friday. According to the student, they wrote two subjects on Thursday, between 2 pm to 3 pm, whilst the remaining seven papers were written on Friday.

Living Spring School, Isolo also adopted the staggered exam model. According to one of the staff, the school started its examinations on Tuesday, March 17 and was meant to conclude on Tuesday 24. However, the directive of the Lagos State government galvanized the school management to rush and conclude the examinations on Friday, March 20.

“They were meant to take my exam on Monday but we had to quickly shift it to Thursday 19 and I have to finish marking by tomorrow so they can collate the result and the students would get their report cards,” the teacher affirmed.

Other schools simply put the examination process on hold. Mr. David Agbejule, proprietor of Olive Dave Learners School, Idimu announced the suspension of all activities––including exams scheduled to start by March 23––in the wake of the directive from the Lagos State government.

In the same vein, Alison Group of School located at Shofolahan Street, Ijesha also cancelled the school’s inter-house sports scheduled to hold on Friday, March 20. The cancellation was announced barely 24 hours before the event.

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Social activities, such as weddings, are affected following the advice to avoid places of large gathering. Among the weddings, this weekend is that of Ruth Omonge and Aihe Ehilare at Apply Praise Ministry, Isolo.

“The wedding will hold,” the sister of the bride affirmed. “Because of the ban, we moved the wedding to Alimosho Local Government at Ikotun. A reception will still hold but we have persons who will stand at the point of entrance and make sure that they get a drop of hand sanitizers before entering the venue. We have put in a lot of time and money preparing for this event to call it off.”

As COVID-19 spread around the world, Lagosians are getting a picture of the gloom ahead if the situation warrants a lockdown of an area, a suburb or the entire state. For instance, a bag of sachet water they used to purchase at 12 bags at N1, 000, has been reduced to 11 bags for N1, 000. Producers blamed the shortfall on shortage of nylon, which they import from China.

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Some businesses are already experiencing drought. Thursday night at Box 18 Sports Bar is designated Love Night, a day lovebirds flocked to the hangout.  But on the night of March 19, the bar, located at Okunola Street, Egbeda, was almost empty––only three couples, including the reporter. According to a waiter, patronage has dwindled since report about the discovery of the coronavirus disease in Lagos.

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