Nigeria’s insecurity challenges are widening with the confirmation of COVID-19 in the country by Federal health authorities. Lagos State where the first victim was identified appeared not to have been caught off guard in terms of facilities for a minimum, initial response. That’s great and commendable but the COVID-19 epidemic is arriving in Nigeria at a time informed global public opinion has basically concluded that the world is heading for a pandemic. In other words, COVID-19 is steadily graduating from an epidemic to a pandemic. The usual problem with that is how prepared are governments and societies outside the West and China, Japan, Russia and the Scandinavian Block to cope with large scale health challenges.
So far, the World Health Organisation, (WHO) is still careful in whether the epidemic has become a pandemic. The statement of the Director-General, Ethiopia’s Dr. Tedros-Adhanom-Ghebreyesus is worth quoting: “There’s a lot of speculation about whether these increases mean that this epidemic has now become a pandemic. We understand why people ask that question.
WHO has already declared a public health emergency of international concern – our highest level of alarm – when there were less than 100 cases outside China, and 8 cases of human-to-human transmission.Our decision about whether to use the word “pandemic” to describe an epidemic is based on an ongoing assessment of the geographical spread of the virus, the severity of disease it causes and the impact it has on the whole of society.
For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death.
Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.
But the WHO DG was speaking on February 24th, 2020. Three days after, “The virus is coming” was the screaming headline ran by The Economist which is not usually given to hysteria. It must have taken note of the fever pitch responses going on in the US, UK, Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Italy, South Korea, South Africa, Egypt, Russia and so on.
In Nigeria, all manner of prescriptions are being passed round via the social media. They range from belief that alcohol, hot lemon, honey, Vitamin C and Chloroquine can contain or inhibit the virus. All manner of authorities are cited for these social media prescriptions which nobody is in the mood to verify because anxiety and tension have set in. How great it would have been if they were coming from a ‘Health Emergency Governance Information Management Team’
Covering COVID-19 presents its own challenge to the media and popular culture generally. Merrill Perlman appears to summarise the challenge beautifully when she wrote as follows in her February 24th, 2020 column in the Columbian Journalism Review: Journalists have the responsibility to put things in context. Cover COVID-19 and its effects, be they economic, physical, or social. But acknowledge its place in the pantheon of disease. Reporting as if it were the end of the world is an epidemic of a different kind.