NIGERIA’S federal government is considering passing a law making the wearing of facemasks compulsory for all citizens as part of the fightback against the dreaded coronavirus currently sweeping the globe.
In the main, Nigeria has been spared the worst excesses of the global pandemic with only 139 people being infected and the country just suffering from two deaths. However, amid fears that the total number of Nigerians affected could rise to 39,000 if the necessary preventative measures are put in place, the government has decided to step up action.
Over the last week, the government has ordered a 14-day lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States and the Federal Capital Territory, the most affected parts of the country. Isolation centres have also been opened by several state governments and all mass gatherings have been banned, including religious services.
To step up the treatment of the infected, the government has also recalled retired health workers who are now being trained to support the overall preparedness and treatment regime. Other measures to combat the pandemic include opening more testing centres so that Nigeria would be able to test 1,500 people daily in a bid to fast-track the detection rate.
Data from the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control (NCDC) showed that so far, Nigeria has only tested about 2,000 people since the outbreak of the pandemic on February 27. To combat the impact of the lockdown, the federal government is also considering a relief package, targeted at cushioning 11m people from the economic difficulties occasioned by Covid-19.
NCDC director-general Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the agency was considering the compulsory use of face masks to mitigate against the spread of the virus. He noted that although the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recommended that facemasks should only be used by health workers, the NCDC might recommend a national strategy around its use for the public to protect people from contracting the virus.
Dr Ihekweazu added: “This is a strategy we need to think about before we implement it. Before we implement a national strategy around mask wearing, we have to be sure we can provide it or at least enable access to it.
“We will allow for the risk assessment and as the evidence comes together, we will make a decision based on the evidence and ability to provide every Nigerian with access to mask. With regards to testing, last week, we had the capacity to test 500 per day but by the end of this week we will be at 1,000 a day and by next week we are hoping to get to 1,500 a day.”
He however, said Nigerians should reduce the demand side of the testing to those who really needed it. Dr Ihekweazu noted that the more people force themselves into being tested, the less NCDC would have the capacity to test those who really need the testing.