COVID-19: Panic As Nigerians Storm Banks, Streets In Frenzy Following Easing Of Lockdown

Although the government wanted a gradual easing of the lockdown over the COVID-19 pandemic, many Nigerians in Lagos and Abuja on Monday flooded the streets and public places in total disregard of advice on measures to check the spread of the virus.

In some places, such as banks, markets and bus stops, people, many of whom did not wear face masks, shoved each other in spite of medical advice that they maintain social distance.

Five weeks of strict lockdown, especially in Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ended on Sunday, May 3, based on the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Prior to the relaxation of the lockdown, Mr Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who also doubles as the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, on April 30, sent out guidelines for the public to follow during the relaxation period.

He said, “Social distancing of two meters must be maintained among people in workplaces and other public spaces. Controlled access to markets and locations of economic activities” must prevail.

However, at bus terminals, there were crowded queues, and liquor shops were full of people trying to move from place to place.

The development is generating concern among some Nigerians who fear it might aggravate the national COVID-19 infection currently over 2,500’ cases.

On twitter, @Daralohi said, “People still left their houses without nose masks in Abuja, and these taxi drivers are not observing social distancing. Loading passengers like sardines.”

The fears were echoed by @Zaddy_Clinton who wrote, “From the images of people crowded at bus stops, people squeezed in danfos/cars, people moving without wearing masks and observing social distancing, I am honestly afraid for what is about to happen.”

On his part, Amir Salisu said, ‘Dear Abuja people, easing the lockdown does not mean an end to the virus. There is still no known cure or vaccine. Take responsibility for your life or stay at home.”

Rush at banking halls

Customers struggled to enter banking halls across Lagos and Abuja, throwing caution to the wind.

As part of the roadmaps for relaxing the lockdown, Mustapha said, “Banks and other financial institutions, while expected to open, should limit the number of staff physically working in the office to between 30 per cent and 50 per cent.”

At a bank in Wuse 2, Abuja, Amina Alihu, told HumAngle that people were sent home to get face masks to adhere to proper health protocols. This rule applied to staff mostly as enforcement for customers failed woefully.

On social media, Nigerians, while expressing their fears, shared pictures of FCMB Branch and GT banks in Lagos, showing crowded and long queues.

In one video, security guards tried to close a gate against a crowd trying to force their way into a bank.

In a response to a picture of people waiting in a long queue at Abeokuta GTBank, Media personality Feyikemi Abudu said, “If this thing spreads in these crowds, we might be in for it. Where do they want to start contact tracing from?”

Her fears are on the backdrop of the hassles the government went through during the tracing of about 9, 000 contacts during the lockdown.

Some Nigerians said they understood why the streets and banks were filled with people.

Media personality, Gbemi Olateru Olagbegi, said, “People here are mad at other people for going to work .

“What will you have them do? That’s their livelihood. They’ve probably received phone calls, emails etc summoning them to work .

“I don’t think any sane person wants to get the virus,” she added.

Another lockdown?

With the blatant disregard for social distancing and safety experienced on Monday, some Nigerians presume that another lockdown is not far away.

“Is the decision to ease the lockdown premature?” Trust Abajuo asked on Twitter.

Social commentator, Sani Lawal said, “With the way Nigerians are abusing this lifting of lockdown and social distancing in Abuja and Lagos, and our government is truly knowledgeable of what is happening anywhere in the country and responsible, by next week, we will go back to another two weeks of lockdown.

Akin Alabi, the lawmaker representing Egbeda/OnaAra Constituency in the House of Representatives, noted, “Easing the lockdown is potentially looking like a bad decision.”

Meanwhile, Chinwe Onyeukwu, Executive Director of Women Africa, which is part of an international initiative to give facial masks to vulnerable communities in Bwari, said the government must do more to ensure that the public understood why adhering to the prescribed hygiene measures was important.

She added that in a nation of 200 million people, where many Nigerians made less than one dollar a day, it was necessary for the government to ensure that Nigerians would conduct economic activity safely.

“We need the government to do sensitisation campaigns, from the slums, to the rural areas, to informal settlements, to urban places.

“Push out more information and ensure that people can get protective materials. Let Nigerians know it’s not about punishment it’s about safety. There is only so much civil organisations can do.” Onyeukwu said.

On its part, the PTF has expressed disappointment over the attitude of Nigerians over the relaxation of the lockdown.

During its briefing on Monday, the team warned that it might adopt more drastic measures, including arrest and prosecution, to enforce measures aimed at curtailing the spread of the coronavirus.

(Additional reporting by Anita Eboigbe)

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