Yesterday, the Federal Ministry of Health released a circular confirming the first recorded case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the nation’s commercial hub, Lagos. According to the ministry, the case involved an Italian man, who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos on 25th February 2020.
The case was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, a part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. However, the ministry stated the patient is currently clinically stable with no serious symptoms.
With the first case recorded in Nigeria, we believe attention will be on the ability of the health ministry and related health agencies’ to contain the spread of the virus given the huge population and commercial status of Lagos, which makes the state vulnerable to pandemic if not curtailed quickly. Indeed, we recall how the Nigerian government and the health ministry were able to contain the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in 2014. However, concerns are that the EVD was easier to detect given patients were more likely to show symptoms that are obvious.
We understand that the COVID-19 is, however, a much more subtle virus to detect, given that patients could carry the virus and not show any symptoms, particularly in the early stages. This was evident in the US citizens diagnosed on a Japan cruise ship. Thus, it remains uncertain how wide the virus might have spread given that the Italian man had been in the country for 2 days before he was detected.
Nevertheless, we note that the Nigerian government had started preparation ahead of any eventualities. The House of Assembly approved the release of funds to the tune of N620.0m to curtail a spread of the virus.
Furthermore, key health organisations across the country have been mobilised to provide equipment and manpower while the ministry of health has begun sensitisation of the public across various social media platforms on preventive measures that can be taken to avoid contracting or spreading the virus.
However, we remain concerned that the measures put in place remain inadequate. Nigeria has strong trade relations with China where the virus was first detected and trading activities between both countries have continued during the outbreak with the Nigerian government failing to restrict entry of Chinese and citizens of affected countries. Nigerians have also travelled freely to China without any serious restriction.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that Nigeria’s capacity to contain the spread is severely inadequate. According to the WHO technical officer in Nigeria, Nigerian isolation centres lack the infrastructure to test for the virus while many of the staff are still untrained on what to do in the event a case is recorded. The ministry of health has however rebuffed these claims.
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In terms of economic consequences, we believe the continued spread of the virus globally will continue to impact oil prices negatively, with the attendant impact on government revenues and foreign exchange earnings, which would further heighten fears on an impending devaluation in the local currency.
Additionally, China remains Nigeria’s biggest trading partner, hence should be spread of the virus remain unabated, the trade sector would continue to remain a pressure point for a beleaguered consumer base.
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