The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis and the world is seeing the number of people affected increasing rapidly everyday. To control the spread of the virus, several measures have been implemented in different countries. ‘Social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ are phrases you might have heard more of recently and are two critical interventions being put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus. These measures slow the spread of the virus, and when appropriately practiced, can slow the rate of infection in a town, community or even the entire country.
What does social distancing mean?
Social distancing refers to putting in place adequate physical space between people. Why should we socially distance ourselves from other people? The World Health Organisation (WHO) explains that when someone coughs or sneezes, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. If you are too close to someone who has the coronavirus and they don’t cover their mouth or nose when they cough or sneeze, this increases the chance of spreading the virus. These droplets can also land on objects and surfaces where people may touch. When we maintain appropriate physical distance, the potential to spread the virus is reduced.
While coronavirus in Nigeria is still not as widespread as in other countries, we must take effective measures to curb the spread. This means:
- Staying away from others as much as possible. For now, you can still visit a few places, only when necessary, including markets, malls, pharmacies, and hospitals. If you visit any of these places, maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and the next person, as recommended by WHO.
- Avoiding large gatherings as much as possible. This is not the time to host or attend big parties and ceremonies. Lagos State, for instance, has banned all gatherings of over 50 people within the state, and other states are following suit.
- Staying at home. There is no other way to put this. For some this may prove a challenge, however the less people are out on the streets and in contact with others, the faster we can stop coronavirus in Nigeria. An increase in COVID-19 infections in Nigeria will overwhelm our health system, and it is up to each and every one of us to stop this from happening.
People around the world have not taken social distancing seriously, and this seems to also be the case in Nigeria. When Italy witnessed it first cases of coronavirus, “social distancing” was not one of the measures being required by government advisories. As as result, the population continued close physical interactions. This led to widespread community transmission of the virus. Italy is now entirely on lockdown, and yet, new infections of coronavirus contines to be recorded daily.
The Italian government has now been forced to resort to drones to monitor Italians in a bid to get them to observe social distancing. That is how seriously social distancing is being taken in a country where deaths from coronavirus have now surpassed China. Other countries in Europe and Africa have experienced a similar challenge. It is hard to ask people to suddenly change social norms and habits that are so instinctive. However, social distancing is one of the proven measures to limit the spread of coronavirus, so we must learn to change our behaviour to save lives. An unprecedented crisis requires unprecedented action.
How to protect yourself if you need to go out
For those who still need to go out to work, it is important to practice as much social distancing as your office space allows. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer, and limit the number of visitors or meetings you have in your office. Also, do not forget to educate your office cleaner, security personnel and other staff about the coronavirus and how they can prevent it. We should all be informed.
It is called ‘Social Distancing’, but what this really calls for is ‘Physical Distancing’. We can still be social but maintain our physical distance. Instead of having friends and family visit, please take advantage of social media to keep in touch with them. This is an opportunity to reconnect with family members and friends.
It may prove hard to ensure social distancing in a country like Nigeria with a population that is largely self-employed. While Lagos State has directed that no passengers should be allowed to stand in buses after all the seats must have been occupied, what about passengers sitting next to each other or queuing to enter these public buses? Can we really observe social distancing in a population of approximately 200 million with limited resources? While this is a challenge, we must do all we can to #TakeResponsibility and adhere to the call for social distancing.
What does it mean to self-isolate?
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has asked that people who return from a country with widespread community transmission of COVID-19, should stay at home and isolate themselves for 14 days. Self-isolation is a precautionary measure to protect those around you from contracting the virus, if you have it. It involves avoiding close contact with other people as much as possible. This means:
- You should totally avoid visitors and separate yourself from people you live with. You should also maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between them.
- While staying at home, you should reduce the possible spread of infection. Practice basic hygiene — wash your hands often, cover your coughs and sneezes, do not share eating or cooking utensils, towels and personal items with other people.
- If you become unwell or show symptoms of COVID-19 during the 14 days isolation, call NCDC’s toll-free number immediately on 080097000010. The symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough or difficulty in breathing.
This is not a time to panic. It is a time to #TakeResponsibility and prevent further transmission of the virus. The power to stop the spread is in our hands as Nigerians. The simple act of washing your hands with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based sanitizer can prevent thousands of deaths. Do what you can to keep yourself and everyone around you safe, especially those who may be more susceptible to infection, including the elderly and those with existing health conditions. We must all consider the consequences of our actions in this critical time. Nigeria is ours, and we must protect her.
How are you preventing the spread of the coronavirus? How often do you wash your hands? Are you working from home? If not, how do you commute to your workplace? Have you limited your outings? What measures have your state put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus? Share with us in the comment section or on our Twitter page @nighealthwatch and Facebook @nigeriahealthwatch.