Lockdown (1)


By: Israel Umoh

May was seen as an alarmist and a rabble-rouser. He was abandoned by many. That was 15 years. But today, he is seen as a seer and a global poster man. He is applauded and hailed for his far-sighted book.

Like a French astrologer and seer, Michel de Nostredame is popularly known as Nostradamus, Peter May equally saw tomorrow. Scottish author May, 68, a former journalist and BBC screenwriter wrote Lockdown in 2005, imagining London as the epicentre of a global outbreak only to see his manuscript turned away by publishers, who deemed its subject matter “extremely unrealistic and unreasonable.”

May who collected loan to piece together the thriller book sank into debt. Wallowing in abject poverty, he looked dejected. Following the thriller’s dismissal, Mr. May abandoned the project and eventually came to forget he had ever written it.

As COVID-19 pandemic hit major cities in the world, his fan contacted him on Twitter suggesting he writes something for the age of the coronavirus, refreshing his memory and prompting him to retrieve the file from a Dropbox folder. “At the time I wrote the book, scientists were predicting that bird flu was going to be the next major world pandemic,” Mr. May told CNN.

“I thought about it for a minute before I realised that I’ve kind of already done it,” he recalls. “I told my publisher about it and my editor just about fell out of his chair. He read the entire book overnight and the next morning he said, ‘This is brilliant. We need to publish this now,” May said. And so the book has been published in April 2020.

World leaders did not hearken to May’s prediction. Others saw him as a man trying to grab attention. Experts were said to have warned US President Donald Trump in November 2019 about the pandemic, yet he joked about it. Li Wenliang, the Chinese medical doctor drew the attention of the authority to the pandemic, but the whistleblower who died of the virus was reprimanded for ‘spreading false rumours.’ And the deadly virus arrived and the world woke up to see human carcasses in different hospitals. The pandemic was no longer seen as a joke.

Despite the apocalyptic novel, May is luckier for not being sentenced to death. Socrates was not. He laid the groundwork for Western systems of logic and philosophy. He was accused of corrupting the Athenian youths and introducing strange gods. When the political system of Greece turned against him, Socrates was sentenced to death by hemlock in 399 B.C. Before his death by drinking herbal poison, he spoke his last words to Crito “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”

The pandemic lockdown has come to stay in various countries and cities and states of the world. From China, United Kingdom, USA, to Nigeria, lockdown is imposed. From Abuja, Lagos, Ogun, Anambra to Akwa Ibom State, offices, markets, churches, and roads are shut. Vehicles conveying foodstuffs, staffers on essential duties and birds and animals have unhindered access to other places. Security men mount roadblocks to stop movement as people are remaining indoors.

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Airports have been shut. Land borders closed. Major football competitions- EPL, Italian, Spanish, and other leagues across the world; CAF, Europa, UEFA Championships- even Wimbledon, international athletics and World Boxing title and NBA- postponed. Churches and mosques, especially St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia deserted. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics shifted. Markets, courts, hotels, roads, businesses, offices locked. Social distancing is preached and observed.

Better for advanced countries with available medical infrastructures. Poor for the developing countries particularly Nigeria with poor medical facilities. The leaders were accustomed to foreign medical tourism.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Lagos was the only state in Nigeria with some well-equipped public and private hospitals and clinics. The experience was gained during the outbreak of ebola that claimed the life of a reputable medical doctor, Ameyo Adadevoh. National Hospital, Abuja is another good one, though the Federal Capital Territory is still lagging behind in sound and efficient health-care services to cope with some health emergencies. Akwa Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo in Akwa Ibom State would have footed the bill of preparation for the pandemic, but bickerings and politics battered the once-state-of-the-art hospital.

Let the state government sermonise on its transformation effort in the health sector in the state. The truth is that its health system is in shambles that severe cases of COVID-19 could overwhelm the state. Are most privileged people in the state and Uyo not patronising privately owned hospitals and clinics? Are others not patronsing St. Luke’s Hospital, Uyo, which is owned and run by Catholic Church? Are some less privileged not patronising University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, Uyo, which is gradually turning to a mobile mortuary based on the number of patients who do not return on their two feet?

The vulnerable people even the so-called well-to-do were and are still used to patronising fake but impotent drugs manufactured in Onitsha and other villages. They are used to mixing leaves and roots in locally brewed gin (akakai or ufofop, an Akwa Ibom dialect) to cure their ailments. They are used to going for a check-up in hospitals without medical doctors with few nurses and no drug syndrome. They are used to obtaining usual prescriptions in a piece of paper to patronise local chemists or medicine vendors. They are living in villages with no clinics or health posts. They are used to fasting and prayers to ward off diseases and sicknesses. Taking of enema is common to many locals. Where is money to buy expensive drugs or drugs that can heal or pharmacies in rural areas?

The ultimate but unimaginable lockdown is here. Like a nightmare, no one could tell when the lockdown will be cleared off from the scene. Many churches where most people daily gather and pour their sorrows are closed. Petty businesses are downed. Hotels and other hospitality industry are daily losing millions and their staffers are nudging in joblessness. Traders jack up prices of their goods and services based on what they use to ‘settle’ guardians of roads in the country. Pool betting and other betting businesses have gone into a lull. Oil price (brent) has dipped to $27.11 per barrel while crude oil has slumped to less than $10 per barrel. A total of 50 per cent global airlines may collapse, according to research. In Nigeria, 155,757 cases in courts are delayed. The USA has lost more than 22 million jobs. Inflation has spiked to 13.5 per cent and may head to 15 per cent. The poor cry of hunger high costs of commodities and foodstuffs while the rich complain of ‘stay-at-home’ order.

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However, lockdown is a blessing in disguise for many. Those in the health sector- medical practitioners, social media industry, and those in communication sector mostly the Global Satellite Mobile Communication (GSM), especially Airtel, MTN, Glo, 9mobile, internet operators, GOTV, DSTV, foodstuffs sellers, supermarket owners, electricity distribution companies,  petroleum marketers, online shopping businesses are making it big. Jeff Bezos, the chief executive officer of Amazon is maintaining his number slot as the richest man in the world due to pandemic lockdown.

During this period, the Federal and state governments should wield big sticks against profiteers and profligates of goods and commodities.

The governments must check against extortionists who are posing as security agents on the roads helping to jack up prices of commodities.

Reports are rife of the activities of suspected robbers, burglars, kidnappers and other petty thieves. Let the policemen and other security agents be vigilant.

It is unfortunate that many banks are using this period to make withdrawal difficult for their customers. The social (physical) distancing preached about is a farce in the banks as customers clamp themselves in queues to withdraw money from ATM or to go in and withdraw from the banking halls. Even some bankers are purportedly stopping to stack money in the ATM only to pull much money to POS for desperate customers to pay commission to their cronies.

During the pandemic lockdown, the Akwa Ibom government should embark on house-to-house testing of households to detect the virus to stop the community transmission. Let the government use this time to rejig the comatose health sector by building and equipping more hospitals and clinics, employing, training and retraining more health-care personnel- medical doctors, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, anesthetists and nurses, among others.

When the people and government plan and think on the same page, the pandemic shall be defeated. When the people and government cooperate to ease off the virus, the lockdown shall not be a waste of time, energy and resources.