Masking Up Nigeria in a Pandemic Period: Issues, Benefits and the Need for a New Playbook

Masking Up Nigeria in a Pandemic Period: Issues, Benefits and the Need for a New Playbook

The previous cumulative and the new statistics about the cases of Covid-19 in Nigeria indicate a mixed trend, which shows that the country could not be said is losing or winning the war against the disease.  Over the last few weeks, Lagos, Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), Kano, Oyo and Osun states recorded rising and falling cases of the disease despite various medical and non-medical measures recommended by the governments and medical experts.

A recent research, describing the disease, notes “that by April 30, 2020, the total confirmed, active, recovered and death cases stood at 1932, 1555, 319 and 58 respectively; an indication of an alarming spread. The distribution of the disease saw Lagos (the epicentre of the disease), Kano and FCT collectively accounting for 71.07% of confirmed cases, 71.45% of active, 73.67% of death, and 46.55% of recovered cases. The initial mode of spread was through contact.

As of April 30, 2020, 79% of new cases were through contact and incomplete epidemiological link, an indication of possible community transmission.” In spite of the possible community transmission, 24.43% of selected people in the Northern region asserted that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through social gatherings and making direct physical contact with people.

But medical experts have noted that people need to maintain at least 1 metre [3 feet] distance among themselves in a crowded place. This is imperative because “when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth, which may contain virus.” In addition to the physical distance initiation and maintenance, people are expected to wear face mask.

This idea when it started was strange to many. Before the disease struck, wear a face mask is not a main feature of social life in most world regions. In fact, there are regions and countries where wearing a face mask is forbidden and punishable under the existing laws. However, the emergence of the disease has made these regions and countries to change the laws, strongly enforcing wearing a face mask.

Question of Safety Over Death

In our experience, our analyst has learnt how some people in the United States of America and other countries in Europe protested against wear a face mask measure of their governments. To these people, governments are trampling upon their fundamental human rights. In Austria, the right-wing Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that “masks are alien to our country.”

However, our check indicates that “facemasks were first prescribed as a response to a pandemic during the period of the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918/19. In Europe, the earliest laws in the 1970s and 1980s targeting face-covering, such as in Italy and Germany, referred to any device that hindered facial identification.”

Despite the effectiveness of face mask, as documented in a number of researches, it remains the most controversial measure as cases of the disease increase across the world. The controversial nature of the measure is more obvious in developing countries than in the developing ones, our analyst gathered.

Goffman has made us understand that wear a face mask should not generate arguments because wearing a face mask is not quite different from the social roles and emotional states being played and expressed by people before the pandemic. Playing social roles and expressing varied emotional states, according to Goffman, are the same with “Putting on a mask.”

Following the background information and Goffman’s view about wearing a face, our analyst explores the raging among the scholars which says “What social distancing, handwashing cannot do, to some extent face mask and lockdown can do.” This question has been examined from different settings with the consideration of COVID-19. Our analyst is interested in their findings and brought insights for stakeholders as they continue finding solutions for the total containment of the disease.

Question of Mixed Benefits

As noted earlier, an uncovered face is now a threat to the security of other people, whereas before it was a guarantor of security. When the wear a face mask policy is enforced forcefully, reports have indicated several cases of unlawful killings.

Like Goffman, Donald Low, a behavioural economist and professor, said “Putting on a mask every day before you go out is like a ritual, like putting on a uniform. And in ritual behaviour you feel you have to live up to what the uniform stands for, which is more hygienic behaviour like not touching your face or avoiding crowded places and social distancing.”

In Nigeria, a recent study depicts that “for the worst-case scenario where social-distancing, lockdown and other community transmission reduction measures are not implemented, Nigeria would have recorded a devastatingly high COVID-19 mortality by April 2021 (in hundreds of thousands). It was, however, shown that COVID-19 can be effectively controlled using social-distancing measures provided its effectiveness level is at least moderate.

Although the use of face masks in the public can significantly reduce COVID-19 in Nigeria, its use as a sole intervention strategy may fail to lead to the realistic elimination of the disease (since such elimination requires unrealistic high compliance in face mask usage in the public, in the range of 80% to 95%).”

In trials of hand hygiene, health education and masks together, hand hygiene alone was not effective, but masks were effective when used with hand hygiene. In another study, the use of face masks by the general public is potentially of high value in curtailing community transmission and the burden of the pandemic. The community-wide benefits are likely to be greatest when face masks are used in conjunction with other non-pharmaceutical practices (such as social-distancing), and when adoption is nearly universal (nation-wide) and compliance is high. Regardless of the benefits found for using face masks, a study also discovered that public interest in face mask through the Internet is not connected with spreading speed of the disease.

Not Seeing the Severity, But Masking Up Remains Top Option

From Bodija Market in Ibadan to Aba Market in Abia and Kano Market, our analyst has seen how people disregard the use of face masks. When some people used it, they either hung it on their chin or holding it. In one of his engagements with the media, Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, “We are seeing hundreds of new cases every day, with sustained community spread, in particular in Lagos. The epidemic is still increasing, but not exponentially. We are also not seeing the severity observed in other countries.”

Our analyst picked the director’s not seeing the severity observed in other countries phrase for further analysis. Analysis established that one percent of interest in understanding how to use a face mask and where to buy a face mask could be said to have contributed to reduction in number of cases between March 29 and July 13, 2020. It was 58.4% for Covid-19. These results imply the extent that people proactively engaged in understanding reasons for using face mask and silent information about the disease.

Exhibit 1: Trends of Public Interest in Face Mask, Covid-19 and Daily Cases and Deaths

Source: Google Trends, 2020; NCDC, 2020; Infoprations Analysis, 2020

Exhibit 2: Trends of Public Interest in Covid-19 and Daily Cases

Source: Google Trends, 2020; NCDC, 2020; Infoprations Analysis, 2020

Exhibit 3: Trends of Public Interest in Covid-19 and Daily Deaths

Source: Google Trends, 2020; NCDC, 2020; Infoprations Analysis, 2020


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