Lagos’ fresh ban on social gathering, clad in the form of measures to mitigate the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, has activated new struggles for Nigerians, dampening hopes of festivity with impractical guidelines.
In lieu of the outright suspension of concerts, carnivals, parties, night-clubbing, and restriction of time and occupancy at worship centres imposed in December 2020, the government’s directive this year is that anyone attending an event has to provide proof of partial or full vaccination and must undergo a rapid diagnostic test (RDT).
The test is expected to be done either at an event venue or in selected private laboratories 24-hours before an event. Organisers are required to request rapid tests at event sites through an application on the Lagos State Safety Commission website: www.lasgsafetyreg.com.
It is unclear if organisers should foot the bill of the tests out-of-pocket for all attendants or the state government that has failed to make testing accessible to all with symptoms that fit its case definition of COVID-19 infection will be keen to offer testing to worshippers, party-goers and night-clubbers among others.
People expressing symptoms of COVID-19 in Lagos are often referred from state-run hospitals to private laboratories to pay out-of-pocket for tests.
Information required on the event safety clearance form provided on the website of the Safety Commission covers mainly event name, type, start date, end date, start time, end time, name and address of event venue, estimated guests, venue capacity, social centre number of event venue and available parking.
Many are worried that this would dovetail into another bout of selective enforcement on corporate and organised private groups, leaving many informal groups to enjoy festivity inhibited.
Public health experts who spoke with BusinessDay said the motif to block potential super spreader events for COVID-19 infections is proactive but dubbed the measures ineffective and impracticable.
They say the best measures remain promotion of social distancing, face-masking, and curbing of overcrowded events.
Akin Osibogun, a professor of public health at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos questioned the practicality of testing at all events in a state that is both the melting point of Nigeria’s cultural and entertainment activities and the most populated.
“How practicable is it? As we are talking now parties are happening at Yaba, Surulere, and Lagos Island. Well, if local governments are active they might be able to monitor them. But to say that party-goers will take rapid diagnostic tests,” Osibogun said.
“They need to be clearer as to what they expect. This virus is still mutating. Fortunately, so far, the information we have about the Omicron is that it is not so virulent. But we don’t know what other variant will emerge. If a more virulent variant emerges, then we will be in trouble. So the best thing is to take precautions.”
When BusinessDay contacted Adewumi Okoh, public affairs officer, Lagos Safety Commission for clarifications and answers on the practicality of enforcing these guidelines at all events during this period, she declined, saying all questions be directed to the director-general via a text or mail.
“We are not permitted to speak. This is a sensitive issue and I don’t want to dabble into it,” Okoh said.
Apart from testing, the vaccination rate has also been poor with the state only just racing to move the percentage up from 1.6 percent to 30 percent within the next year. It is targeting eight million doses for four out of over 20 million residents under its “Count Me in Campaign”, yet expects that every event attendee this festive season must carry a vaccination proof.
Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State governor on Tuesday announce that the state was now seeing early indications of a fourth wave with a current positivity rate at 6 percent, from 0.1 percent mid-November.
As of December 5, Lagos had recorded a total of 78,564 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
As of December 27, 2020, confirmed cases were 28, 774. It was the beginning of the second wave as average daily cases moved between 100 and 459. The positivity rate was at 16 percent.
“Based on our analysis, the fourth wave was brought by the non-adherence to the laid down protocols to mitigate this pandemic. I would want to use this opportunity once again to appeal to everyone to get vaccinated and join hands with the Lagos State government in managing this wave of pandemic in this festive season by following the guidelines we have set, especially regarding the use of face masks, public gatherings and travelling in and out of Lagos State,” he said in a press statement.
A film-maker, who simply wants to be identified as Aquala, assessing the rule said people could be more encouraged to adhere if the government provides test kits as promised.
He said if implemented otherwise, the impact will not be limited to the entertainment industry but could spread to the entire economy.
“It means that if people cannot do events, then they will be forced to lay-off staff. I don’t think the government has any economic or welfare plans to cushion unpaid people this festive season. You cannot make a rule that is not economically viable. If you are saying tests should be done, then the tests should be provided by the government,” he said.
Okafor Valentine, chief executive of OVC entertainment, an organisation that trains models and organises fashion shows said the policy will affect his business negatively by reducing viewership of his shows, cutting ticket sales.
Although he thinks that the wellbeing of his team is of priority and everyone must do what they can to reduce the spread of COVID-19
“I’ve been fully vaccinated and I’ve advised my team members to do the same. I have friends that died of COVID-19. I also have friends that survived COVID-19. So if people are saying there is no COVID-19 or they want to turn deaf ears to prevention measures, it is left to them.”