Clearly, Nigeria has climbed the plateau of Coronavirus crisis with the daily upsurge in the confirmed cases and deaths. Nearly the entire 36 states and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are on the infected case chart. COVID-19 contagion is also now at the community transmission stage. Instructively, this stage of the pandemic is the most dreaded phase because of the potential bigger humanitarian crises that may result if the rate of spread is not curtailed with speed.
In light of the above, drawing government attention to certain factors that can worsen the current pandemic statistics has become imperative. And, this is not about whistleblowing; it is about advocating good policies that can boost national success in the ongoing actions and measures to flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission.
Policy One: Against the backdrop of the recent easing of lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States, it is important for the government to note that Nigerians naturally would go back to their old lifestyle of socialisation. Increased movement of people should be expected. Banking halls will burst with customers. Cash transactions will spike and exchange of dirty currency notes, which can contribute to the person-to-person transmission of Coronavirus, should be expected.
In the coming days and weeks, the majority of daily income earners will return to brick and mortar stores, shops and open markets for their essential and non-essential purchases. Cash will be exchanged for purchases. The tradition of price trial and test-fitting of goods will come back in full force.
Asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 will come out to shop and touch a number of goods including groceries, fruits, vegetables, pepper, tomatoes and onions. Sadly, some other persons will buy and carry those infected items home. They and their loved ones will be infected, then the chain of person-to-person and community transmission continues.
While lack of education and knowledge of the virus coupled with zero voluntary testings for Coronavirus remains a major setback for stemming transmission among the low socio-economic cadre, the situation does not look anything better among the so-called elite. Due to pride or fear of stigmatisation, many of them have refused to submit for voluntary testing. With the ease of lockdown, some of them that are infected will go to the malls, megastores and supermarkets, electronic or automobile showrooms. They will touch things on the shelves, and in the process increase community transmission of coronavirus.
With increased movement of people made possible by the easing of lockdown restrictions, the little gains on social distancing achieved during the period of lockdown would have been lost. In light of the above, the government must, as a matter of urgency, initiate or strengthen existing policy strategy that discourages people from using brick and mortar stores for both essential and non-essential purchases to prevent a further spike in the current high rate of COVID-19 transmission.
The most cost-effective way this can be achieved is for the government to encourage more Nigerians to use e-Commerce platforms for their purchases and transactions. For instance, pan-African leading e-Commerce operator Jumia has strong integrated technology and data-driven online channels and last-mile infrastructure that Nigerians can leverage for purchase of their essentials and non-essentials.
Jumia marketplace, logistics and e-payment platforms like JumiaPay enable customers to make orders online, pay online for goods and get their orders delivered to their offices or homes, as well as receive or transfer money. This way, they can avoid crowded places where the risk of COVID-19 infection is high, and ultimately continue to stay safe and maintain social distancing.
Policy Two: Against the backdrop of presidential restriction of interstate movements, the second important thing is for the government to ensure removal of all obstacles hindering the free and easy movement of goods especially agricultural and medical across borders. While the measure is commendable, it should be pointed out, however, that the enforcement of this policy is a major challenge for farmers, drivers and delivery agents working with e-Commerce companies.
From Ile Ife to Owena, Benin City to Ughelli, truck drivers and delivery agents on essential duties of transporting agricultural products to city centres such as Lagos and Abuja meet difficulties imposed by security agents enforcing the interstate restriction. Even within cities, last-mile delivery workers and those providing logistics and supply of essentials such as groceries, food items and products like electronics have it rough in the hands of security operatives. They are sometimes extorted, harassed, delayed or threatened with arrest if they fail to ‘cooperate.’
This ugly trend, if it is not checked fast by the government agencies, poses a major threat to meeting the critical logistics and supply of essentials such as agricultural produce at a peculiar time like this. It can also erode the gain of leveraging e-Commerce as the key driver of social distancing that has been proven to reduce the rate of transmission of coronavirus. It could also, in the long-term, rob Nigeria of the benefits of optimising the potential of e-commerce as a key driver of the digital economy, which is paramount to the Federal Government’s economic diversification policy.
On a final note, any act that could cause people to return to brick and mortar malls or stores would certainly erode the sacrifice of our frontline heroes and essential service providers such as doctors, nurses and other first responders, who are in the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
As essential services providers and humanitarian workers, the daily commute of last-mile and logistics workers should be stress-free at this crucial time, and indeed, at other times. It is imperative, therefore, for the government to ensure adequate safety and protection of all workers in the logistics and last-mile value chain including drivers, delivery agents and riders working with e-Commerce operators such as Jumia and others.
With community transmission of COVID-19 escalating, unhindered access of Nigerians to the services of essential services providers like e-Commerce operators is more compelling as online shopping holds the ace to discourage human movement and bolster social distancing.
By Ayomide Oriade