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COVID-19: When social distancing becomes luxury

In the wake of the Corona-virus pandemic, health authorities have advised members of the public to observe social distancing in order to curtail the spread of the disease. However, it has been observed that this has proved impossible in some cases. CALEB ONWE reports


Public health experts have defined social distancing, or physical distancing, as a set of infection control actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease. In order to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that is gradually, but painfully penetrating Nigerian communities, like other nations of the world, experts are promoting ” social distancing ” as one of the most potent safety and precautionary rules.


Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, in one of his addresses to the residents, had enjoined them to abide by all laid down directives on reducing the spread of the virus. He noted that the objective of social distancing was to reduce the probability of contact between two or more people during this period.


He also directed that residents should reduce the rate at which they go to eat at public restaurants, due to inadequate provisions for social distancing in such places.


“In our bid to further enforce social distancing, all eateries are to withdraw all sitting arrangements in their premises and should make use of takeaways packs instead. This will discourage the convergence of customers at one particular spot. We encourage them to embrace home delivery as a service alternative,” he said.


While this rule is already been recognized and practised in most public places, especially among the elite, who understand the import and urgency of the health protocols, there are some individuals who view social distancing as a luxury. Inside Abuja visited some communities in the Federal Capital Territory, where certain individuals argued that only the rich can afford such safety and health protocol.


One of the communities visited is Mabushi village, a densely populated squatter settlement in the Mabushi District of Abuja.


Residents of this squalour , said it is impossible to achieve the desired social distancing in their community. Their argument was predicated on some obvious facts about the environmental settings of the place.


The buildings in Mabushi village are not just built without planning, they are also dangerously low in heights and structurally deficient. There is no clear demarcation between residential houses and those used for commercial purposes. The buildings were constructed without reasonable distancing from one another. Inside Abuja observed an over      crowded beer parlour located next to a residential apartment, where families live.


These buildings do not only lack adequate ventilation, many are surrounding by dirty, stinking gutters. A middle aged man, who simply identified himself as Mr. Bernard, said the ‘sing-song’ of social distancing is only a tune that will be appreciated by the elite, who live and work in the highbrow areas of the city.


The man, who expressed doubt that Coronavirus was real, also stated that it was impossible to achieve social distancing in a place like Mabushi and other overcrowded villages where people are not living by their own choice, but by circumstances.


Bernard angrily pointed to an apartment located very close to a public toilet in the area. He said the residential apartment was being occupied by a family of seven. Looking at the house in question, one will wonder if it was not a chicken pen that was converted to a residence for human beings.


The distance between the living room and the overcrowded public toilet which also appear to be a home to some homeless people, is too close for safety in an era of a ravaging pandemic.


Bernard lamented that: “Even though we are not praying that   those  said to have contracted this virus should die of it, we are on our kneels praying that COVID 19, if it is real, should not leave Maitama, Asokoro and other big men quarters where it is now and come to our communities.


“My brother, the social distancing they are talking about cannot be possible here. I run a beer parlour here, and using the inner room as residential. If I have customers, which I need to survive?


How do I go about it, seeing there is no space here? “If you come to this place during heat period, you will pity for us. Almost everybody stays outside to get fresh breeze, because there is no ventilation in the houses. So tell me how can we do social distancing here? See dirty gutters around us”.


The story is not different at Jahi village. The situation there appears to be more pathetic and harrowing, because almost all the families there have shops in front of their houses where they do one form of trading or the other. Inside Abuja observed that residents of this overcrowded village do not attach any seriousness to the social distancing requirements.


The beer parlours in the village are still operational and overcrowded. Most of the operators  seem not to believe in this social distancing measure. Their attitude negates the understanding that by simply staying away from possible carriers of the virus, one could save life.


Inside Abuja gathered that while many non -essential commodity shops were forced to shut down by some security agents, many are still defiant to the directives. Some of the residents said that it is not possible to enforce social distancing in the village, where human beings coexist like a swarm of bees.


A community leader in Jahi, Igwe Jude Eze, admitted that it had been difficult getting the people to understand the importance of social distancing and other safety measures in preventing the spread of Coronavirus, but constant engagement had been adopted by community leaders.


Eze told Inside Abuja that even the community meeting earlier scheduled had been cancelled, in order to avoid attracting crowds.


According to him, those who trade on non- essential commodities have been advised to shut down their shops, and that those who refused were doing so at their own risk and detriment to their own lives.

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