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Experiencing the Coronavirus Outbreak from the Other Side (Kinda)

Flying in to Lagos, Nigeria, on the last flight before the border closed, one could have assumed I would land to find everything eerily quiet and calm, as Heathrow was. But as we have already seen, every nation has responded to coronavirus differently.

Being a medical student, I winced coming down the stairs to discover everything was business as usual: sweaty, loud individuals pushing and rubbing on everyone to get to the front of lines, etc. I may be exaggerating slightly; but that is what it felt like. We were given a form to fill out on the plane with general Coronavirus questions and passenger details. People were also wearing gloves, but that was it. No checking temperatures, no keeping socially distant – no one except me wiping down surfaces and suitcases frantically like coronavirus was going to jump up and bite me.

Arriving home, the first thing I noticed was the mountain of toilet paper my mother bought. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so here you go, because I had and still have no words (not the actual picture, but it accurately depicts what I think I saw):

To be honest, from here my story will not capture the experience of the majority of Lagosians and I cannot ignore that. I live in an estate, with grocery stores and a fruit market in the park so I have no reason to leave. But that does not change my experience.

It is important to talk about the adventure that shopping became. Stores were empty – but not completely – so you could find what you needed if you were patient and arrived at a good time. People were more friendly and nosy, so everyone (keeping a good distance away) wanted to ‘gist’. Making friends while waiting in the long line at Spar had never been easier.

The ‘lockdown’ initially lasted 4 weeks and started with most businesses closing, no-one staying home and people overdosing on chloroquine. Food deliveries and other essential businesses were given passes to be on major roads. The ‘lockdown’ enforcement did get better once the police began seizing people’s cars if they did not have a good reason to be out and about, but I personally do not believe the lockdown lasted long enough. The Lagos State Government needs to ensure citizens that make a living day-to-day are taken care of, because Lagos is just reaching its peak and the rate at which the infection has been spreading to other states is not encouraging.

The situation in Lagos is not yet under control, but you would not know it because people here are very resilient. Initially, the general viewpoint around the outbreak was incredibly relaxed, then people panicked, and panicked well. Now the outlook has settled somewhere in the middle. The Ebola epidemic in 2014 ensured that there are systems in place to deal with an outbreak, but no one could have anticipated the hold coronavirus has on everyday life. Governors are testing positive and people from every social class are dying because the virus does not discriminate. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) did its best to keep tabs on those who entered the country and informed people that consuming excessive amounts of anti-malarial (parasite) medication by no means will render you immune to coronavirus.

The country’s borders were closed on March 23rd and as of July 10th have not opened. There have been evacuation flights, but there are still many individuals that have not been able to leave or enter, that desperately need to. Industries are at a standstill because as a nation we have not taken the time to invest in our natural resources and infrastructure. If I am being honest, the light at the end of the tunnel does not seem to be getting closer, despite what the new trendy ‘social distancing, we can fight this parties’ look like.

Yet, there is hope. Whilst we are not the type to despair and throw in the towel, it is and has been a game of catch up. We were very lucky to have had warnings from other countries, otherwise people would have really been dropping like flies. Hopefully things continue to improve, so the lives of citizens can be preserved.


Article written by Atirola Obileye, 4th year medical student at Leeds Medical School


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