Nationwide #ENDSARS protests may spike COVID-19 spread, expert warns

A consultant nephrologist says the ongoing nationwide protests against the brutality and extra-judicial killings by men of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force could further spike the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

He expressed further concerns that the perennial absence of face masks, disregard for social distancing and neglect of other non-pharmaceutical interventions by the campaigners could act as a drawback to the gains achieved since the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria.

Tagged #EndSARS, an acronym for End Special Anti-Robbery Squad, it is a social movement that started on social media calling for a ban of the Nigerian Police unit over the latter’s use of excessive force, oppression and brutality.

Since the protest commenced some days ago, many citizens have shared emotional tales and video evidence of how men of the defunct SARS engaged in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, unlawful arrests, high-handedness, humiliation, unlawful detention, extrajudicial killings, and extortion.

In an exclusive interview, Director-General of Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Prof. Babatunde Salako, said inasmuch as the cause of the protest may be justified, it should be done in a responsible and orderly manner.

“It is obvious that they are breaking the law of social distancing. There is also the possibility that COVID-19 virus could be spread because it was a gathering of the crowd not maintaining any form of social distancing.

“Many of them are probably not even using face masks and hand sanitisers as they continue with the protests.

“It is also a possibility that it could lead to an increase in the number of infection. Don’t forget, this same virus has been said to survive on surfaces of public places. So these people are exposing themselves to a higher risk of COVID-19 infection,” he said.

He also emphasised that the nation may not need to panic if the majority of the protesters have herd immunity, adding that the level of infection may not be serious.

Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.

“It also depends on the situation right now. If these persons have developed herd immunity, you may not find any significant infection among them. What it means is that many of them already would have come in contact with the virus.

“What is going on now is a recipe for an increase in transmission rate if we are yet to develop herd immunity as a country,” he warned.

The World Health Organisation has warned against the idea that herd immunity might be a realistic strategy to stop the pandemic, calling such proposals “unethical.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Monday that health officials typically aim to achieve herd immunity — where the entire population is protected from a virus when the majority are immune — by vaccination.

He disclosed that to obtain herd immunity from measles, for example, about 95 per cent of the population must be vaccinated.

“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said.

Since it started, the #ENDSARS protest has brought vehicular movements to a standstill as motorists and commuters are trapped in the gridlock.

The protests had witnessed a handful of organisations and individuals supporting the movement with standby ambulances, legal services, funds for hospital bills, medical supplies, food, glucose and water.

The campaigners had been compelled to move their agitation from Twitter where it started to more organized protest blocking major roads and paralyzing commercial activities across Lagos, Abuja, Benin, Delta, Ibadan, Osun, Ilorin, Ogbomosho, Owerri and other Nigerian states.

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