Lagos: coronavirus recalls the fears of the Ebola

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — When Joyce Alali heard that the first case of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa had been declared in her city, Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, she knew immediately what to do.

As a student nurse, she rummaged through her belongings to find all the protections she used in 2014, when the Ebola epidemic in West Africa had reached the sprawling megalopolis creating a wind of panic among her 20 millions of inhabitants.

“As soon as I heard the news of a contamination in Lagos, I thought” Oh my god, it’s not possible “,” says the 25-year-old girl. “I looked for my mask and my hand sanitizer … the ones I was already using for Ebola, I haven’t brought them out since!”.

West Africa has already faced the devastating Ebola epidemic which left some 11,000 people dead between 2013 and 2016.

In the first case of Ebola reported in Lagos, a wind of panic had spread in the city, but ultimately, only seven people died, out of 19 infected.

On Friday, the specter of an “apocalyptic urban epidemic”, as described by WHO on the subject of Ebola, resurfaced.

– Overcrowded market –

Lagos residents began tracking down protection products after an Italian national returning from Milan was found to be infected with the new coronavirus in a Lagos hospital.

In the multicolored Balogun market, in the heart of Lagos Island, the vendors’ stalls follow each other in organized chaos. In this temple of resourcefulness and good deals, we jostle, we exchange nairas (local currency) from hand to hand and we zigzag between the alleys and the street vendors.

Lagos the coronavirus recalls the fears of the Ebola epidemic Lagos the coronavirus recalls the fears of the Ebola epidemic

It is one of the most densely populated areas of the huge megalopolis, with more than 12,000 people per km2, according to a study by the State of Lagos.

“I heard about this virus just two hours ago,” said a seller of cold drinks and donuts in their fifties. “We pray that it will only be one person, and that God will help him to heal. I am worried, but I don’t want to panic,” said the saleswoman.

Aisha, 29, is prepared for the disease. She crosses the aisles of the market with a black cotton mask, and no longer separates her hand sanitizer. “All my family and friends called me this morning to tell me to be vigilant. It worries me about my health,” the young girl told AFP.

Hassan Hafeez is also “very, very worried”. “Oh I’m scared, I’m scared, I don’t want to die, I still have lots of things to do in the future”.

But in the meantime, the 30-year-old sells soaps, detergent, and pharmaceutical products in a tiny, overcrowded shop he keeps with his mother. And for now, the crisis is rather positive for his finances: he sold 20 bottles of disinfectant in a few hours.

“Before we sold it for 400 naira (1 euro), but now it’s 600 naira,” he explains. “It is not me who increases the prices, it is the suppliers!”, He assures. “But even at this price, people buy, they don’t want to die.”

– Shortage –

In the posh and neighboring district of Ikoyi, pharmacies were taken by storm.

“There is a shortage of masks in town, we ordered but we did not find any, so we advise people to use tissues,” said a pharmacist calmly.

This case of contamination in Lagos is the first confirmed and official in sub-Saharan Africa. The small number of cases previously recorded on the continent – one in Egypt and one in Algeria – which maintains close economic ties with China, intrigued health experts, who suggested that the continent probably had not the means to detect the virus.

But the Lagos State health official, Akin Abayomi, wanted to be reassuring: “We are running a very aggressive awareness campaign. We have undergone extensive training,” he said on Friday.

Authorities have set up quarantine centers in Lagos and Abuja and three laboratories across the country are capable of diagnosing the virus.



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