Africa’s biggest city Lagos locks down to defend against coronavirus

A driver’s temperature is measured at a border between Abuja and the Nasarawa State on March 30, 2020, as he leaves to neighboring states after Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari called for a lockdown to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP/Kola Sulaimon)
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Updated 31 March 2020

Africa’s biggest city Lagos locks down to defend against coronavirus

  • Africa’s confirmed cases had climbed to at least 5,300 by Tuesday morning, with more than 170 recorded deaths
  • While Nigeria’s president said food retailers and health facilities could remain open, he did not say whether people could leave their homes to buy necessities or seek care

LAGOS: Lagos, Africa’s largest city of at least 20 million people, ground to a halt on Tuesday as it and the Nigerian capital Abuja entered a two-week lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Lagos’ usual unending cacophony and interminable “go slows” or traffic jams were gone. Streets were virtually empty but for ambulances and police vehicles. Security forces manned frequent checkpoints where cars crawled through one by one.
Africa’s confirmed cases had climbed to at least 5,300 by Tuesday morning, with more than 170 recorded deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
In the little more than 24 hours since Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari had announced the lockdown, coronavirus had transformed one of the world’s biggest megacities, where many live in slums and eke out a living at the best of times.
However, the terms of the lockdown have created confusion. While Nigeria’s president said food retailers and health facilities could remain open, he did not say whether people could leave their homes to buy necessities or seek care.
On Awolowo road, a normally busy street in the upmarket Ikoyi district, Andy Bankong, a bank security guard, had accepted his fate of a long trek home. No public transport meant walking more than 4 miles. Soldiers told him he could not return to the bank.
“If I lose the job, I can’t support my family. And it isn’t easy to find work now in Lagos,” said the father of two, who sends money to his wife in the southern state of Cross River to feed their children and pay for school fees.
Few were on the streets. Even health staff struggled to get to work.
“I am medical personnel,” said Onolapo Adebayo, speaking shortly before 9 a.m. at a bus stop. “They are calling me to start coming to the office but there is no vehicle.”
People who could not afford to stockpile for the 14-day lockdown were left dependent on government relief packages.
The Lagos state government has said it will distribute food to those in need to last the 14 days, targeting 200,000 households, or 1.2 million people, on Tuesday.
On Monday, the federal government in Abuja said it had begun cash transfers to Nigeria’s poorest households to sustain them through the crisis.
Across the continent, other countries have introduced their own relief programs for people, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi on Tuesday declared a State of Emergency following three confirmed coronavirus cases. The southern African country will enter a 28-day lockdown from midnight Thursday.
“This decision was by no means taken lightly,” said Masisi. “I am convinced that I make it in the best interest of our nation.”
South Africa, where a lockdown began on Friday, will be the continent’s first country to conduct large-scale screening, said President Cyril Ramaphosa, announcing the move late on Monday.
“Around 10,000 field workers will be visiting homes in villages, towns and cities to screen residents for COVID-19 symptoms,” Ramaphosa said.
But in some countries, new restrictions on movement sparked new fears.
In Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, rights groups have frequently accused police of using excessive force, with complaints about brutality, corruption and extrajudicial executions.
Already, allegations have been made against security forces, empowered by movement bans to carry out abuses. Videos of South African police beating people in public with sticks circulated on social media.
South African police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo said the videos need to be verified, but have been noted with “serious concern,” adding: “such alleged behavior by security forces is unacceptable, which can be neither tolerated nor condoned.”
In Kenya, the director of public prosecutions ordered an investigation into the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old boy in the slum of Mathare, the prosecutor’s office said on Twitter.
Media reports quoted a Nairobi official as saying the boy was hit by a stray bullet.


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 05 June 2020

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”