On Wednesday, January 27, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari signed a new law titled Coronavirus Disease Health Protection Regulation 2021. This comes amid the second wave and hike in the number of cases.
As of Wednesday, January 27, 2021, Nigeria had 126,160 confirmed cases, 24,251 active cases, 100,365 discharged and 1,544 deaths. Despite this, Nigerians have been nonchalant about the virus and hardly adheres to the set guidelines by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
What are the COVID-19 guidelines?
There are different COVID-19 guidelines by the NCDC. There is the guideline for social distancing, the guideline for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) activities, the guideline for the safe reopening of schools, guideline for employers and businesses, the guideline for conducting elections, the guideline for reopening of worship places etc.
Common in all of these guidelines is the use of face masks, hand sanitisers or hand washing with water and soap, temperature check ,and social distancing.
What does the COVID-19 health protection regulation cover?
The law is divided into 6 parts and was signed in accordance to Section 4 of the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2010.
This part deals with restriction on gatherings. Here, public gatherings are restricted to not more than 50 persons in an enclosed space except for religious purposes, and in that case, the gathering shall not exceed 50% capacity of the space. This part also mandates that all measures in the second part include COVID-19 measures, like the use of face masks, social distancing and others must be adhered to as well in these gatherings.
This part also notes that these regulations may vary from time to time as guidelines and Protocols are issued by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) as based on recommendations by the NCDC.
This part covers how public places (Markets, Malls, Supermarkets, Shops, Restaurants, Hotels, Event Centres, Gardens, Leisure Parks, Recreation Centres, Motor Parks, Fitness Centres, worship centres etc.), workplace or schools referred to as establishment should function.
This part of the regulation notes that in any of these public places, the proper use of a face mask, hand sanitizer or hand wash and temperature check (body temperature above 38 degrees Celsius would be denied access)must be carried out before anyone is granted access.
It also notes that it is the responsibilities of establishment occupiers to make provision for adherence to these guidelines and enforce them.
This part makes it mandatory to comply with health, safety, and treatment protocols and guidelines issued by the PTF and NCDC on COVID-19 on the recommendation of the NCDC and shall be binding on all persons.
It also notes that public secondary and tertiary health facilities should designate a space or holding bay for the initial triage or assessment of suspected persons with COVID-19 in line with the approved protocols for case management.
These instructions are also mandated to establish sample collection centres, where test samples from suspected cases can be collected and transmitted to an accredited testing laboratory in the State.
However, if a person has been confirmed to have tested positive to the COVID-19 and is asymptomatic or has mild symptoms and proves able to make an alternative isolation arrangement that satisfies required protocols issued by the NCDC, as certified by a healthcare provider and a medical professional, such person may use such alternative arrangements, including supervised “home-based care,” for self-isolation and adhere strictly to the guidelines, until confirmed by the healthcare provider to be no longer at risk of infecting others with the virus.
This part covers what amounts to an offense punishable under this regulation and the penalties.
Any person who contravenes the provisions of these Regulations or without reasonable cause, contravenes a direction given under Parts 1 and 2 of these Regulations commits an offence.
Also, any person who, without reasonable cause, obstructs an authorised official from enforcing these Regulations, commits an offence.
The penalty for an offence in this regulation is a fine or six month imprisonment or both.
This part covers who enforces the regulation. These enforcers are officials of Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Federal Road Safety Corps, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, and other relevant Local Government, State and Federal Government agencies.
Any officer of these enforcement agencies who fails, neglects, or refuses to enforce the provisions of these Regulations shall be subject to disciplinary action by the disciplinary body of his respective agency.
It is worthy of note that the provisions of these Regulations apply throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria and State Governors may issue Regulations on further steps as may be considered necessary.
This part explains the terms used in the regulation and their meaning.
How are Nigerians reacting?
Nigerians seem to be taking this new regulation lightly as it did not draw the usual attention you would expect such a regulation to draw. Aside from being discussed on television programmes, it did not make any social media trend. While some Nigerians say this is long overdue, others say it is not achievable as most Nigerians are not used to these measures because they have not been serious adherents.
Some others have called for caution to avoid being arrested. A Twitter user Joyce Merlin @Joycemerlin3 on Thursday, January 28, 2021, said people should read the new law and avoid being arrested.
Also a short message has been going round encouraging people to move around with their face masks.
On the timing of this regulation, the president noted that the regulation is coming now because of the urgent need to protect the health and wellbeing of Nigerians in the face of the widespread and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria.
Although most of the provisions are already in place, this regulation now provides a basis for the prosecution of defaulters.