Coronavirus: Is social distancing even practical in a city like Lagos?


As the world continues to grapple with the reality of the coronavirus becoming a global pandemic, people are desperately searching for ways to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. This has led to everything from toilet paper shortages, curfews, and a number of preventive measures that fall under the umbrella term, social distancing. But what exactly is social distancing and how applicable would it be over here in the city of Lagos, where the third case of COVID-19 was just recently confirmed? Read on to find out.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing refers to a set of actions taken to curb the spread of an infectious disease within a specific population. In the case of the coronavirus, it involves everything from avoiding large crowds by staying at home, to imposing travel restrictions and keeping a safe distance from others whenever you do have to go outside. The World Health Organization (WHO) itself recommends that you should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet away from anyone showing coronavirus symptoms, while the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that distance should be doubled at 6 feet.

What does social distancing entail?

As the name suggests, it involves avoiding any activities that might require you to interact with others socially. So think avoiding shaking hands or attending sporting events, conventions, the movies and even work or school. Most schools are in fact already closed in most affected countries, and workers have been encouraged to work from home, all in a bid to limit the possibility of those workers and students spreading the virus between one another. Most cinemas have also been shut down, or have taken other steps to ensure that their patrons can maintain a safe distance between one another.

What effect would social distancing have on businesses and the economy as a whole?

This past weekend, the American movie box office recorded its lowest take in the past 22 years. This was mainly due to the aforementioned measures taken by theater owners to ensure their theaters were spaced out enough to make patrons feel comfortable, as well as moviegoers themselves electing to stay at home and avoid any large gatherings.

This is just one example from countless others that shows the impact social distancing is already having on businesses and the economy. In the long run, many businesses are estimated to lose billions of dollars from lost revenues as well as additional operating costs brought on by the need to protect patrons. Many are in fact projected to go out of business, especially those that operate on very low profit margins and rely on day-to-day business to keep the lights on.

A business market in Lagos

Can social distancing truly stop the coronavirus?

The primary objective of social distancing in this case is not to completely stop the coronavirus from spreading, but rather to attempt to significantly slow its spread. The fact of the matter is the coronavirus has no cure, and the chances of developing one in time to reverse the current crisis are very low. So our best defense right now is to do everything we can to slow down its spread. This is required in order to limit the impact cases would have on the various health care providers. Hospitals and medical facilities can only attend to so many people at once, so reducing the number of people that need to seek medical services would help ease the burden placed upon the providers of such services.

Is social distancing viable in a city like Lagos?

With a population of more than 20 million people, and a culture that is already accustomed to being confined together in tight spaces with complete strangers, it is going to be difficult for Lagosians to adopt social distancing. I mean, you don’t need to look any further than the seating arrangements in the average danfo to realize how impossible it would be to avoid physical contact with those around you. This is just as true for those who own cars, because they’d eventually need to get down from those cars and interact with others in crowded schools, offices, places of worship or marketplaces.

The only way social distancing would be possible is for everyone to remain in their homes, which might not be an option for most people. People would still need to go out to crowded marketplaces to get what they’d need to survive on a day-to-day basis. And in cases where those markets aren’t nearby, they’d need to get into crowded vehicles to get there. Very few offices actually allow for their employees to work from home, and without the ability to work during a crisis like this, the vast majority of low-income earners won’t have enough money to spend on day-to-day essentials.

Lastly, there is the fact that there are people who would simply not be willing to give up their current way of life. These people would still like to visit their favorite bars, night clubs or shopping malls, so unless our government takes steps to ensure that those establishments shutdown their services, their patrons would continue patronizing them, coronavirus notwithstanding.

A picture of Lagos showing commercial buses stuck in traffic

The coronavirus might seem like an unstoppable force right now, but the fact remains that the human race has endured even worse threats to its survival. We can surely overcome COVID-19, provided everyone is willing to play their part in ensuring their safety and the safety of everyone around them. Would you be willing to stay home and practice some social distancing if push comes to shove? Let us know in the comments section below.