LAGOS (Reuters) - Fear of the coronavirus has induced an extraordinary calm in Lagos, Nigeria’s famously boisterous mega-city where streets known for miles of gridlock have emptied of traffic and eateries serving takeaways are almost the only shops open.
The largest city in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 20 million population, has been transformed by a week-long shutdown of public life imposed as part of efforts to stem the spread of the highly infectious disease in Nigeria.
The lockdown order by Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu applies to all non-essential shops - those not selling food, water or medicine - in the sprawling market megalopolis near Nigeria’s Atlantic Ocean coast.
He also banned gatherings of over 25 people and told everyone to stay home with the majority of Nigeria’s confirmed cases - 44 out of 65 - surfacing in Lagos and the state’s health minister warning that the coronavirus is spreading.
As the lockdown began, most residents were compliant but afraid - both of getting sick and of losing much-needed income.
“I believe some of our traders will be stubborn or so because most of them do not have (food) to eat at home,” said Fatai Adedabo, head of Computer Village, a collective market selling electronic accessories and offering phone repairs.
“We still have to monitor them and make sure the market is shut down totally.”
Adedabo was not alone in worrying that poverty could hinder containment of the respiratory pandemic, which has infected more than 531,600 people worldwide and killed more than 24,000.
Sanwo-Olu conceded that a 100% lockdown was not possible due to the large numbers of Lagos residents who could not afford to stockpile essentials. Nigeria’s Senate president said on Thursday authorities needed to help shield the poor from suffering the most on account of blanket closures.
Sanwo-Olu on Friday announced that food packs would be distributed to help Lagos residents.
The packs - whose contents would include rice, beans, bread, drinking water and vitamins - are intended to last for 14 days. He said they would initially be sent to 200,000 households but he hoped distribution would be ramped up.
By mid-morning on Friday, the first full day of the lockdown, most in the typically teeming and exuberant city appeared to be soberly accepting the closure.
Crowds that usually throng the roads were replaced by people walking in pairs, or alone, and the ubiquitous yellow “danfo” buses that are usually packed to the brim carried just a few customers.
As people adjusted under the careful watch of police, many agreed the effort to contain the coronavirus was necessary.
“It will not be easy for us as human beings because this is where we make our money, this is where we make our daily bread,” said Olugbenga Bright, a phone repairman with a wife and children to support. “So we need money, fine, but above all our lives - our safety is the priority.”
Additional reporting by Nneka Chile and Temilade Adelaja in Lagos and Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Diane Craft