By Alexis Akwagyiram
LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday ordered the cessation of movement in Lagos and the capital Abuja for 14 days in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Nigeria has 97 confirmed cases, most of which have been in its two main cities. Buhari said the restrictions would begin at 11 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Monday, March 30. He said the measures would also apply to Ogun State, which neighbors Lagos State.
Health experts are concerned about the potential for a widespread outbreak in a country which has around 200 million inhabitants and a poor public health system.
The president’s televised speech marked his first major address to the nation since Nigeria’s first confirmed coronavirus case was announced in late February.
Buhari said he was “directing the cessation of all movements” in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun for an “initial period” of 14 days.
“All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period,” Buhari said.
The 77-year-old president, whose chief of staff last week tested positive for the highly infectious disease, said the “containment period” would be used to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases.
“We will ensure the treatment of confirmed cases while restricting further spread to other states,” he said.
Buhari said the restriction would not apply to hospitals and in health care facilities related to manufacturing and distribution.
Late on Sunday, long queues started to form at supermarkets in Lagos and Abuja.
Buhari acknowledged that the restrictions may make it hard for people to feed themselves in a country where most people live on less than $2 a day.
“We are fully aware that such measures will cause much hardship and inconvenience to many citizens. But this is a matter of life and death,” he said.
Buhari added that “relief materials” would be distributed to communities around the states affected, but did not give further details.
Lagos, the powerhouse of Africa’s biggest economy and the country’s commercial capital of some 20 million people, began a seven-day partial shutdown late last week.
The global coronavirus outbreak has already torpedoed Africa’s biggest economy through its impact on major trade partner China, where the pandemic began. Amid low oil prices caused by a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, Nigeria earlier this month devalued its currency and said it must cut this year’s budget by $4.9 billion.
(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Additional reportng by Libby George in Lagos and Paul Carsten in Abuja; Editing by Giles Elgood and Daniel Wallis)