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Coronavirus and Human Rights Fears

Nigeria may only have one reported confirmed case of the Coronavirus infection, even via a visiting Italian. Yet, the Coronavirus (in type COVID-19) is ravaging some other parts of the world, especially China where it is reported to have originated. Although arguments have been made suggesting that its prevalence in Nigeria may not be as severe as in China, there certainly will be human rights concerns were the disease to spread in the country. Already, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a worldwide health emergency with nearly a 100,000 people reportedly infected. A common tool used to curtail spread has been quarantine of infected and suspected infected persons. For Nigeria, while the issue of quarantining any infected persons could be seen as needed for public safety, conditions of such quarantine could be a subject of human rights concern. Forcible quarantine could in essence be a form of detention as it is involuntary. It would mean that the conditions of quarantining would need to be decent and humane and take into account the element of proper hygiene and conduciveness of the environment. There would also be need for the proper social human rights protection that guarantees the right to adequate medical care and treatment of all persons irrespective of their social status.

In a recent case of the Italian quarantined in Lagos, reports of the conditions of the quarantine facility were about its inadequacy. The facility is reported to be mosquito infested and inconducive. It will be important that any facility providing quarantine service does not itself become of health concern. Further stretching the right to health as contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, it will be important for the Nigerian State to put in place medical care and facilities to cater to citizens who may face the possibility of contracting what is regarded as a public health disease and emergency. With no verified cure or immediately available vaccine, the State needs to be ready to help citizens deal with this new emergency.

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