Individuals should take responsibility for their safety in markets — Experts

Mushin Market in Lagos

Since Coronavirus is transmitted mainly through contact with infected people and surfaces, authorities have been emphasising the need to stay at least two metres away from others and frequently wipe commonly used surfaces with disinfectants. Social distancing is especially recommended in crowded places, where the disease can be easily contracted.

Markets, especially the big ones, are among the places patronised by a large number of people. From morning, when traders open shop for the day’s business till they close in the evening, hundreds of feet pound the narrow lanes separating the stalls and the market vicinities.

A visit to the popular Ojuwoye, Mushin and Oshodi markets, all in Lagos, revealed that the last thing on the mind of buyers in these markets is maintaining social distancing. As they go from shop to shop in search of the best bargain and quality goods and items, jostling and haggling, the shoppers appeared unmindful of the need to put some distance between themselves and other customers. This is aside the fact that more than half of the traders and buyers do not wear face masks.

This is even more pronounced at market roadsides, where a lot of transaction takes place. Here, there is no such thing as forming queues, as buyers try to outwit one another to get the best items. It is not unusual to see buyers nudging one another to be able to get closer look at the stuff they are buying. For instance, where meat, fish, ponmo and pepper, among others, are sold, buyers do not wait for one person to finish transaction before going for theirs. So, they stand closely jammed together in front of the sellers.

But those inside the stalls don’t fare any better. In most cases, the shops are filled to capacity with different commodities, leaving not much space for customers to stand. So, they also end up standing together in front of the shops.

Indeed, if there is any place to easily contract the deadly virus, it is in these big markets.

Since citizens cannot do without going to markets, the next appropriate step to take is finding a solution to the problem. What can be done to ensure that social distancing is observed, at least to some extent in the markets?

Dr. Anthony Nwaoney, said a number of effective measures could be adopted, where social distancing is not feasible.

“It might not be practicable to want to enforce social distancing in markets, due to how these places are constructed. However, certain safety measures can be adopted to mitigate the problem. One of these safety measures is to place large drums with taps and soap at the entrances of different segments of the market places, where buyers are made to wash their hands before entering the market. For instance, at the entrance of the part of market where meat, fish and ponmo among others, are sold, a large drum and soap can be placed, with an equally large bowl underneath, which should be emptied as frequently as required. It must be ensured that the water and soap are promptly replaced. This should be replicated at every other section of the market. All buyers should also be made to wear nose mask before going into the market. Many people do not know how to properly wear face mask. So, there is need for education in this regard.”

Also, he advised that both sellers and buyers could use long metallic or wooden sticks to check the stuff they are buying, instead of using bare hands to touch them. “These long handles should be thoroughly washed and disinfected after the day’s transaction,” he explained. “Both buyers and sellers should also wear disposable hand gloves during transactions, which should also be discarded after use.”

Similarly, Dr. Simisola Johnson of Health Shores Hospital, Ifako-Ijaiye, Lagos, said it would be quite tough to enforce the social distancing measure in markets, due to the planning and designs of big markets in the country.

He said: “It just goes to show our level of national development. In the first place, what safety measures were put in place, when constructing these markets? The markets are built in such a way that people cannot but crowd together, which is forbidden by COVID-19. But the people are also not helping matters. Even where it is possible to maintain social distancing, they just cannot be bothered.

“The way most of our shops are built shows that we don’t project into the future as a people. But it is not only our markets that reflect this unfortunate inability to plan with an eye for the future. Practically all the facets of our life, as a nation, are affected.

“Henceforth, we should aim at building ultra-modern markets that are spacious and meet world standard. It is possible, if we put our mind to it. It is only a matter of planning and doing the right things.”

In his view, the only solution in the face of facts on ground is for government to intensify efforts at enlightening the people on the need for social distancing and other measures that are capable of curbing the spread of Coronavirus. Essentially, however, the onus is on individuals to take their fate in their hands in this regard and see to it that they do all possible to protect themselves.

“I believe it is only individuals that can handle the situation at this point. When going to markets and other crowded places, individuals should ensure they protect themselves by not only wearing face masks, but by also maintaining social distancing. If the others are not observing it, you just keep doing the right thing. You thereby protect yourself and the others. It is also advisable to take along good hand sanitiser, which should be frequently used, when you are outside in the public.

“It is also important to leave crowded places as soon as possible. This is not the time to just be roaming around markets, window-shopping or looking for what is not needed. People should write out the list of what they want to buy in the market before leaving home, go straight for them and as soon as they are through, they should go home, without lingering around unnecessarily.”

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