COVID-19: Like America, like Nigeria

Protesters against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home at a rally in the the state capital on Wednesday. Photo: AP

By Harrison Arubu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Besides currently being the global epicentre of the novel coronavirus disease, the United States is also full of drama surrounding the pandemic.

In this piece, we serve you a rundown of dramatic happenings across the country on Wednesday that many may find interesting.

The day began with media reports that the U.S. Department of Treasury had directed that President Donald Trump’s name be printed on stimulus cheques meant for Americans hit by the economic hardship resulting from the pandemic.

Citing unnamed senior officials at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the reports say the cheques will “bear Trump’s name in the memo line, below a line that reads, ‘Economic Impact Payment’.”

Eligible citizens are expected to receive a $1,200 (N451,000) cheque each, as part of the $2.2 trillion (N827 trillion) financial stimulus package unveiled by the government in March to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.

Some critics, including Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Nancy Pelosi, are worried that the move would delay delivery of the cheques to hundreds of thousands of Americans urgently in need of the money to pay their bills.

Coming ahead of the November presidential elections with Trump as a candidate, others have accused the president of trying to use public resources for his personal political gain.

At least, Nigerians now know that it is not only in their country that political public officers slap their names or party identities on relief items purchased with public funds for distribution to the poor.

Next, we take you to the state of Michigan where hundreds of protesters hit the streets of the capital, Lansing, in a massive rally against extension of the state government’s stay-at-home order.

As part of measures to slow the spread of the virus in Michigan, the state governor, Gretchen Whitmer, on March 23 had issued a three-week stay-at-home order that was to expire on Tuesday.

But last week, Whitmer announced extension of the order through April 30 and added more restrictions, including forbidding most residents from visiting other residences unless they are going to care for relatives or drop off their children.

But residents would have none of it, saying they were tired of staying at home, meaning that they prefer the high risk of exposure to the deadly virus to the boredom of being confined to their homes.

Called “Operation Gridlock” by its organisers, the rally brought vehicular traffic to a crawl with protesters even blocking the entrance to a hospital.

Coincidently, residents of Sapele in Delta also poured into major roads in the ancient town on Wednesday in a demonstration against a similar extension by their state government.

But unlike their Michigan counterparts, who were mostly driven by the crave for outdoor leisure, the Sapele protesters were forced out by what has now come to be known as the “hunger virus”.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an executive order requiring residents to wear face masks in public places where social distancing is impossible.

Speaking at his daily news briefing, Cuomo said the order would take effect after a three-day grace period, and then went ahead to outline a gradual reopening of businesses in the state.

The people of Cross River State can relate with this. There is a standing no-mask-no-movement policy in the state where civil servants from grade level 10 have been directed to return to work from Tuesday.

The state governor, Mr Ben Ayade, was recently quoted as saying that locking the state down was no longer necessary since the use of face masks could also effectively prevent the spread of the virus.

If media reports are anything to go by, then Cross River has an edge over New York with Ayade’s directive to the state garment factory not to sell masks but give them out for free.

Finally, we conclude this journey with a couple of controversial comments by Trump during his daily White House COVID-19 briefing, which has become a veritable source of world news headlines.

First,  a visibly angry Trump threatened to force the United States Congress to adjourn if the Senate did not confirm his nominees for vacant public offices, including judges.

The president said he was frustrated that the lawmakers were not in Washington to confirm his nominees needed to address challenges from the coronavirus crisis.

He said he would invoke his executive power to compel federal lawmakers to either return to Congress for urgent legislative business or adjourn formally.

Legislators in both chambers of Congress have been conducting pro forma sessions, and are not expected to return to the Capitol Hill until May 4.

Trump dismissed the pro forma sessions as “phony” and “a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis”.

The president also accused New York City of padding its coronavirus death toll, a day after the city revised how it tracks fatalities by adding 3,700 victims said to have died with symptoms of the disease but were not tested.

Unsubstantiated claims that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory also elicited comments from Trump, who hinted at a U.S. investigation of the allegation with his characteristic phrase: “we’ll see”.