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COVID-19: The rise and fall of face masks

Last year the COVID-19 pandemic started with a great negative impact on all Nigerians, affecting normal lives and standards of living.


It became a threat to the lives of everyone globally, causing the government to come up with preventive measures. One of such measures was the mandatory use of face masks.


The face mask, amongst other measures, was supposed to help in checking the spread of the virus, which has already claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Nigerians and millions more around the world. Following the outbreak of the virus, the spread and subsequent instructions from the government, the sale of face masks jumped and became one of the most sought after items in Nigeria.


Thousands of Nigerians, worried over contracting the virus, besieged sellers of face masks. The face masks were sold back then for as much as N500 for one.


The profit margin for those selling face masks also jumped, prompting many more Nigerians to embrace the trade. However, the glory of the face mask, with its attendant profit margin, has since decreased.


Customers have since stopped patronizing sellers of face masks as their fear of COVID-19 began to recede. Indeed, the fact that thousands have died following the outbreak of the third wave, with the more contagious delta variant spearheading the surge, has had no effect on the consciousness of Nigerians jolting them to once again embrace facemasks.


Mrs. Ovedje Evelyn, 31, a mother of one, who sells face masks, said: “When the COVID-19 started, the sales and demand of face masks were high, but right now, demand is low.


Most people are no longer interested in using them. Even the primary and secondary school students, who used to be our highest buyers because management of schools made it mandatory, stopped bothering.


Presently, most buyers are bank workers and customers.


Again, we also have just a few people who work in other firms using it. The truth  is that the number of people using it has reduced.


Before, I used to make between N2000 and N2500, but these days, it’s quite difficult to make N1000. Low sales continue, even though we now sell face masks of N100 for N50.”

Another trader, Rebecca, 24, said: “Yes, before I used to make a good profit from selling face masks, but these days, people no longer buy. But in the heat of the pandemic last year, we had many customers. Now, face masks, which I used to sell for N100, are now being sold for N50 to attract customers, but still the patronage has continued to be low.”


Mrs. Blessing Timothy, 39, recalled that when the COVID-19 started last year, the sale of face masks became attractive, with high patronage. But now, the story has changed.


She said: “The business is not moving like before. I think it’s due to the belief that the pandemic has ended. I remembered that when the virus started, people were scared and because of that, bought face masks.


But now, people are not really making use of it except when they are going to the bank or their offices. Last year, we were making N3000 on a pack, but now, we make N1500.

When COVID-19 started, a pack of face masks was N2000 or N2500 and a piece was N100. Now, we buy at N1000 or N800 per pack and sell a piece for N50.”


A mother of four, Mrs. Olorunfemi Funke, 57, said that as at last year, she was smiling home every day with a profit of about N20, 000 and N15, 000. But now, it’s difficult to make such a profit, but sometimes, “I could just make a profit of N1000 or N2500 a day.


Also, before, I sold a piece for N100, but now it’s just N50.” Forty-five-year-old Mrs. Folashade Hassan also has something to say about the situation, which many of them have described as ‘trying’.


Hassan, desperate to make sales, said that she started selling face masks of N100 for N40. She noted that the low patronage was majorly because many Nigerians were under the impression that the pandemic was over.


Miss. Teniola Ajayi, 19, another trader, opined that people were no longer purchasing face masks because policemen were no longer enforcing its usage. She said: “When the COVID-19 pandemic started last year, people only bought them out of fear of being arrested by the police for failing to wear it. But now, even the police personnel are not wearing it, let alone them forc  ing people to wear it.”


However, Mr. Onyeka Godspower, 42, holds a contrary view. He argued that it was only the sale of surgical masks that had dropped. According to him, the sales dropped because people now preferred face masks made with textile materials than surgical ones.


He added: “The face masks made with textile materials can be washed and reused, but this is not the same with the disposable ones.


Another reason is that the fear of COVID-19 has gone down.” Yekini Zainab, 21, said people had stopped buying face masks because they were now very hungry and did not want to waste their meagre resources purchasing face masks.


“People don’t have food to eat these days, so I think even the money they are supposed to use to buy face masks is what they use to eat. The situation in the country is worsening every day and people can’t feed.


Even with the way prices of face masks had been reduced, people still refused to buy. People just don’t have money for such things.”


Incidentally the apathy continues despite the fact that the Presidential Task Force and even the Governor of Lagos State, Jide Sanwo-Olu have warned Nigerians not to lower their guard because the deadly virus was still very much around and still causing havoc.


Addressing the media last month in Lagos, the governor raised the alarm over the advent of the third wave of the pandemic and pointed out that the state has seen a spike in the daily cases of COVID-19 confirmation shooting up to 6.6 per cent over a period of one week.


He said the development may not be unconnected to the careless attitude of air passengers from countries in the “high risk” zones and the complacency by the residents to follow the protective protocols issued by the government after the end of the second wave.


Sanwo-Olu disclosed that 18 percent of 50,322 air passengers of interest, who arrived in Lagos via the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), could not be reached for COVID-19 status monitoring by EKOTELEMED because they supplied wrong contact details.


Going forward, the governor ordered sanctioning of in-bound air passengers that failed to provide verifiable contact details, including accessible phone numbers they can be reached for monitoring.


Addressing the issue again last week, Sanwo-Olu revealed that Lagos had recorded six COVID-19 deaths per day in the last one week and implored residents to sit up and observe all the safety protocols while organisations, event centres and religious groups ensure compliance for all those coming into their facilities.


Providing a COVID-19 update, Sanwo-Olu, who is the Incident Commander, said: “From the beginning of the outbreak in February 2020 to date, Lagos State has recorded a total of 64,032 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of this number, 56,336 have recovered in community, 2,755are currently being managed actively in community.


“Over the course of managing the COVID-19 pandemic, about 5,029 patients have been admitted into our various COVID- 19 care centres in Lagos. We have, sadly, recorded 390 fatalities in Lagos State, 30 of which have taken place in this current third wave of the pandemic. “Essentially, we have recorded on average six deaths per day since last week.”


However, despite this dire warning not much has changed in the attitude of Lagosians who still move around as if the virus does not exist.

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