May 4, 2020 / 9:06 AM / a month ago

Nigeria re-opens main cities Lagos and Abuja as lockdowns phased out

* Restrictions eased in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun state

* Government imposed coronavirus lockdowns on March 30

* Nigeria has confirmed 2,600 cases, 87 deaths

* Businesses can open if decontaminate office

* Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Namibia also ease restrictions

By Alexis Akwagyiram and Temilade Adelaja

LAGOS, May 4 (Reuters) - Nigeria began easing restrictions on Monday in its capital Abuja and in Lagos, its largest city, marking the reopening of Africa’s biggest economy after more than four weeks of lockdown.

Nigeria has recorded 2,558 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 87 deaths since recording its first case at the end of February, a much lower toll than those seen in COVID-19 hotspots in Europe and the United States.

The government has said a stay-at-home order in place since March 30 in Abuja and the states of Lagos and Ogun will be lifted gradually over a six-week period.

The regions will now come in line with the rest of the country where the restrictions in force were less strict and include an overnight curfew, mandatory face masks in public and a ban on non-essential interstate travel.

“We must do all we can to stop the spread of #COVID19 so we must all take responsibility and do what is necessary to remain safe,” said Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in a tweet, hours before restrictions were eased.

On Monday morning, the usually frenetic streets of the coastal megacity Lagos, largely empty during the lockdown, were busy with cars, buses and motorised tricycle taxis.

Faced with morning rain, people in the city’s Iyana Oworo district huddled under a bridge, ignoring social distancing rules, but most people wore masks.

Businesses have been allowed to reopen provided they have decontaminated their offices, can enable social distancing and offer hand sanitizer and hand washing. Schools and places of worship remain closed, restaurants can only operate on a takeaway basis, and all cultural events have been cancelled.

Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Namibia will ease their lockdowns on Monday. South Africa on Friday relaxed one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 lockdowns, and Ghana last month lifted a three-week lockdown in its two main cities.

Experts have not reached a consensus on the reasons for Nigeria’s low number of cases, though many point to the low testing rate. The country’s centre for disease control said 17,566 samples have been tested in a country of 200 million people.

Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram and Temilade Adelaja; Additional reporting by Nneka Chile; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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