Anambra state govt in a failing battle against COVID deniers

­By Alfred AJAYI

THE Presidential Task Force (PTF) and health officials across Nigeria have expressed concern over the rising cases of COVID-19 infections in the country,  a development that is already putting pressure, especially on health facilities meant for the treatment of those who test positive to the virus.

Even before the second wave of the disease in the country, the task forces had been lamenting the flagrant violation of the preventive protocols among Nigerians, which they feared might render the country more vulnerable.

Now the reality is here, as the country has continued to record increase in the number of daily infections and death.

An analysis of the situation across the country and particularly in Anambra State, raises further issues.

The long-standing mutual distrust between the government and the governed seems to be standing in the way of governmental efforts against the disease.

A good number of residents are yet to be convinced of the existence of COVID-19, which they see as a grand conspiracy theory conceived by the government and corporate elite to deceive the public.

Another category which believes the disease is real, maintains that the figures being bandied as daily infections and deaths are from the blues.

For this category, those at the corridor of power must be doing a lucrative business with the COVID-19 narrative.

Inside Eke-Awka Market on Monday 18th January, 2021

The situation is the same in Anambra State, where residents had totally lowered their guard against the disease, with many accusing the government of fighting a public health challenge that never exists.

A walk through the cities and semi-urban centres of the state reveal mindless disregard for the non-pharmaceutical preventive measures, especially wearing of facemasks and maintenance of social distancing.

Unlike before, traders now go about their businesses without sparing thoughts for the disease. Hand-washing basins have disappeared in front of shops, while citizens go about their normal daily engagements without wearing face masks.

The situation is worse in the rural communities, where disbelief about the dreaded virus had taken deep root.

A recent release by the State Commissioner for Information conveyed the worrying mood of Governor Willie Obiano about the soaring number of infections in the state, where forty-nine persons were said to have tested positive to the virus within a week.

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The release reads in part: “There are 80 confirmed cases in the state since the second wave began two weeks ago, meaning an average of 40 cases per week. In contrast, the state used to record nine cases per week on average in the first wave. It is disheartening that there are people who doubt the COVID-19 is ravaging the country. There are two persons who, a few days ago, came for testing and were confirmed to be positive. Instead of isolating themselves, they rejoined a wedding party and may have infected a number of people”.

Governor Willie Obiano, in his latest statewide broadcast noted that the second wave of the disease had become a reality in the area. According to the Governor, the new variant is deadlier especially now that most people have lowered their guard.

He noted: “We have dropped our level of vigilance and returned to our normal lives. But the virus has not gone away. On the contrary in has come back with renewed viciousness. It is claiming many lives because our people are not complying with the COVID-19 protocols.

The Governor, who enumerated efforts of his administration in flattening the curve of COVID-19, noted that his administration had risen to the challenge to repeat the feat during the first wave, which saw the state as at December 7, 2020, conduct 90,000 tests and only 287 were confirmed positive.

“As at that date, “there was nobody in the protective care centres in the state. We were all enjoying the fruits of our collective efforts”.

He pointed out that the second wave did not take his government by surprise but was upset that despite all efforts made to get citizens appreciate the prevailing truth about the disease, citizens have continued to disregard the protocols.

He lamented: “Despite our warnings, our people allowed themselves to be carried away by the joy of yuletide and failed to maintain the COVID-19 protocols. Between December 7, 2020 and January 11, 2021, we have recorded 110 new cases of COVID-19 in Anambra State”.

The Governor explained that the government had consequently taken some hard decisions to stamp out the spread of the new wave.

The measures include: compulsory observance of the standard covid-19 protocols such as: regular hand washing, use of hand sanitizer, wearing of facemasks and maintenance of social distancing in all government offices.

Governor Obiano also renewed the directive on compulsory wearing of face masks in public places, while gathering of more than fifty persons is prohibited in addition to the ban on nightclubs.

“The COVID-19 Action Teams in all our 61 markets must ensure full compliance to the standard protocols. You must set up a hand-washing point at the entrance to each market. Take temperature of visitors and ensure that both traders and their customers wear facemasks. Transport operators are advised to revert to all the practices that helped us during the first wave of the pandemic. They must ensure social distancing inside their vehicles and maintain a passenger manifest”.

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The Governor also postponed the resumption of academic sessions by two weeks, urging management of every school to help revive the structures which helped preventing infections in schools during the first wave.

Great as the measures seem, enforcement has been at its lowest ebb, hence the abysmal compliance rate. Visit to various markets as at Monday, 18th January indicated that the Governor’s directive on compulsory wearing of face masks was yet to be enforced. Hand washing buckets were seen in many shops gathering dust as citizens enter and alight from commercial vehicles without facemasks.

A Public Affairs Commentator, Chief Kanayochukwu Obidigbo, blamed the development on poor management of COVID-19 outbreak in the country, which shielded the infected persons from public glare. “Nobody regards the protocol. I hear on the state radio station everyday that defaulters of these protocols are liable to fine and community service. That’s good but enforcement is not there. So, people violate the preventive protocols with reckless abandon”.

Residents go about their businesses without face masks

For a Civil Society Advocate and Political Scientist, Comrade Elvis Okolie, the government and the citizens share the blame for the low compliance rate.

“Government takes blame for enforcement failure. But compliance is the duty of the citizens. Until Nigerians are forced to do something right, we don’t do it. So, the government should have applied the enforcement rule. Until it is enforced, I don’t think Nigerians are ready to comply”.

Comrade Okolie remarked that the system had conditioned the people to think that their economic survival is above every other consideration. “Some of them see themselves as dead already due to battered economic situation. They will prefer to go out and die than to die in their houses when even the government does not care for them”.

    Be that as it may, the government is being advised against locking down the state due to its destructive impacts on the economy as witnessed during the first wave last year. A resident, Chief Jude Emecheta, strongly advised government at all levels against locking down.

    “If you lockdown, you will kill more people than COVID-19. People should learn how to obey the protocols. Allow the economy to run. People are aware of the preventive measures. Whoever chooses to die of COVID-19 should be allowed to instead of putting the economy of the entire citizenry and that of the country into jeopardy”.

    Even with the resolute determination of the state government to give the second wave of the pandemic the fiercest fight it deserves, the co-operation of the citizens in terms of compliance to the preventive measures will determine success or failure.

    The days ahead will reveal if there will be any positive change or the situation will take a dive for the worst. But, “God forbid” is the prayer, in the mouth of everyone in the state.

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