By Jude Atupulazi
The world is at war but not with any physical opponent. The world is at war with a virus; a deadly one. It is called coronavirus. This virus has already accounted for thousands of deaths across Europe and Asia, with the figure hitting 15, 000 globally as at last Monday. Two-thirds of that number is in Europe which is now the epicentre. Only last Monday, the first official death in that war was recorded in Nigeria. It was a man who returned from the United Kingdom about two weeks ago.
His death must serve as a wake-up call to those who still see the hoopla surrounding the virus as a scam. Indeed, many people will still tell you that the coronavirus thing is either a ploy by the government to siphon funds by fighting an imaginary enemy or a ploy by foreign powers to decimate the world population. Yet others will tell you that it is a ploy by those foreign powers to make money after coming up with a phantom disease.
The other day a colleague told me how even a worker in a pharmacy was telling her how the supposed coronavirus scourge was a scam. So, if someone who works in a health facility expresses such doubts, what does one say about motor park touts and their ilk? Your guess is as good as mine. But suffice it to say that the greatest threat to Nigeria as far as the virus is concerned, is ignorance.
It is only ignorance that will make one, especially a pastor, to wave off the virus as a curse or punishment from God and then declare that it is not their portion. To such a person, precautionary measures are nonsensical. Why take precautions when your God is not a God of suffering?
But happily, the country seems to be waking up to the reality of the scourge hitting our shores. Gradually, the country is entering into a lockdown with various measures by government – federal and states, aimed at containing the likely spread of coronavirus here.
Last week the Federal Government came out with an announcement that its schools across the nation had been shut down, as well as the various NYSC camps. It was followed up by the announcement by the Lagos State Government that its workers from Levels One to Eight had been stopped from coming to work. This was after it had banned the gathering of people exceeding twenty – be it at night clubs, churches and parties.
In Anambra State, the government announced the shutdown of schools, beginning from primary and secondary, and then to tertiary. It also announced a series of other restrictions that cover3ed commercial buses, shuttle buses and tricycles.
And then last Monday after an emergency session at the Governor's Lodge, the state government banned burials, weddings, traditional weddings, among others, till further notice, even as it asked workers in the state to proceed on a 14-day leave and to be working from home.
The latest measures were government's response to the arrival of coronavirus in Nigeria. The details of government's announcement are as follows below.
In response to the growing threat of the CoronaVirus Covid-19 pandemic, the Government of Anambra State has come out with the following measures to keep our people safe –
1. Civil servants in the state are hereby directed to proceed on a 14-day work-from-home with effect from Tuesday, March 24, 2020. However, any civil servant may be called upon at any given time to handle an urgent assignment as the case arises. This directive excludes all staff of Anambra State Ministry of Health workers and officers on essential duty.
2. All public gatherings are hereby suspended in Anambra State till further notice with effect from today, March 23, 2020. This includes traditional marriage ceremonies, community festivals, ofala festivals, masquerade festivals, Igbankwu nwanyi, funeral ceremonies, baby christening, new yam festivals, title-taking ceremonies and any meeting of more than 30 participants. Traditional rulers and Presidents General of communities must ensure full compliance or be held responsible.
3. All nursery, primary, secondary, vocational and tertiary schools are hereby closed with immediate effect. All academic and extra-curricular activities are hereby suspended.
4. All public transport operators are directed to submit the manifest of all passengers coming into Anambra State to the appropriate authorities with their names, phone numbers, residential addresses and final destination.
5. The general public is mandated to maintain a habit of frequent hand-washing with soap and water, as well as use alcohol based hand sanitizers.
6. No Keke or tricycle rider should carry more than two passengers at a time.
7. Drivers of shuttle buses must not carry more than 3 passengers at a time.
8. Drivers of township and mini buses must not carry more than 5 passengers at a time.
9. The public is strongly advised to only visit the markets for essential commodities.
10. All night clubs are hereby closed until further notice. People should endeavour to sit at home.
11. Operators of bars and restaurants should not admit more than 30 customers at a time and must adhere strictly to the basic standards of social distancing. They must also provide hand-washing points and hand sanitizers for their customers. Any violation will attract immediate closure of the premises.
12. All persons returning to Anambra State from all countries of the world and states that have Covid-19 cases must go into self-isolation for 14 days and report.
13. Security Agencies have been directed to ensure full compliance.
14. Finally, we have constituted an Action Committee on Covid-19 headed myself to ensure a hands-on attention to the best ways of containing this plague.
The above are the measures announced by the Anambra State Government concerning the coronavirus pandemic. But as we know, the greatest thing to achieve in these parts is compliance. You find that even when some measures are meant to help the people, many still disregard them and go about their normal business; yet, when the bubble bursts, they run from pillar to post, seeking for salvation.
Since the initial measures were taken by the Anambra State Government, the level of compliance had not been very encouraging. As at Monday, buses were still carrying the same number of passengers; with restaurants, hotels and night clubs, not strictly observing the regulations. This can only mean that a time bomb is among us, waiting to explode. And when it does, what we are seeing in Italy will be child's play as we lack almost everything needed to combat it.
Has anyone imagined what will happen if some traders at Onitsha Main Market, for instance, contract this virus? When the number of people from far and near that throng the largest market in West Africa is considered, it will be seen that this is a tragedy in incubation.
I believe that government's measures apart, it is the individual that holds the key. Once good hygiene is maintained, any measure adopted will work better.
But while the individual is expected to lead the battle, the government should be ready too. In Anambra State, I was told that isolation centres are at the two teaching hospitals in Nnewi and Awka, as well as the Onitsha General Hospital and Surge centres in Anambra North and South which will absorb cases which the existing facilities in the three hospitals may not absorb. This is according to the state government.
Now, how ready and conducive are our isolation centres? Are they as dilapidated as the one in which a woman died in Enugu because of lack of care?
Isolation centres are the first and best indication that a government is ready to combat and sustain the coronavirus. I've not been to our isolation centres but I hope they are good enough. This will encourage those with the symptoms to come forward, knowing they will be well taken care of. If not, we can expect many to do it their own way. And when such happens, the consequences will be disastrous.
However, I commend the Anambra State Government on its reactions so far. Implementing them will help to ensure that government's aims of putting those measures in place are realised. Let it not be like the usual razzmatazz by governments in the country that end up achieving nothing.
Government should follow up these measures by carrying out large scale sensitization and enlightenment in towns and villages through the town unions and churches so that the rural population will key into the corona project.
May God help us.