Why Nigeria may record explosion of COVID-19 cases
*Seeks stiffer penalties for offenders, repeal of 1926 Quarantine Act, enactment of 2013 QIEHMP Bill
*Current penalty for defaulters of coronavirus Presidential orders is N200 or six months jail time
*Healthcare workers dying needlessly because of the violation, disregard for laid down guidelines
It is feared that the country may record an explosion of cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) due to disregard of all rules on social distancing, isolation and burial of positive patients, and the Presidential sit-at-home order.
Also, it is pertinent that more positive cases of COVID-19 would be recorded in the days ahead because the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has increased its capacity to test from about 500 specimens in a week to over 1,500 specimens daily. The NCDC also has more than 13 laboratories spread across the country with the capacity to test for the virus.
Consequently, the country, on Sunday, April 19, 2020, recorded the highest number of daily cases of 86.
Meanwhile, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria and enforce the Presidential order on lockdown and social distancing, a professor of Virology and pioneer Vice-Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Oyewale Tomori, has called for the repeal of 1926 Quarantine Act and enactment of 2013 Quarantine Isolation and Emergency Health Matters Procedure.
Oyewale, who is also, a former President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), a Fellow of the College of Veterinary Surgeons of Nigeria and Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of the United Kingdom decried N200 or six months jail time penalty for defaulters of COVID-19 Presidential orders and called for stiffer penalties.
Oyewale told The Guardian: “I believe there are stipulated penalties for such offences in our law. Such penalties should be dished out with fair, and without fear or favour to any person or groups found guilty. Unfortunately, the penalty for defaulters is N200 fine or six months of jail time, based on the antiquated colonial-era Quarantine Act of 1926.
“During the burial, if Abba Kyari the FG broke all the rules again both on social distancing and the proper way of burying somebody that died of coronavirus.”
The virologist said the Quarantine Act of 1926 remains the law governing public health in emergencies in Nigeria today. He explained: “This is what our President used to lock down Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). One of the named diseases in the 1926 Act is smallpox, eradiated some 40 years ago. The penalty allotted to defaulters of the Act is N200 (0.7 US Dollars) fine or six months jail time. The same punitive measures as stipulated in the guidelines, which our law enforcement agents so eagerly and vigorously apply to the average and ordinary Nigerians, but not to the ‘Ogas on Top’; absolutely, no one should be above the law.”
Oyewale said a Bill, (SB210), was introduced in 2013 by Senator Clever M. Ikisikpo from Bayelsa East, which made the second reading and died, never to be resuscitated. He said the bill, which was an Act to repeal the 1926 Quarantine Act and Enact the Nigeria Public Health (Quarantine Isolation and Emergency Health Matters Procedure) would have provided and made provision for preventing the introduction spread and transmission into Nigeria, of dangerous infectious and communicable diseases, organisms and agents.
Oyewale hopes that the matter will now engage the urgent attention of the National Assembly. “In 2014, we escaped the horrors of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) by the skin of our teeth. In 2020, we are under the locked down damning spell of COVID-19. Who knows what is coming next?”
“Time for our leaders to and all of us to seat back under the canopy umbrella of ovid19 lockdown and see how we a sweep our nation lean with the right brush broom to turn our country into a nation that cares for her citizens and of patriotic people ready to live for Nigeria,” he said.
The rich and mighty are breaking the rules and protocols in the management of coronavirus. They are being taken to private hospitals instead of government-designated isolation centres. Why? Oyewale said this for two main reasons: “The first, because they are the rich and have the privilege to break the law, so breaking rules and protocols is a piece of cake; it means nothing to them to bend or break the laws. That is what being rich in Nigeria is all about. They only forget that disease pathogens are the masters, lawbreakers. They respect no boundaries and require no visas. These pathogens are equal opportunity evasive invaders moving freely through the air, hanging on to any and all surfaces. These elusive intruders feel more at home in the cozy air-conditioned ornate mansions of the opulent, ever ready to violate their privacy.
“The second reason is that the rich know a low quality and poor facilities available in the regular hospitals for the masses of our people are far below their level, and certainly not for people of their caliber. So, they seek better healthcare services outside the country, and now there is a lockdown, they go to the highbrow private medical facilities in Abuja or Lagos.”
The virologist said he is glad that the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) finally came out boldly to warn the non-accredited private hospitals that treating COVID-19 cases would lead to the shutdown of their facilities and the Minister of Health was reported to have again strongly advised health professionals against private or secret management of people who have COVID-19 cases outside of accredited health facilities. The Minister further said, ‘We cannot afford avoidable COVID19 morbidity and mortality’.
Oyewale said it is hoped that private facilities will heed the warning of the Minister and stop endangering the lives of ordinary Nigerians if they do care about their own lives and of their rich and privileged clients. “Unfortunately, we have seen some healthcare workers dying needless deaths because of the violation and disregard for the laid down guidelines for managing COVID-19 cases,” he said.
Oyewale said with these rich and privileged people in concert with the high-class medical facilities operating in secret outside the national system, Nigeria would not be in a position to accurately determine the magnitude of the COVID-19 epidemic and many people may inadvertently be exposed to these “secret” cases leading to the possibility of increasing community spread of the disease
How can this be stopped? Oyewale said: “First, an appeal to the rich and privileged to bring themselves under the same laws, rules and guidelines made by them. They must be made aware that they are not helping the country achieve the set objective of containing the COVID-19 pandemic, and that as long as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, our country will be locked down and they will not be able to enjoy the privileges they so much enjoy at the expense of the majority of the Nigerian population. We should let them know that their businesses will remain shut down until the double-digit recession collapses the national economy.
“Secondly, if they still will not cooperate, after the appeal, then let the full force of the law descend heavily on anyone caught violating the laws, rules and guidelines put in place to end the pandemic. It is the duty of every Nigerian who has information about the secret practices of the rich and privileged, regarding COVID-19 treatment to inform government agencies of such violations.”
Are you comfortable with what happened during Abba Kyari’s burial? The virologist said: “First it was not the FGN that broke all the rules on this occasion. It was the people who participated in the ceremony. If what we saw and what has been reported are true, then nobody can ever be comfortable. So, I am also not comfortable, at all.”
On the implications especially on the spread of the virus, Oyewale said: “The repercussion of such disregard and disdain of the rules and guidelines, is not for the dead, but for the living. Not just the living who attended the ceremony, but other people who may at one time or the other come in contact with any of them that may have or are incubating, the disease.”
What was the right thing that the FG was supposed to do with the corpse instead of what was done? “Sometimes we blame the federal government unfairly. When the government has provided the guidelines with the “dos” and “don’ts”, it is the duty of the citizens not to do the “don’ts”, but to do the “dos”. The NCDC has laid down the guidelines for dealing with COVID-19 corpses. The guidelines are published and titled ‘Interim Guidelines For The Safe Management of a Dead Body’ and can be found on their website. I suggest salient points of these guidelines should be publicized as we do the guides for hand washing, social distancing, and self-isolation.”
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