Why poor safety protocols enforcement may hinder fight against COVID-19
“The re-opening of society means that more people will come in contact with each other, which is how the virus spreads. This is why we have provided guidelines and measures, such as physical distancing, compulsory use of facemasks in public settings, limited the number of people that can meet, etc. It is very important that Nigerians adhere to these measures, so that we can protect each other. Our health systems are stretched and we must take responsibility as individuals to reduce the risk of spread of the virus.”
With these words, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, recently warned that the decline in number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 does not translate to end of the pandemic.
The warning came at a time the operations of more segments of the society have been restored. The markets are open, the exit classes in primary and secondary schools are back to school, worship centres are now in operation, movement across states are now unrestricted, local flight operations have resumed while international flights may resume on August 29. It is expected that there will be further relaxation of restrictions in the coming weeks as part of measures to suture the wounds the pandemic has inflicted on the economy. But this would require strict implementation of the safety protocols against the virus to keep the fight in focus.
This is where the challenge lies as observations have shown that not only have some Nigerians let their guards down, some still don’t believe that there is Coronavirus pandemic in the country and are therefore carefree. However, the question is: Where are the law enforcement agencies and the various task forces set up by the federal and state governments to contain the spread of the disease.
Take Lagos State for instance. On Friday, August 7, this year, the state government approved the re-opening of the worship centres after over four months of closure. However, the approval had some conditions attached to it to avoid further spread of the virus in the state, which has remained the epicentre of the pandemic in Nigeria with 17, 327 confirmed cases out of the country’s total figure of 50, 964 as at last Thursday night.
The conditions barred elderly people from the age of 65 years from attending worship services. It also mandated religious leaders to strictly implement the policy on compulsory wearing of facemasks in public places. There must also be provision of water, soap and hand sanitisers for worshippers to maintain personal hygiene even as worship centres must clean and disinfect their facilities at certain intervals during worships.
Investigations showed that while some worship centres in the state actually improved their facilities to conform to the standards prescribed by the government, others did not. Even at that, the compliant worship centres are having challenges in getting some worshippers to apply the safety protocols of wearing of facemasks, maintaining social distancing and regularly washing their hands.
A member of the Living Spring Church in Mushin area of the state, Mr. Moses Adeleke, said his church added two more services on Sundays in addition to the usual services so as to limit the number of worshippers in each service and ensure their safety.
“Before the pandemic, my church held Sunday service at 9.00am and 11.00am but in order to adhere to the precautions laid down by the state government, we have added two extra Sunday services, which include 6.00am and 12.00pm to avoid clustering of church members. In essence, my church now holds four services on Sundays,” he explained.
Michael further said his church also ensures that worshippers wear their facemasks properly, wash their hands with water and soap and apply hand sanitisers.
A member of the Regina Mundi Catholic Church, Mushin, Seun Olaleye, also said her church has been taking the coronavirus precautions seriously.
“No facemask no entry; that is the policy of my church. From the gate, if you are not wearing your facemask properly, you won’t be granted entry into the church premises. The children and the elderly are also sent back home from the gate.
“You must also follow other guidelines like checking of your temperatures, washing of hands with soap and water provided by the church. After that you will be led to where you will write down your name, address, age and phone number so that the church can be able to contact you. It is after going through all these processes that you will be allowed to go into the church for mass,” she said.
She further stated that Coronavirus has put a stop to some practices in the church, saying the number of people that could sit on a pew has been reduced while shaking of hands during mass has also been stopped.
Findings in Isolo, Oke-Afa and llamoshe axis of the state indicated that big orthodox and Pentecostal churches like the Anglican Communion, Roman Catholic Church, Deeper Christian Life Ministry (DCLM) and the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) were also complying with the safety rules.
A member of DCLM Progress District on Alhaji Bello Street, Ilamoshe, who identified herself simply as Chidera, explained: “Ushers are stationed at the entrance of my district church to ensure that each person wears their facemask, wash hands and sanitise before entering the church auditorium for worship.”
A visit to St Mary’s Catholic Church, Isolo, showed that social distancing and all other rules were followed to the letter with members being turned back to attend mass at other stations when the church reached its permitted capacity.
Speaking with some church members after mass, some were happy with the level of precautions taken while others felt it was unnecessary.
A worshipper, who identified herself as Victoria James, insisted that nobody could be infected in the church premises.
“All these precautions they are taking is not needed and I know they are just trying to obey the government but once you are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, nothing like Coronavirus or whatever can come near you.
“I have been going out, my family members have been going out and we are all fine. I don’t know this Coronavirus they are talking about and I will never know because they are the ones that know where they got it. That is why they are the ones dying.
“I am not using facemask because it means you don’t believe that God can protect you from all forms of sickness and diseases. If you want to use, you are free but it means you believe this government.”
Observation showed that some people donned the facemasks in the church but promptly removed them as soon as they stepped outside the church premises, with some claiming that it didn’t allow them breathe well.
Another worshiper who identified himself simply as John said the only reason he was using the facemask was because he didn’t want police to disturb him.
“Do you believe in this coronavirus? I don’t know anyone that has gotten it and I am sure you that you are asking me questions don’t know anybody that has gotten it. The only time I use facemask is when I’m entering the bank or other places that say it is compulsory to use it. If not, I don’t bother with it,” he said.
A member of RCCG City of The Lord Parish, Ajao Estate, also explained: “The parish erected running water at one corner of the church. The interesting part is that they leave the tap running non-stop all through the service. The idea is that there is no point touching the faucet, hence the non-stop running tap. So, you just place your hands under a soap dispenser mounted on the wall, scrub your hands with soap, rinse off at the tap and wipe dry. Then you are given sanitiser and compelled to wear your facemask appropriately before entering the church not the trending style of pulling it below your jaw.”
Nwachukwu further explained that the church marked seats and spaces with sellotape to indicate space distance between worshippers.
“As soon as the service is over, everyone is ushered out of the premises immediately as opposed to the pre-COVID era where we used to have meetings after church service. Also, physical presence services are solely on Sundays, weekly services are featured online,” he added.
While that level of compliance is high among big churches, many mushroom churches, especially those who use rented spaces for worship, do not comply with the preventive directives.
A visit to God’s Victorious Power Ministries in Isolo area during their midweek service revealed that it was business as usual for them as all COVID-19 guidelines and protocols were flouted.
A member, who does not want his name to be mentioned, said: “To the glory of God, nothing has happened to any of us. We will continue to hold services as we had done because the government was lying to you and all of you believed it.”
According to her, their pastor was selling anointing and healing oil to them, which would protect them from anything.
“I can give you some to use; you will never complain of any form of sickness again. I just laugh whenever they are saying all those things they say on the TV and radio; it is for them not for us,” she concluded.
Also, last Sunday, residents in Tunde Salisu Street, Oke-Afa, raised concerns when a church in the area failed to make necessary provisions for worshippers with regard to the preventive measures outlined by the state government.
“Virtually everyone who worshipped at the church last Sunday didn’t wear facemask. One would think that they are immune to the pandemic,” said an observer.
A Muslim, Sulaimon Adijat, said she doesn’t believe there is the Coronavirus pandemic in the country but expressed joy that the government has re-opened the worship centres to allow faithful profess their faith.
“Currently the mosque within my neighbourhood in compliance with the state government directives has put hand sanitisers in place, which must be used before and after prayer. Facemask is now a must; children and the elderly are not permitted to come into the mosque for prayers. Also important is that you are to give yourselves space while praying. But coronavirus is not real. I beg to ask a question. Why did they shutdown all gatherings when we had like 10 to 20 cases, but are gradually allowing gatherings now that we have over 10,000 active cases?” he queried.
Another Muslim, who pleaded anonymity, said his mosque was not strict with the implementation of the rules.
“We were not compelled to wear facemask and I didn’t attempt to wear mask either. Although some people wore their facemasks but no one mandated worshippers to wear mask, ” she said.
Asked why she didn’t wear her facemask to Juma’at service, she said: “Seriously, I don’t believe there is Coronavirus. If the virus really exists as they claim, a lot of us would have been ill, hospitalised or even died since the stories about the pandemic started rocking Nigeria. I don’t remember ever wearing a facemask. I just pull it below my jaw when I have to go out just to avoid embarrassment by the law enforcement agents. And here I am still hale and hearty. So to me, the virus doesn’t exist and I can’t inconvenience myself with the uncomfortable facemask.”
At Iyanu l’Oluwa mosque at Barracks area in Lagos, it was also business as usual for worshippers who came to pray. It was observed that everyone that came around performed the ablution right. They did not also bring their personal mats.
A worshipper, who identified himself simply as Taofeeq, claimed he wasn’t aware that they were supposed to perform ablution at home or even bring their personal mats.
“Doing ablution at home cannot work because before I get to the mosque, I would have been dirty and would have to repeat it again; so what is the point?” he queried.
When asked if he was still observing all the COVID-19 safety protocols, he answered in the negative, saying:
“Are people still observing it? As soon as they lifted the lockdown, everybody went back to normal. It is only God that is protecting us here really because nobody is observing any guidelines. The transporters are carrying their passengers like before; nobody is washing hands again and so on. If it is killing people as they have been saying, all of us should have dropped dead by now.”
The situation in Lagos is not totally different from what obtains in other states of the federation, as the following reports indicate.
Kwara: Compliance With Protocols Effective Only In Worship Centres, Government Institutions
From Odun Edward, Ilorin
THE use of facemasks and general compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols in public places is reducing among residents of Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. But there is high compliance with the protocols in many government institutions and parastatals as the enforcement commences right at their entrances. There is also strict compliance in places of worship in the state.
Outside these places, however, observations showed that even where residents wore facemasks as a proof of their compliance, proper usage was not observed as many of them only covered their mouths to the exclusion of their noses.
The situation was worse in rural settlements where the level of compliance was less than 30 per cent. Youths played football unhindered even as residents clustered at village squares without observing the social distancing order.
What was most common among elitist residents was the wearing of face shields, which now costs between N600 and N700 in the state.
Many residents told The Guardian that they became nonchalant to some of the COVID-19 safety rules due to daily reports of high recoveries from the deadly virus.
Besides, they claimed that they could not identify any sufferer or victim of the pandemic in the state save for few elite who had announced publicly that they tested positive for the virus. Others cited difficulties in breathing as the reasons for haphazard compliance with the COVID-19 preventive measures.
A Consultant Epidemiologist at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), who spoke under the condition of anonymity, urged relevant governmental agencies to enforce “strict compliance” with all the preventive measures against the deadly virus.
“The virus is new and scientists the world over have not fully grasped its culture and characteristics. It rises and falls. But that should not be misinterpreted as reduction in the rise,” he warned.
Abia Cracks Down On Defaulters
As Compliance Level Wanes
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia
In Abia State, the level of compliance with COVID-19 preventive protocols was commendable although it has started waning in the markets and rural communities. In places of worship, there were hand washing bays for faithful even as they wore facemasks. But the level of social distancing by worshippers varied.
Before the re-opening of religious centres in the state, the COVID-19 Committee headed by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr Chris Ezem, had stipulated that there should not more than 50 worshippers in a service but the rule is not being strictly observed. The development has often compelled the committee to undertake impromptu inspection of worship centres.
Worried by the dwindling compliance with the preventive protocols, the SSG recently announced government’s renewed efforts in community testing in all the Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state and encouraged residents to present themselves for exercise.
He had added that in order to further take the message of COVID-19 down to the communities/wards, the government would flag-off COVID-19 sensitisation committees in the 17 LGAs in addition to holding interactive sessions on the pandemic with residents next week.
The government has also set up mobile courts to try defaulters of the protocols even as it has introduced new measures.
According the new measures, markets in the state now operate from Mondays to Saturdays from 7am to 5pm daily while approved burials would hold on the first and third week of the month on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only. Eateries are now allowed to operate fully under strict adherence to social distancing, provision of running water, infra-red thermometre and hand sanitisers.
A market leader in Umuahia told The Guardian that any trader who does not wear facemask was not allowed to operate in the market, adding that the same applied to people coming into the market.
At the Orie Ugba market in Umuahia, a butcher, who had no facemask, was asked why he did not have one. He brought out a facemask from his pocket, saying: “I cannot wear it all day because it is inconveniencing and makes breathing difficult. So, sometimes I don’t put it on.”
Commenting on the issue raised by the butcher, a medical practitioner said that the facemask won by the butcher might have been made from a wrong material or was very tight. He advised that people should procure the right facemasks and avoid under sized ones.
Enforcement Poor In Imo As Residents Flout Order
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
In Imo State, many residents seem to have forgotten about the COVID-19 preventive protocols advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The precautionary measures such as wearing of facemasks, social distancing, provision of hand washing bays and hand sanitisers in front of business premises and ensuring that customers do not cluster in a business premises, seem to have become a thing of the past to them.
In churches and many public places, people hardly wear facemasks now. Some believe that the pandemic has left the shores of Nigeria, insinuating government officials were latching on it to advance selfish purposes.
In Owerri, the state capital, there was strict observance of all the measures during the period of the total lockdown and a few weeks after it was lifted. But nowadays, it is a different story altogether.
Now, those who wear facemasks drop them on their jaws, not minding that Governor Hope Uzodimma signed a law against such. When the Executive Order was initially put in place, security operatives allegedly made violators to pay as much of N2,000 when caught.
Also, in many worship centres in the state, few persons observe the preventive measures. People move around freely during religious programmes without facemasks.
Further observations showed that members of the state taskforce on the containment of the spread of the virus appeared to have lowered their enforcement.
Chairman of the committee, Prof. Maurice Iwu, a professor of Pharmacognosy, recently warned that, “it is criminal not to wear facemask.”
Iwu, a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said there were “silent spreaders of the virus,” warning people to be mindful of them because they could contract the disease and remain asymptomatic, but would be spreading it to older ones who quickly could become symptomatic and develop complications.
Many residents who spoke with The Guardian said they were yet to see anyone carrying the virus or died as a result of it, hence their non-compliance with the preventive measures.
“Please remove this thing you are wearing and talk to me. So you still believe in the existence of this thing?” a resident was overheard telling his subordinate in the office.
But an elderly resident in Owerri, who consistently wears facemask, Mama Eugenia Opara, said the wise thing to do is to comply with all the preventive measures until the authorities advise otherwise.
“We should protect ourselves from this disease. I am told that old people contract it very quickly, while young ones can withstand the effect because of their immunity. We should constantly observe the safety protocols,” she noted.
Religious Faithful In Plateau Have Thrown Caution To The Wind
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
Many Plateau State residents have indeed begun to let down their personal protective guards against Coronavirus mainly because the number of reported cases of the virus is dropping. This is common among those who initially held that Coronavirus was a farce and only a disease for the ‘rich’ or the white man but not for Blacks. This category of people see the drop in the number confirmed cases of the virus recorded lately as a justification of their earlier positions.
A visit to the Main Market in Jos and Bukuru metropolis showed that there was flagrant disobedience to the COVID-19 protocols. In fact, there was nothing like compliance with the rules at all.
This outright disregard for the COVID-19 guidelines was more pronounced in the Muslim communities, where many residents do not believe that Coronavirus exists. They come out in their numbers to their business places and other public places without wearing facemasks or observing the social distancing guideline.
This is also the case at the state Central Mosque when faithful converge to worship. Out of 100 Muslim faithful who gather at the Juma’at Mosque, only about two would wear facemasks while observing social distancing is thrown to the winds.
The general attitude of the faithful has also made the enforcement of the preventive measures difficult, as whoever tries to get them to comply would be treated as an enemy.
Also, among Christians, there are many who flout the protocols but the level of enforcement is higher. It was, however, observed that all the religious leaders including the imams, priests and other officials strictly adhere to the protocols.
Ibrahim Musa, a the Muslim who insists on observing the protocols, said that he believes that Coronavirus is real, adding that he must do all that is prescribed by medical experts to save himself and his family.
“That is the reason members of my family and I always wear facemasks. Even at home, we try as much as possible to comply with social and physical distancing, although it is not easy to keep your beloved ones, like your wife and children at bay. Your children will say, daddy, what is happening that you do not want to embrace us again? Are we no longer your children? Why have you suddenly changed? Let that COVID-19 kill all of us if that is your fear. They will now surge at me and embrace me. I cannot break away from them. That is the challenge,” Musa said.
A medical expert, Mutalwa Buna, advised those who are still skeptical about the existence of the virus to believe that it really exists. He also urged residents to strictly observe the protocols canvassed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
With Least Infections In
S’East, Anambra Residents
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka
Anambra State is the least COVID-19 infected state in the Southeast zone. With 181 confirmed cases as at last Wednesday, it trails behind Imo, 506; Abia, 713; Ebonyi, 945; and Enugu, 1,025. As a result, not many residents are serious with observing the preventive measures advised by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Worried by the development, Governor Willie Obiano recently closed the Eke-Awka Main Market to compel the traders to comply with the safety measures. But the closure appears not have whipped the traders into line, as observations showed that majority of them either put it on their jaws, pockets or bags and only put them on when they want to gain entrance into the market or sight the enforcement team to avoid being fined N10,000 or subjected community labour or both.
In the worship centres, it was observed that the number of worshippers have reduced drastically even as there were hand washing bays in their premises. But many worshippers did not put on their facemasks.
The Guardian sampled the opinions of some residents on why they show non-compliant attitude to COVID-19 preventive measures.
To the Chairman of Children Farmers Club (CFC), Chris Okwuosa, “the virus is real, but the propaganda behind it and the way government goes about it makes it look funny.”
“Government imposed lockdown on the means of livelihood of people who survive on hand-to-mouth basis without caring to reasonably cushion the adverse effect of the measure on households. Government did not do the needful, hence its inability to enforce the guidelines. The little effort government came up with to enforce compliance was messed up by its officials who turned it into money-making scheme,” he added.
The state Chairman of National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), Samuel Egwuatu, lamented that even though youths across the state have joined hands with the task force to ensure effective compliance with the safety measures, “most people do not believe COVID-19 is real, thereby seeing it as a scam.”
He added: “The residents cannot say they have not been properly sensitised; the only challenge is behavioural change. There is need for them to accept the fact that COVID-19 is real. Some are saying it is malaria, typhoid, etc, not COVID-19, but I know it is real. I have witnessed a situation where people said it was not real until their relatives contracted it.”
In a recent radio programme monitored by The Guardian, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Vincent Okpala, urged residents to abide by the guidelines.
“People think COVID-19 is a scam; we know what governments all over the world are passing through. Government would not hesitate to close markets that flout the guidelines,” he warned.
Only Worshippers In Benue
Cities Observe Preventive Rules
From Joseph Wantu, Makurdi
IN Benue State, in spite of the warnings by the NCDC and the Benue State government against flouting COVID-19 safety protocols, it was observed that only worshippers in churches and mosques domiciled in the major cities comply with the guidelines.
Investigations showed that in the rural areas, worships are held in churches and mosques without adhering to the safety protocols of social distancing, wearing of facemasks and washing of hands, among others.
Also, there is no strict adherence to the protocols in markets, burial and wedding ceremonies, even in the cities.
A resident in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, Uche Nnorom, told The Guardian he has become used to wearing face mask and washing his hands regularly as advised by the authorities.
Nnorom said: “Observing some COVID-19 protocols have become part of my life particularly when I am going out. I am always with my hand sanitiser, facemask and most of the times I observe hands washing.
“I would advise members of the public to sustain the use of hand sanitiser, facemasks and continue to observe other protocols because the virus has come to stay with us.”
Another resident in Makurdi, Peter Ugoche, however, said he does not believe that COVID-19 is real and so does not observe the safety rules.
“COVID-19 will not befall my family. I don’t belief it exists but if it exists at all, I think it is a big man’s illness,” he said.
A medical doctor, Josiah Nweken, however, advised the people of the state to sustain their compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures, noting that it was not yet uhuru.
Nweken said the rule on social distancing, use of facemasks and regular hand washing remain critical to taming further spread of the pandemic.
“It is true that COVID-19 is real and it is also true that some advances are being made through medical research to produce some curable vaccines for the virus. But they are not yet here with us, so there is the need to maintain some caution,” he advised.
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