COVID-19: Expect South East Infection rate to increase dramatically – John Okiyi Kalu

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In the early days of the outbreak of coronavirus disease in Nigeria, South East States were relatively safe for weeks before the first case was recorded in the region. Ordinarily, one would expect that the easiest way to protect the region at that point would have been to simply close the inter-state boundaries linking the region to the South-South and North Central regions with expected support from the Federal Government and NCDC whose short term objective should have been to limit and circle the disease in Lagos and Ogun states as well as Abuja where the outbreak first occurred in increasing numbers.

Unfortunately, it took many weeks before the Federal Government announced support for national interstate boundary closure and, by then, a lot of movements had already happened leading to the initial cases recorded in the South East region. Since then, enforcement of federal restrictions on interstate movements has largely been poor and marked by corruption, favouritism and lack of will to do the needful by those concerned.

Folks continued to stream into the South East from Lagos and Abuja initially, and later Kano, which was the emerging second epicentre of the disease. The result is that today the South East has recorded the following confirmed cases: Ebonyi 80, Imo 47, Enugu 24, Abia 15 and Anambra 12, bringing it to a total of 178 cases as at Thursday, 4th June 2020, with the number expected to rise dramatically in the coming days, weeks and months.

Apparently, south easterners and others living in Lagos, Abuja and Kano did not see the need to stay wherever they were to manage whatever health challenges they had but chose to come to the region, and in most cases, sneaked into town where unsuspecting friends and relatives welcomed them with hugs. Only in few instances were such returnees reported to government officials for necessary action, hence, in all South-East states the majority of early confirmed cases came from returnees who managed to escape through the lockdown cordon in connivance with rogue enforcement officials.

We are currently witnessing a spike in the number of community infections in the East as a result of the initial cases, most of which escaped detection as a result of deliberate attempts by some returnees to hide their COViD-19 status as well as negligence by government officials. For instance, travellers coming from Lagos were recently stopped inside a South-East state with samples taken from them and then inexplicably allowed to continue to another South-East state. Later, it was announced that 25 of them tested positive to COViD-19 but to date, those who released them to go ahead cannot say where exactly they are at the moment. Your guess is as good as mine on the number of persons they must have infected in our communities as we have no record of their being apprehended and isolated in either the testing transit state or the destination state, both in the South East.

Close observers know that many of our people believe there is nothing like COViD-19 and hence try to treat themselves in regular hospitals even when symptoms of the disease are present. In the process, they spread the infection to unsuspecting medics and others who come in contact with them.

For the avoidance of doubt, COVID-19 can easily be distinguished from malaria by the simple fact that it is an infectious disease whereas the latter is not. Our widespread scepticism on the existence of the disease or otherwise is helping to further fuel the spread of the disease, particularly in the South East region.

I dare state that if South-East states execute case searches within the region even with 10% of the population as a sample, they will discover as much as 10,000 infected persons today. That number will go up in due course because one undetected infected person is capable of spreading the disease to 35 others within 5 days.

Does the South East have the capacity to contain the coming upsurge of coronavirus infections that will surely come in the months of June, July and August 2020, or are we merely praying that a cure is found by others as quickly as possible? It is my view that only low testing engagement from some states in the region is hiding the actual scale of the challenge at hand.

Just three days ago, someone called a friend of mine from Ghana and told him he will be in Aba the next day. By 9 pm of the following day, my friend called me to confirm the individual is now In Aba and Abia State COViD-19 rapid response team had to scramble to reach him, isolate and take a sample from him for testing. How many of such interventions can we really make? Aside from international borders that are supposedly closed, this person must have passed through Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Anambra and the Imo States before getting to Aba.

Why should that journey happen in a country that is purportedly fighting an infectious global pandemic? What exactly are those charged with enforcement of the orders of Mr President doing at interstate boundaries? Do they know that they are also exposing themselves and their loved ones to the infection through their corruption induced negligence and disobedience to the lawful order of their Commander-in-Chief? Does anyone know of any security agency that has been punished because of illegal inter-state movement?

Without sounding like an alarmist, it is my position that the outlook in the East will get very bad if nothing is done urgently. The way to go is to urgently seek help from the Federal Government to end inter-state travels through enforcement of boundary closure regulations, especially at the major boundaries leading into the region including Onitsha Head Bridge, Obollo Afor in Enugu and Imo River in Abia State. Enforcement agencies in Nigeria are directly within the exclusive control of the federal government.

In addition, large Isolation facilities need to be prepared to contain what is surely coming including designating stadiums as Isolation and treatment centres. Medical workers should be trained, motivated and given everything they need to contain what in my opinion is surely coming. Playing the ostrich will bury us in a medical mess that is sure to impact the people’s socioeconomic well being for a long time to come.

A stitch in time will save nine in the South East.

Ekwuchalam!

^Citizen John Okiyi Kalu writes from Umuahia

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