As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the country amidst calls from eminent stakeholders on the need for Nigerians to take individual and collective responsibility, and adhere to public health guidelines, Nigerians seem not to be perturbed, but rather lackadaisical on wearing facemasks and complying to other safety measures that will flatten the curve on the novel Coronavirus, TUNDE OGUNTOLA reports.
As part of efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended the wearing of facemasks by the general public. This is especially important where, despite the widespread transmission, guidelines such as physical distancing is difficult to achieve in public transport, markets, and con- fined or crowded environments. In Nigeria, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 mandated the use of facemasks or coverings in public spaces, on April 27, 2020. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) also published advisories on the use of facemasks and guidance on making cloth masks.
Particularly, the use of facemasks for COVID-19 prevention was stressed, as recent studies indicate that a significant proportion of people who have COVID-19 do not show symptoms (asymptomatic), and the virus can spread be- fore these people know that they are sick (presymptomatic). SARS-
CoV-2, which causes the Coronavirus disease, can spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets, often through speaking, coughing and sneezing. But there is evidence that the correct use of facemasks reduces the risk of COV- ID-19 infection.
According to a poll from NOI-Polls Limited, a country-specific polling service: ”Nearly three in every 10 Nigerians believe they have some form of immunity to the Coronavirus.”
The poll results also revealed that almost all adult Nigerians, 99 per cent, are aware of the outbreak of Coronavirus disease in the country, as about 87 per cent of respondents expressed fear of contracting the virus.
Consequently, as there are no published studies on the effective- ness of face shields against COVID-19 in non-healthcare settings, the NCDC offers the following guidance to Nigerians on the appropriate use of facemasks and face shields: ‘’Facemasks are very important in helping to limit the spread of COVID-19, especially in situations where physical distancing maybe difficult, such as on public transportation, markets and in areas where there is a significant amount of community transmission.
“For effective protection, face shields are used in combination with an appropriate facemask in healthcare settings.
“There is currently no evidence on the effectiveness of face shields to prevent COVID-19, when used alone in non-healthcare settings.
“There is currently no guidance provided by the WHO or other relevant public health authorities that recommend the use of face shields in non-healthcare settings to pre- vent COVID-19.”
Sadly, despite the presidential directives on the mandatory use of facemask s and the knowledge about the virus, LEADERSHIP findings show that Nigerians seem to be lackadaisical on wearing face-masks.
In Lagos State, despite the heavy fine instituted against defaulters, residents living in the state who spoke with our correspondent, have resolved not to wear a face- mask. Some of them that were seen with facemasks, were either hanging it in one ear or wearing it under their chin.
It has been said that the proper way to wear the facemask is to ensure that it covers the mouth and nose, but when our correspondent visited some residential layouts and major parks in Lagos State, the majority of people there were not wearing facemasks.
For instance at Mile 12 market, while a majority of the people were not wearing facemasks, others were not wearing it properly, and some of the reasons for their actions was that it causes difficulty in breathing, some said they do not believe in the existence of the virus.
A tomato seller, Mrs Eniola Yusuf, was one of the people who hung her facemask on one ear. She told our correspondent that she is with the facemask because of the fear that she may be arrested or asked to pay a fine for not wearing it.
When asked why she is not wearing it properly, she said: “I cannot breathe properly with the facemask on. The day I wore the mask for like 30 minutes, I almost fainted. Since then, I have chosen not to cover my nose and mouth. I am only with it for fear that I may be arrested for not wearing it.
Also, Mr Eze Michael, who sells beans and rice at Mile 12, was among those who do not believe that the virus exists. He said, “Before Coronavirus, people have been dying and since Coronavirus, all deaths have been attributed to the virus. I believe the virus is a scam.”
Meanwhile, the health commissioner of Lagos State, Prof Akin Abayomi, has reiterated that the use of facemask is important to halt the spread of Coronavirus. He said the wearing of a facemask protects people around an infected person.
“There is a piece of theoretical evidence that wearing of masks may indeed reduce the number of droplets in the environment from a COVID-19 infected person.
“Using facemask to reduce COVID-19 infection is, therefore, a responsibility we all must embrace.
Let us all mask up to stop further spread of COVID-19 infection,” he added.
To curb the spread of COVID-19, the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has said that wearing of facemasks is compulsory for residents in the state.
He said, “This is the main reason we have made facemasks compulsory in Lagos State. More than one million facemask s have been distributed in the state.”
In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), residents are generally lukewarm in adhering to the guidelines stipulated by the NCDC to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
When LEADERSHIP Weekend visited some designated public motor parks in the FCT, it was observed that there was no adherence to physical distancing and use of facemasks, other directives such
as regular disinfection and temperature checks were flouted.
The popular ‘coaster bus’ now convey five persons in a row from Nyanyan to Berger Park, as passengers now take responsibility for their health. Meanwhile, at market places, there is a gross disregard for social distancing.
Amidst the rise in the number of cases in the FCT, the minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has reiterated the need for citizens to wear facemask in public places. He said studies in many countries have confirmed the effectiveness of wearing masks in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, since it provides mutual protection to all wearers.
“It is, therefore, still important for us not to give up, but should all continue to practice these measures, especially using facemasks, maintaining social distancing, and imbibing social courtesies like not sneezing or coughing into open space, but into a tissue, especially with people around,” he said.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), has also urged against bringing down facemask to the chin.
“When you bring down your facemask to the chin, there is a high chance of contaminating it.
“Always use your masks properly or remove completely when necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the centre urged.
On the usage of a face shield, NCDC cautioned that “the shield alone cannot protect you. Remem- ber to always wear a facemask when in public places & maintain a physical distance of two meters.”
In Kaduna State, despite the strict regulation on the use of facemask, many residents were sighted without one.
To curb the spread of the virus and ensure that residents abide by the NCDC protocol on the use of facemask and other guidelines stipulated by the NCDC, the Kaduna State government has set up Mobile Courts to try violators of the guidelines.
However, shortly after the set- ting up of the mobile courts locat- ed at Kakuri, Kawo and Magajin Gari, including Rigasa, Sabon Tasha and Maraban Rido, as well as Rigachukun, Kaduna-Kano border, Abuja-Kaduna expressway, several persons fell victim, such that at some point, in two days, no fewer than 605 persons were convicted for violating the guidelines.
A statement signed by the commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of Kaduna State, Aisha Dikko, said that about N1,909,600 was realised as fines from convictions, adding that 41 offenders were given community service.
”At the moment, the number of violators have increased astronomically, with more money generated as fines,” the statement said.
However, even though the residents seem to be so lackadaisical about wearing facemasks and using other safety measures against COVID-19 in Jigawa State, the government appears to be serious about imposing safety measures.
The state governor, Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar, also vowed to decisively deal with any person, group, or corporate body found violating public safety measures against COVID-19.
Governor Abubakar had, early this month, ordered the suspension of Shuwarin weekly market on alleged failure to impose the use of facemasks by the market leaders.
The market was later reopened by the government, after the management promised that no one will be allowed into the market without using a facemask.
Badaru also said people must observe basic protection measures, including handwashing and use of facemasks, while in the markets and other public places.
The Jigawa State government has also established a mobile court to try defaulters of the public safety order.
It is also observed that despite all the government efforts on imposing the order, very few people can be seen wearing facemask at public places including markets, religious centres, and other places.
Unlike other states of the federa- tion, in the city of Calabar, it has become a lifestyle to see shop owners keep a bucket of water, hand washing soap and a bottle of sanitizers at the entrance of their offices. This is also the situation at government offices.
At the old and new Secretariat, Calabar, civil servants were seen wearing facemasks to prevent droplets emitted from the mouth of another individual entering their noses or mouths, especially if the one speaking is already infected with the virus.
Generally, it is now a way of life to see people walk along the streets of Calabar with facemasks due to fear of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Churches too are not left out, as members of the congregation from Winners Chapel, Abitu Avenue, and the Roman Catholic Church, St. Lwanga’s parish, were seen with their facemasks on. Facemask has become like a fashion of the time in the streets of Calabar. However, a resident of Calabar, Kingsley Edom said although the facemask may have helped the people from contracting the virus, it is inconveniencing one from having good breath. He further said it is a money-spinner to those who have been involved in the production and marketing of facemasks.
Abigail Edem, a tailor, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that she has earned some cash from the sewing of facemasks, adding that since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, she has made a fortune out of it. She called on Nigerians, irrespective of where they reside, to use their facemasks so as not to get infected with the virus.
The state commissioner for Health and chairman of the Task Force on COVID-19 Response Team, Dr Betta Edu, said Cross River started the “No mask, No Movement’’ order in Nigeria, before the federal government’s directives on the usage.
Edu said that with facemask, residents of Cross River State are sure of protecting themselves from getting infected with the Coronavirus disease which has brought pain to the entire world.
She said that the state government, through the Calabar Garment Factory, produced about 1.5m facemasks and distributed them to residents of the state and some neighbouring states like Benue and others.
“We are happy that the federal government is walking on the same page by instructing every Nigerian to wear his or her facemask,” Edu stressed.
The commissioner said that with easing of interstate lockdown and the opening of the order, Cross River State has recorded 13 cases. He added that the state government will continue doing its best to ensure that COVID-19 pandemic is put on check.
The commissioner urged everyone to take responsibility, protect themselves against the virus, by using their facemask and frequently wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, avoid being in contact with an unnecessary crowd like the ones we see at burials, public gatherings, and drinking joints.
In Sokoto State, the seat of the caliphate, despite government’s efforts towards ensuring that preventive items were donated to the residents of the state, the irony, however, is that beneficiaries of these items often jettison their usages.
A mere walk within the metropolis will leave you wondering if the intended aim of providing the COVID-19 preventive items was achieved. Most residents go about their day-to-day activities with- out wearing facemasks, and many never care about hygiene measures which include regular hand washing or hand sanitizer usage.
Speaking to some of the women at the Sokoto Central Market, where over 90 per cent of those in the market walks freely without facemasks, they responded by saying, COVID-19 is not in Sokoto State, as the state has stayed for
over a month now without recording a new case.
For some of the women, COVID-19 is for the influential and corrupt politicians that have stolen public funds.
As a preventive step towards flattening the curve of COVID-19 in the state, Sokoto State government has distributed over 1 million pieces of facemasks across the state, Dr Muhammad Ali Inname has said.
Inname who is the state commissioner of health and chairman, Task Force Committee on COVID-19, added that they have also donated over 100,000 hand sanitizers to people of the state.
According to him, to further encourage the act of frequent hand washing, they provided thousands of washing buckets across the state, especially in major places of interest.
Though the state has had its fair share of the novel COVID-19, it is, however, very commendable that they were able to swing into action on time, hence resulting in unprecedented decline.
Recall that Sokoto State has not recorded any new case for some weeks now, however, that does not rule out the fact that the pandemic is over in the state, hence the need for people to heed to all the laid down rules.
To deepen its campaign against the pandemic, Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, has flagged off COVID-19 community surveillance and testing programme in the state, in order to stem community spread of the disease.
This is even as a commonest of the protocols in Abia is the compulsory wearing of facemasks in public places and vehicles; however, it appears that the majority of the residents have not come to terms with its importance yet.
Even with the government’s inauguration of Mobile Courts for the arrest and prosecution of suspected offenders of the order in the three senatorial districts of the state, its importance has had very little effect.
LEADERSHIP Weekend checks revealed that some of the people’s lukewarm attitude to the use of facemask may not be unconnected with their unbelievable rejection of the existence of Coronavirus.
A seamstress along Aba road in the state capital, Mrs Marbel Okechukwu, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the disease is only “a big man disease,” adding that her wearing of the facemask is formality.
A retired civil servant, who spoke with LEADERSHIP, expressed a firm belief in the reality of the disease, adding that he goes further in his bid to protect himself from it by moving about with sanitizer.
Furthermore, there are equally those who will either have their facemasks in the pockets or handbags, or at best hang it around their ear even in the public, only
for them to either put it on or adjust it when cautioned or while approaching a security checkpoint.
In Osun State, it is obvious that compliance with the use of facemask is low due to lack of enforcement by the government.
A resident of the state, Bola Adewale, said she decided to abandon the use of facemask when she appeared to be standing alone in its usage, thereby making her look odd.
Apparently not satisfied with the level of noncompliance among the residents on the usage of facemask directive, Osun State government, as part of measures to curtail the spread of ravaging Coronavirus in the state, has resorted to arresting defaulters on the street.
The deputy governor, Benedict Alabi, who doubles as the chair- man of COVID-19 Task Force in the state, explained that the unsatisfactory level of compliance is responsible for the recent move to arrest defaulters on the street, and educate them through video on the danger it poses.
He said: “The level of compliance to the usage of facemask is low in the state.
“That prompted my team to adopt a drastic measure of moving into the street to apprehend defaulters and take them to the centre where they would be educated and re-orientated on the reality and fatality of the virus through video, for them to see the importance of what we are talking about.”