When on New Year Eve, December 31 2019, news broke out from a seafood market, where wild animals like marmots, birds, rabbits,snakes and bats, among others were sold, at Hubei, a far away community, tucked in one corner of Wuhan, a city in eastern China; that public health officials informed the World Health Organisation, about the emergence of a new virus causing pneumonia-like illness; nobody indeed knew what it was all about.
Later information traced it to Coronavirus, with the capacity to spread rapidly. The disease, which swiftly spread to other parts of the world claiming lives in thousands, broke into the shores of Nigeria, when its first confirmed case was recorded following the arrival of an Italian citizen in Lagos, who tested positive to the virus on February 27 2020. This index case was quickly, followed on March 9 2020, when a second case was confirmed at Ewekoro, Ogun State, where a Nigerian citizen who had contact with the Italian, also tested positive to the virus.
By March 22, three cases had been confirmed in the Federal Capital Territory. Thus started a combative battle with a known but unseen enemy of humanity. It is a very bold and courageous enemy that does not discriminate between the rich and the poor; between the powerful and the less powerful, does not differentiate among human race and has no respect for age or protocols, when it pays a visit.
The battle against COVID-19, therefore, brought the entire world to a standstill and promoted a new culture of individualistic tendency, which set man against his fellow man, as everyone was a suspect, unless tested negative to the virus.
When the virus was first confirmed in the FCT, residents received it with panic and uncertainties, and health workers were not left out of these natural human tendencies; because the mode of transmission, news of thousands of people who had died in other parts of the world, the initial problems of limited healthcare facilities and Personal Protective Equipments, among others, were sufficient to scare away health workers from the frontline of an unexpected war to keep Nigerians, resident in the FCT alive.
Despite these risk factors, the FCT health professionals were immediately mobilised to rise to the challenge of their training. Medical doctors, pharmacists, nurses, laboratory scientists, community health workers and even non health workers like teachers, among others, courageously, formed the core of gallant volunteers that put their lives on the line to fight the COVID-19 war, in the FCT.
They assembled daily at the Area 3 office of the FCTA, every morning. There, they map out strategies for each day’s operation,review previous activities before setting out, armed with sample collection materials; they broke into working teams, each team, which also included trained community health educators, were assigned to different localities in the FCT, especially, in the Abuja Municipal Area Council, (AMAC), where most of the cases were confirmed.
Ever since, the FCT Health Department, working with the NCDC, said it has scaled up community testing and sample collections in the territory, even before easing of the lockdown.
The objective is to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, as much as, possible but the problem that continue to linger is the unco-operative attitudes of some residents; some of whom continue to doubt the existence of the disease, despite the high level of media campaign deployed ; and would not comply with the simple recommended protocol of face mask, physical distance and regular washing of hands with soap.
For example, since the ease of the lockdown in the FCT, it is observed that a lot of people are beginning to shun the new-normal life of physical distancing and returning to their old-normal life of handshake, hugging and backslapping, spitting indiscriminately, in the midst of people and on the streets, among other anti COVID19 safety protocols.
Commercial vehicle operators and commuters have also conspired, to ignore the NCDC guidelines, which recommended two passengers behind and one in front for taxis in the FCT, even as commercial banks are not doing enough, to protect their customers, who cluster outside their banks, taking numbers according to their turn of arrival.
The consequences are the steady rise in the number of cases in the FCT, which may unnecessarily, delay flattening of the curve and eventually, lower the number of new cases in the territory.
International Journal of Infectious Disease, (September, 2020), observed that Nigeria recorded ” an upsurge of 52 per cent total cases in transmission of COVID19, during the short period the lockdown was relaxed…”pointing out that ” the potential of overwhelming COVID19, is still imminent in Nigeria…”
Director General of the NCDC, Dr Chika Ihekeazu, also share in this fear, as the lockdown was going to be relaxed, saying, ” the major challenge is convincing people to take the recommended measures seriously,’ adding that ‘ the most important tool, as far as, the pandemic is concerned is citizens compliance with prevention measures,’ pointing out that our collective survival from this deadly virus, ‘ is in the hands of all of us.”
He attributed the steady growth in number of confirmed cases in Nigeria to citizens low risk perception of the disease, saying, ” I don’t know what else we can do to push the message…”
Regional Director for Africa of the International Committee of Red Cross, Patric Yousef, warned that African health services are in danger of being overwhelmed, saying, ” it took Africa, nearly five months to hit 500,000 COVID-19 cases, but about a month to double that number; if measures against the virus are not followed, we fear that health care systems, already weakened by conflict and violence could be overwhelmed by COVID-19.”
Despite these fears, the recovery rate remains high in the FCT; and may be partly, due to the quality of care and treatment by the FCT COVID-19 medical team, and may also partly , be due to the robust commitment of the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, who received accolade from the Director General of the NCDC, for throwing the full weight of the FCT Administration behind the courageous medical team on the frontline; and was able to win support from traditional and religious leaders, non governmental and charity organisations, private business institutions and public spirited individuals of means, who contributed in various forms to sustain the war against the COVID-19 pandemic in the FCT.
What remains to be seen is citizens’ responsibility; to comply with the NCDC safety protocols of face mask, physical distance, regular hand washing with soap; avoiding crowded areas; and for commercial vehicle operators in the FCT, to comply with the NCDC guidelines, of two passengers at the backseat and one in the front seat; because Coronavirus, a.k.a COVID-19, is still rampaging around.
–Abraham, is a two-time award winning journalist, based in Abuja.