Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
Osun State has had more than a fair share of the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The pandemic actually stole into the state like a thief in the night. It is now raging like a harmattan fire.
The state had its first experience with one index case reported by the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC). A few days later, the number was counting until it hit 20 as at April 13.
This astronomical rate sent jitters down the spines of the people and government of the state. Weekly markets, public and religious gatherings were stopped. Government also gave two weeks leave to civil servants, the House of Assembly suspended activities and finally a 14-day total lockdown was slammed on the people.
Isolation centres were created at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, General Hospital Asubiaro, Osogbo, and Mercy Land, Osogbo, with a special centre at Ejigbo.
There was panic particularly in Osogbo, the state capital, and Ejigbo when an unconfirmed report alleged that six Cote d’Ivoire returnees who tested positive and were kept at the Ejigbo centre had absconded. The report said the state government was on the trail of the alleged escapees.
Tension had been earlier heightened by a report of 127 returnees from Cote d’Ivoire kept at the isolation centre. But government debunked the report. It said only one of the 127 returnees could not be accounted for after a head count. It urged the public to discountenance it as unnecessary alarm.
Governor Adegboyega Oyetola’s Chief Press Secretary, Ismail Omipidan, dismissed the report, describing it as a figment of the imagination by the writer. He said the report was not from government and should be treated as untrue.
Not long after, Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Funke Egbemode, said the only missing female returnee had been found and returned to the centre. She added that government was still in the process of tracing individuals that she might have come in contact with.
The commissioner also noted that security within and around the isolation centre had been beefed up. She said government would continue to enhance measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in the state, and any official found culpable in connection with the development would be dealt with accordingly.
Earlier, Oyetola had signed the Osun Emergency Diseases (Prevention) Regulations 2020, with a warning that violators risked six-month imprisonment.
It was intended to enforce the government’s lockdown order aimed at preventing the spread of the deadly pandemic. The regulations read in part:
“The law is aimed at preventing and containing the spread of COVID-19 anywhere within the territories of the state. Following the signing of the law, anybody who violates the sit-at-home order will be sentenced to six-month imprisonment or an option of fine upon conviction.
“Under the law, transmission or dissemination of false information regarding COVID-19 is also an offence and it attracts the same punishment.
“Similarly, the promotion of unverified, untested, or unapproved cures, vaccines or other similar items that purport to cure, alleviate or reduce instances of persons infected with COVID-19, also constitutes an offence and offenders upon conviction will be liable to six-month imprisonment or an option of fine.
“The governor may direct the removal of a Potentially Infectious Person, where such a person fails or refuses to go to a place specified for screening and assessment. The governor may direct a Potentially Infectious Person within a Local Area, to go into isolation for an initial period of 14 days.”
Since the outbreak of the virus in the state, panic has continued to heighten as more cases keep unfolding. On Wednesday last week, the state announced that it was expecting 56 COVID-19 test results from the laboratory out of the 127 returnees from Cote d’Ivoire in Ejigbo isolation centre.
Omipidan disclosed that: “Out of the 71 results that we have received, three cases first tested positive, while another nine positive results came today. We are still expecting the results of other 56 returnees.
“Another intrigue was that the returnees who arrived from Ivory Coast enroute Ogun State were escorted to Osun by security officials and the Ogun State Government and immediately quarantined at the state’s isolation centre in Ejigbo.
“While people thought that they are all Osun citizens, some of them are from Oyo, Kwara, Edo, Delta, Anambra, Lagos, Ogun, Imo and Abia states. It was during the sampling that we discovered that not all of them are citizens of Osun.”
There have been pockets of insinuations over the COVID-19 in the state that the isolation centre in Ejigbo is not adequately guarded by security personnel, which led to the alleged escape of some returnees.
But Commissioner Rafiu Isamotu said military and police personnel were deployed to mount surveillance at the isolation centre. Reports also had it that relations of the returnees were passing food and other relief materials to them through the fence. The commissioner dismissed the report as untrue, insisting that security officers were always on the alert to guard against such illegality and misdemeanour.
Since the lockdown began, markets, roads, churches, mosques and other public arenas have been deserted, with security operatives mounting surveillance and roadblocks on the highways and major roads. The lockdown is biting harder as people are running out of stock of especially foodstuffs.
Shops that sell essential commodities are equally getting empty. Our correspondent, going around some neighbourhoods in Osogbo, discovered residents milling around some of the shops making panic buying before the available foodstuff, condiments, ingredients and others were exhausted. People could not get products like cooking gas, kerosine, palm oil, egusi and others.
A female secondary school teacher said: “I could not get gas or kerosine to buy in my area. I cannot go to the filling station to look for it since there is ‘coro’ movement restriction. I have been using the little charcoal that I have at home. If that one finishes now, I don’t know what to do. Let this this corona wahala come to an end.”
Alhaji Ismaila Abeeb, a petty trader, said: “The whole thing don tire me. My family’s food items have finished. No movement, no market. Government promised to distribute relief items, but up till now we have not seen anything. I am a trader. If I don’t go to the market for one day, wahala dey. It is hunger because my wife is not doing anything. We are almost stranded now, especially because all the children are at home.”
Omipidan appealed to the Federal Government to come to the aid of the state as well as other states in the battle to end the pandemic. He commended the people of the state for complying with the stay-at-home order by government: “Osun State Government has not rested on its oars in the fight to contain the spread of the pandemic. Governor Oyetola has set up a special committee of eminent citizens of the state to handle relief materials.”
Oyetola said his government was able to avert a catastrophe that would have emanated from the 127 Cote d’Ivoire returnees: “It gives me great pleasure to announce that we are discharging one of our earliest cases from one of our facilities here in Osogbo, after testing negative twice, in line with the prescribed protocol of the NCDC.
“The effect of our intervention convinced us that we took the right decision. If the returnees had been released to their various states, tracing them and their contacts would have been difficult. The implications would have been catastrophic for our state, those other states and indeed the entire nation.
“Of the 127 isolated and tested returnees, 17 tested positive, to the virus while 110 returned negative. Of the 17, we also have persons from other states. The 110 whose results came back negative have been released to join their families.
“Among them are 11 from Oyo State, two from Lagos State, one from Ogun State, three each to Edo and Abia states, four to Delta State and one to Imo, State while 85 will remain in Osun.
“Those who tested negative to the virus and released to join their families have been advised to observe all the prescribed safety and preventive measures and to call helplines if they start to feel unwell. All the returnees who tested positive are intact at relevant facilities and are all stable.
“Considering our peculiar circumstance, there is the urgent need for the Federal Government to assist us in our efforts to contain the spread of the virus.”