From George Onyejiuwa (Owerri), Jane Nwaoriaku (Enugu) and Felix Ikem (Nsukka)
There was fear and panic Wednesday across the states of the South-East geo-political zone following the commencement of the medical outreach by the army as part of its packages for the Operation Python Dance 11 code-named Egwu Eke.
Daily Sun reliably gathered that the army personnel on the medical outreach had gone to Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State to begin immunization in the schools there when the students and teachers started fleeing the schools.
Quickly, the rumour spread in the state that the personnel on the medical outreach were forcefully injecting the students with Monkey Pox virus, making many parents to rush to schools in the state to withdraw their children and wards.
The rumour also spread to Imo State, Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu states, where parents also made haste to go to the schools to withdraw their children.
In Imo, the rumour which spread like wild fire resulted in the early closure of schools in the state capital and other local governments, especially the private schools as anxious parents rushed to the schools to take their children and wards home.
The rumour in Imo was that two school pupils in one of the schools at Awo Omanma in Oru East Local Government Area had died after the immunization by the soldiers.
Rumours also had it that the immunization was on at schools at Obosima, Umunwaku, Ohoba in Ohaji/ Egbema council, but when our reporter arrived the community no soldier or army personnel was seen, but parents were hurriedly taking away their children from the schools while some of the pupils whose parents were yet to take them home were crying.
At the Victory International School owned by the Assemblies of God Church, one of the teachers who simply identified himself as Chuks said that they have not seen any of the immunization officials or the army as rumoured in their school, saying that the school authorities decided to send the pupils home for safety.
Similarly, at the St. Mary’s School Amaifeke, in Orlu Council of the state, Mrs Ogechi Onumomu disclosed that the school authorities had to take the pupils upstairs for protection following the rumour that soldiers are forcefully immunizing children, saying however, that they did not see any personnel or the army as claimed.
However, the state government in a statement issued by Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, press secretary to Governor Rochas Okorocha, said the rumour that created anxiety in the state was false.
“The Imo State government has heard the unfounded rumour that monkey pox virus is forcefully injected into school kids. This has created undue anxiety in Owerri, especially among some parents.
“The state government wants to inform Imo people in particular and the public that the Monkey Pox virus is not in Imo,” he said.
In Enugu State, the rumour was equally strong in the metropolis as parents and guardians of primary and secondary schools kids ran to their wards’ schools to make sure they were safe and not injected with suspected vaccine.
At the W.T.C Primary School, Ogui New-Layout Enugu, school children were seen clinging tightly to their parents that had come to pick them after they heard the rumor through the social media and phone calls.
The Headmistress of School 2 in the complex who does not want her name on print said: “Nobody came to inoculate children and the noise and panic only lasted for a very short while and no army officer has been seen anywhere around the school premises.
“As you can see teaching is going on in the classrooms and students are not allowed to leave the school premises without their parents,” she said.
She assured that normal school activities would continue as they had called the Enugu North Education Secretary who confirmed to them that the story was just rumour.
Also at the Urban Girls Secondary School Enugu, the principal said there was no vaccination taking place in her school.
“I started hearing noise from the neighbouring primary school, parents started arriving and banging the gate, I was afraid of stampede, so asked them to let the gate open to avoid parents harassing the staff,” she said.
A civil defense officer at the school, Mr C.E.O Chima said immediately he got the signal he started coming, saying that “the parents should not be blamed for their action as they did that out of care and concern for their children because no parent will hear that their child is being poisoned and will not come.”
It was the same situation in the university city of Nsukka as parents were seen rushing to the primary schools to collect to their children and wards to avoid them being injected by the alleged fake immunization officers in military uniform.
By 11:00am parents and guardians had besieged the Modern Primary School, Nsukka, Township Primary School, among others to take their children back home.
One of the parents who identified herself as Mrs. Stella Ozioko told Daily Sun that her sister called her from Umuahia to rush and take her children home as some people said to be dressed in military uniform were going to primary schools and injecting them with dangerous vaccines.
“I am here to collect my two children based on the information flying. I don’t want to hear any story. I am taking them home, it’s better they stay at home alive than being injected to death by evil people who dressed in military uniform to cover their real identity,” she said.
At the Township Primary School, a parent who gave his name as Mr. Ben Ezema said he was in the market when one of his family friends called him that he had just rushed to collect his children to avoid being injected to death.
“Immediately I closed my shop before I reached here many parents were already here to take their children to avoid being injected to death.
“I have taken my children and they will stay at home until I am convinced nobody is coming to inject them in school,” he said.
Mrs. Cecilia Ugwuoke, a headmistress in Modern Primary School 4, Nsukka, said she was surprised how the school compound was filled with parents within 30 minutes to take home their children because of the rumour that some children have been injected to death in Owerri and Awka and also got into Nsukka town.
“I tried my best to convince them that their children were safe as we will not allow anybody to inject their children, but they insisted they want to take them home.
“We had to open a register in every class so that parents will sign before taking their children; this is to ensure that evil people did not use the opportunity to pick children that are not theirs,” she said.
Also some secondary schools like Urban Girls Secondary School and Government’s Technical School Nsukka had their students rushed home as early as 12:30 pm because of the same rumour.
When contacted, the Transition Caretaker Committee Chairman in Nsukka LGA, Chief Ejike Asadu said as result of the rumour and panic he sent out his security men from the local government to the schools to monitor the situation.
“People are only panicking because of the rumour, we have not seen any immunization officer dressed in military uniforms.
“I urge parents and residents to remain calm as the council will not allow anybody to inject any school children forcefully,” he said.
However, the Enugu State government through the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Fintan Ekochin, also dismissed the rumour.
“Monkey Pox is a rare disease related closely to the common Chicken Pox. Abundant evidence shows it is a much milder disease compared with Chicken Pox.
“Citizens should go about their daily lives observing basic hygiene rules as regarding healthcare. Please there is no cause for alarm,” he said.