FILE PHOTO: Many Abuja residents flout COVID-19 protocols
Photo credit: The Africa Report

More than eight months after the emergence of the novel Coronavirus in Nigeria, many people no longer observe the safety measures put in place by authorities to keep safe.

Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced on Feb. 27, 2020, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), along with the Federal Ministry of Health and other stakeholders, evolved measures to check the spread of the virus.

The centre, therefore, while following directives of the World Health Organisation (WHO), recommended the use of face mask, frequent washing of hands, social distancing, respiratory hygiene and stopped large gatherings as basic safety measures.

Even though Nigerians had observed the measures, especially during the lockdown that followed the announcement of the pandemic as a global emergency and to check its spread, many are gradually dropping their guard.

A check by news correspondents in Abuja saw many residents moving about without wearing a face mask, while some even doubt the existence of the pandemic in the first place and others just carry a face mask in their bags just in case.

Chief Ugochukwu Nnam, the President of Initiative for Leadership Development and Change (ILDC), an Abuja-based NGO, on Sunday said that while many residents had stopped observing the COVID-19 protocols, others doubt the existence of the Coronavirus.

Nnam, who decried the unsafe attitude, added that “many people in the FCT don’t care; even in Churches and gatherings, they don’t wear face masks, while some wear the mask on their chins instead of the face.

“I wonder if they really know the dangers of this pandemic; I wonder if they know that countries like Germany have entered into another phase of lockdown.

“As for me and my family, we use our face masks, I gave hand sanitisers to all my children as they go to school, I ensure they wash hands regularly even in their school through a steady reminder to their teachers.”

Mrs Ogechi Osuoha, a teacher, called for intensive advocacy to change the perception of people about COVID-19, especially in markets.

Osuoha, who emphasised the imperatives of sensitisation and awareness to contain community spread, said that “the carelessness of some market women could trigger another phase of community infection.

“Many women in the market don’t use face masks and do not wash their hands or use hand sanitizer or wear hand gloves like they did at the heat of the pandemic before or after selling their wares.”

Mr Nurudeen Ahmed, a resident, attributed the attitude to ignorance and some sort of cultural beliefs.

Ahmed said that he had at a time doubted the existence of the pandemic until he saw those that died of the disease.

“Honestly, I used to live my life freely without protection until I heard of a person I know very well that died of symptoms and complications from the disease in Spain.”

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Mr Nelson Udunna, a laboratory scientist, said that the pandemic was real and capable of wiping out communities.

Udunna said that he had cultivated the culture of washing his hands more than four times a day, as well as, protecting his nose and mouth with face mask whenever he mingled with other people.

He decried the manner some persons threw caution to the wind by not observing the safety rules.

He said “I went to the Nyanya orange market in Abuja, I discovered that it was only me and two other persons that wore face masks. I was shocked.”

Mr Peter Nzeli, a trader also in Nyanya, Abuja, said “COVID-19 is a thing of the past, I have not seen or heard of someone who died from the virus again. Do we still have the virus in this country? I don’t think so.”

Mr Emmanuel Ekechukwu, a businessman in Wuse, Abuja, said it had been long since he wore a face mask, adding that most times, he put the face mask in his pocket in case he was forced to wear it in places like banks and some offices.

However, Mr Simon Abel, a businessman in Wuse, Abuja, said he always obey the COVID-19 guidelines because he had seen someone who suffered from the virus.

According to him, he lost his uncle to COVID-19 in Italy.

He, therefore, cautioned residents, especially commercial drivers to observe the rules by wearing a face mask and observing social distance and encourage their passengers to do same.

Mrs Rita Okoro, a civil servant living in Garki, Abuja, said “I wear face mask once in a while because of my health condition. I also keep a distance with others when in public and always carry my hand sanitiser.”

In some Churches at Mpape, Abuja, it was observed that people no longer wash their hands at the designated points, nor use the hand sanitizers and do not wear the face mask.

When asked why they don’t observe the COVID-19 protocols, a worshipper, Mr Osas Osagie, said that the belief is that COVID-19 has gone.

According to Osagie, at the pronouncement of the protective measures earlier by government, 100 per cent of members obeyed, but now, they believe that the virus has gone.

Another resident of Mpape, Abuja, Miss Alice Ijeh, said that the virus was not real, adding that “everything about it was a rumour.

Nobody had been pronounced dead in Mpape through the virus for me to believe, even when everybody knows that Mpape is a crowded area.

“I don’t believe that the virus really exists, how many people have you heard of that died of the virus in Mpape here, even though Mpape is a crowded area, there is nothing like Coronavirus,” she said.

The story is the same in the Apo area of the FCT, as many defy the COVID-19 protocols and move about as if the global health emergency is over.

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Some residents said the non-compliance is due to poor enforcement and sanctions by authorities, while others say they believe in the efficacy of herbal treatment for the disease.

Malam Usman Aminu, a taxi driver, said “when the disease surfaced some months back, you dare not go out without a face mask or even take more than two passengers at the back seat of a vehicle and one in the front seat because you will be arrested and fined.

“But now, nobody even cares if you carry more passengers or whether or not they put on a face mask.”

Mrs Rose Emmanuel, a food vendor in the Apo area of the FCT, said “some customers come to eat without putting on face mask but I cannot ask them to leave or force them to wear one because it will be difficult for them to eat wearing one and I will be left with food and with no customers.

“However, I make sure they wash their hands at the entrance and leave the windows and door opened to enable ventilation inside the shop.”

On his part, Mr Andrew Ezekiel, a civil servant, said people now have access to the medications used in isolation centres to treat infected persons, while others use herbs.

He added that “some people who tested positive and got cured made public the medications they took, so most people who have symptoms, rather than go for a test, just decide on their own to self-medicate.

“Others have now adopted daily consumption of garlic, ginger and lemon if they have any symptoms,” he said.

At the Apo Resettlement area in the FCT, there was high compliance with the guidelines in some places, partial in some places and non-compliance in other places.

NAN observed a high compliance on wearing of face masks at the Shoprite Supermarket, Apo Resettlement, while a small percentage not wearing or wearing it on the jaw.

Some of the residents, customers and passengers who spoke on condition of anonymity admitted that COVID-19 is real but that they are tired of wearing a face mask.

A male security officer working at Shoprite said “I believe COVID-19 is real and I wear my face mask but it is just that I am tired of wearing it. I am not wearing now so that I can receive fresh air.”

A female customer, seen adjusting her face mask on her jaw, said that “I try to wear my face mask but it is not easy to wear it always, it is choking, that is why I am wearing it like this to get fresh air.”

However, at St. Charles Lwanga Parish Catholic Church, Apo Resettlement, on Sunday, there was high compliance of wearing face mask in the Church, although some parishioners did not wear it.

A female parishioner, who had her face mask on, said that she tried to comply with the COVID-19 protocol by wearing mask always, especially in public places.

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“I am committed to wearing a face mask to Church; it is part of my Christian obligations to obey the authority- the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and it is for my own good to keep safe.’’

NAN also observed that an announcement was made at the Church, encouraging parishioners to wear a face mask in Church.

Meanwhile, there was non-compliance of wearing face mask by “Keke Napep” drivers and motorbike riders at Kabusa junction close to Apo Mechanic village.

According to a rider, he wears his face mask because of dust, not COVID-19, saying “ I don’t believe there is COVID-19 in Nigeria.’’

Similarly, a Pet trader at Zone C, Apo Resettlement Estate, said “there is no COVID-19 again in Nigeria. There is no need for me to wear a face mask.”

Mr Felix Uche, the St. Gabriel Catholic Church Chaplain, Durumi, Abuja, who was one of the few seen putting on a mask on Sunday, said “we must be careful. We must remain vigilant. We mustn’t drop our guard.

“As reverend fathers, pastors and bishops, we need to tell our congregations to remain safe to stay alive.

“Clerics must protect the well-being of their congregations. Everyone must play their part and remain vigilant and take proper precautions.”

Pastor Timothy Dogara said that most Nigerians think that because they were no longer in lockdown, they were free from the danger of the virus.

Mrs Sarah Aziz of Grace Church, APO, Abuja, said that the Church observed physical distance but worshipers could take off their masks during service.

She said “like, during praise and worship, you don’t expect people to have their mask on. Truly the discomfort is something else.”

Some other Churches which comply with the COVID-19 protocols included the Family Worship Centre, Living Faith Church, Durumi and the Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had stated that “till date, 65,148 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, 61,073 patients discharged and 1,163 deaths recorded in 36 states of the federation and the FCT.”

It also disclosed that there were 2,912 active cases across the country.

The agency, therefore, advised Nigerians to continue to observe the COVID-19 protocols to stay safe, stressing that the Coronavirus pandemic was not over yet.

“Wear a face mask properly; avoid large gatherings, maintain physical distance from others.

“Let’s work together to protect ourselves and our country,” the centre stressed.