The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bayelsa State increased astronomically within a period of two days, following an increase in the number of tests conducted on samples of suspected cases taken from the State. The State still has no COVID-19 Test Centre. Given the rising number of confirmed cases in the neighbouring States, Rivers and Delta, coupled with the unrestricted movement of people across the boundaries between Bayelsa and the border States, it was predicted before now, by the CSO Situation Room, that Bayelsa State could witness a community transmission. Also, the failure to observe the stipulated guidelines to prevent a spread of the virus, such as the use of face masks and handsanitisers, regular hand washing and physical distancing, was a compelling reason to suspect that Bayelsa could be having more than the 32 confirmed cases which it had as of June 10, 2020, if more tests were conducted. Sadly, this suspicion has become a reality, with more tests being conducted. On June 16, Bayelsa recorded 54 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the State’s total number of confirmed cases to 86. This marks the highest number of reported cases in a single day, in the State. On the following day, June 17, Bayelsa recorded a new set of 25 confirmed cases, which further increased the number of infected persons to 111, as published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
Despite these disturbing reports and the failure of the State Government to enforce the public safety guidelines and other measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the CSO Situation Room which is a network of civil societies in the State, has continued its sensitisation campaigns in the eight Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the State. The CSO team has so far visited communities in Yenagoa, Sagbama, Nembe and Kolokuma LGAs. The communities visited include, Angalabiri, Toru-Orua, Ogbolomabiri, Igbeta, Ewoama and Kiama. The CSO team interacted with the people to raise awareness about the deadly nature of COVID-19, and the health safety rules which they must adhere to, in order to keep themselves and others around them, safe.
In the course of its monitoring and evaluation exercise,the CSO team observed the high level of non-compliance with public health guidelines and safety protocols in the LGAs visited, as very many residents are still in doubt as to the existence of the virus. Most inhabitants in these communities, do not wear face masks in public places, nor do they observe the physical distancing protocol. Use of hand sanitisers has been a foregone practice amongst the majority of people who no longer dread the viral disease. A few community members admitted experiencing symptoms of the disease, such as loss of smell and taste, but they resorted to the use of local herbs, garlic, ginger, honey and bitter kola in treating the symptoms. They did not contact the public health authorities. The reason they gave, was the fear of being quarantined against their will in an Isolation Centre, should they test positive to the virus. Now, they do not feel sick anymore, but, they do not know if the symptoms treated were manifestations of the coronavirus disease.
The CSO Situation Room during the public sensitisation, informed the people categorically, about the implications of the absence of a lockdown in the State, which indicates that the responsibility to prevent a community spread of the virus, does not lie with the government alone, but also, the people. The lockdown initially imposed in various States of the country, was subsequently eased and the restriction to movement, lifted. This was done, mainly for economic reasons, in spite of the steady spread of the pandemic in the country. It was also expected that there will be a sharp increase in the number of confirmed persons in Bayelsa and other States, if the inhabitants do not take responsibility by complying with the health safety rules, in the post-lockdown period. Community residents in Bayelsa, were reminded that the pandemic was not yet over in the country and there is still no known cure or vaccine for the virus till date. The people were therefore enjoined to act responsibly, by adhering to the health safety rules and reporting all suspected cases to the nearest health facility or the NCDC.
The CSO Situation Room condemns the inaction of most local actors in the State, in the face of the pandemic. Findings have shown that the leadership of the LGAs have not demonstrated serious commitment towards the eradication of the coronavirus disease in the respective LGAs. The CSO Situation Room calls for more aggressive action from the Chairmen of the LGAs, as well as traditional and religious leaders. The State Government is also urged to take seriously, the lessons learnt from other States currently grappling with a much higher number of COVID-19 infections. The government needs to effectively re-strategise, in the fight against the pandemic, in order to roll back the spread and flatten the curve, to prevent an escalation.