By Lillian Akhigbe:
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, published a breakdown of the number of tests for coronavirus conducted in each State in Nigeria and the FCT, as of May, 17, 2020. According to the NCDC report, a total of 35,983 tests have been conducted in Nigeria as a whole (as of May 17, 2020). Of that number, only a meagre 70 was done on samples collected from Bayelsa State of which 6 have turned out positive
The number of tests carried out in Nigeria as a whole within the last three months, is about 36,000. This is abysmally low when compared with the level of testing going on in some other countries. China for example, conducts an average of 110,000 tests in a day. Little wonder, why the country has been able to make appreciable progress in its bid to flatten the curve of the pandemic. At the rate at which tests are being conducted in Nigeria, it will take quite a long while for tests to be conducted on as many as 2 Million people, which make up about 1% of the estimated 200 Million people living in the country.
Market activities in a popular market in Yenagoa, during the partial lockdown in Bayelsa State
The low test rate in the entire country is a disappointing drawback on the fight to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. However, the very poor level of testing so far conducted in Bayelsa, is a shocking anomaly which should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Bayelsa lies between Delta and Rivers, two States that have had 357 and 348 tests respectively, according to the NCDC report. Given the low compliance with the ban on inter-state travels within the last one month, it beggars belief that the conducting of tests was not intensified in Bayelsa these past weeks. Bayelsa appears to have been relegated to the background in contact tracing and testing. With a paltry amount of 70 tests carried out in Bayelsa, there is a likelihood that the State will have more positive cases than the six confirmed, for two main reasons: Firstly, inter-state travels are still taking place despite the imposed ban, because many security agents saddled with the responsibility of manning those inter-state boundaries and enforcing the ban, are collecting bribe from and granting passage to people desperate to cross over to a neighbouring state, and secondly, the State has been on a relaxed lockdown, movement is not largely restricted and the Bayelsa Government has not effectively enforced strict compliance with the stipulated health safety guidelines by the residents of the State..
Drawing an inference from statistics provided in the NCDC report above, if the neighbouring Rivers State that has been and is still currently on a lockdown, has had 348 tests conducted on the suspected cases within the State,of which 51 tested positive for coronavirus (as of May 17, 2020), then there is a reasonable probability that when the total lockdown imposed in parts of Rivers State is eventually relaxed, there could be a community spread of COVID-19 from Bayelsa and other neighbouring communities into Port Harcourt and Obio Akpor.
It has been widely reported that security personnel mandated to enforce the ban on inter-state travel have compromised by collecting bribe and allowing people to move freely to and fro the States. The situation is no different at the boundary between Bayelsa and Rivers, as well as Bayelsa and Delta. Between Rivers and Abia States, as well as Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, there are barricades along the roads connecting the States. But the security personnel stationed around those barricades to prevent people from crossing have reportedly compromised and people have been seen moving in and out of these States regularly. What this portends is that, in Rivers State where there is currently a total lockdown in Port Harcourt and ObioAkpor, the other communities within Rivers State wherein the boundary between the State and Bayelsa lies, which are not included in the lockdown, now constitute weak links through which Port Harcourt and ObioAkpor will remain susceptible to coronavirus, even if the lockdown succeeds at ridding both LGAs of the virus.These boundary communities in Rivers that link the State to Bayelsa State include the Engenni communities of Mbiama, Okarki and Join krama in Ahoada Local Government Area, as well as the communities in Akuku-Toru, Abua/Odual and Oga/Ndonni/Egbama Local Governments. With the inter-state borders made porous by unscrupulous security officers, people have been moving very freely into Rivers State from Bayelsa and vice versa.
It therefore stands to reason that if Bayelsa State is experiencing low contact-tracing and testing, and if people are moving sporadically into Rivers from Bayelsa, then chances are, the number of positive cases in Rivers will be on the rise, and in the event that there is a community spread in the boundary communities in Rivers State, Port Harcourt and Obio Akpor LGAs will certainly not be insulated by the total lockdown. It will only be a matter of time and a short time that is, before the community spread will make a complete mockery of the total lockdown endured by the people in Port Harcourt and Obio Akpor, as both LGAs do not exist in a bubble. They are not ‘islands’, but are part of a larger and closely-knitted geographical entity.
The Rivers State Government has announced to the public that the lockdown will be in place till further notice. No time frame was given. But, nature abhors a vacuum. A lockdown can never be ad infinitum. There will certainly come a time when the people will have to be reconnected to their means of livelihood in order to survive and when that time comes, the underlying factors explained above indicate that there will be a massive community spread from Bayelsa where the rate of testing is still significantly poor, into the States at its flanks, Rivers and Delta, where inter-state travels remain unhindered, or vice versa.
Although COVID-19 has no known cure, it cannot be over-emphasized, that the most effective ways of controlling the spread of the virus so far observed worldwide, are through an enhanced contact-tracing and testing of very many persons daily, an isolation of all suspected cases pending the outcome of their test results as some could be asymptomatic, and a mandatory enforcement of all stipulated health safety rules, which include the compulsory use of a face mask in public places, physical distancing, regular hand-washing, use of sanitisers, as well as eating and exercising regularly to boost the immune system of a person’s body to be able to wade off the disease.(COVID-19 has no cure, but can be surmounted by the antibodies in a healthy person)