Bayelsa at risk of more ‘imported’ COVID-19 cases, says CSO Situation Room

Bayelsa State Report:

The CSO Situation Room has observed with dismay, the incessant inter-State border crossing by people,in flagrant violation of the border closure order imposed by both the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Bayelsa State Government. The Civil Society Organisations which make up the CSO Situation Room, have noted that several persons travel in and out of Bayelsa State daily through the border communities, and they illegally cross over the State’s boundaries, into a neighbouring State, either by offering bribe to security agents at the borders, or by ‘settling’ some community folks who then guide the travellers safely through bush paths that lead them out of the State. This has become a popular, but discreet means for some community youth to line their pockets with ill-gotten money.Sadly, it has led to an even bigger problem which is that of ‘imported’ cases of the coronavirus disease. Within the last one week, Bayelsa State has recorded not less than 5 new confirmed cases, one of which was an imported case of a traveller who came in from Delta State, passed through the porous borders into Bayelsa State and tested positive to coronavirus within two days of his arrival in Bayelsa. This has caused panic amongst health workers and some government officials in the State, as the possibility that the State may soon become saddled with the daunting challenge of catering to the medical and nutritional needs of several imported cases ‘inherited’ from other high-risk areas of the country, owing to the poor enforcement of the border closure order, has become glaring. Till date, the State has no testing centre and the government dreads a situation where the State will become overwhelmed by more imported cases, and the likelihood of a community transmission resulting therefrom.
Every imported case, having tested positive to coronavirus, is counted as a confirmed case of the State where it was detected, that is, the State where samples were taken from a suspected case for testing. Hence, the imported case discovered in Bayelsa State few days ago, increased the statistics of coronavirus in Bayelsa, and not Delta State where the infection is presumed to have occurred. The exception however, is when the imported case was already being contact-traced from another State as a suspected case, having come in contact with a confirmed case in that other State; in which case, such an infected person may be taken back to the State where the infection presumably occurred, with the supervision of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The flash-point border communities of Bayelsa State through which travellers and community traders exit and re-enter the State at anytime of the day, are located within some Local Government Area (LGAs), which include Yenagoa, Nembe, Brass, Sagbama, Southern Ijaw and Ogbia. Information gathered, indicate that these youths, mainly young boys, ask for ‘fair’sums of money as ‘settlement for the boys’, which most travellers find more affordable and convenient to part with, than having to contend with soldiers and other security agents stationed at the main roads leading to the State, whose bribe-demands have been known to be higher. This has become a typical situation where unscrupulous persons turn a chaotic moment into a money-spinning one for themselves. Having noticed the seeming inability of the government at all levels to control and contain the spread of coronavirus in the country with the number of confirmed cases increasing in hundreds daily, these selfish elements are now revelling in the chaos by taking advantage of the lapses in the weak enforcement of the border closure order in Bayelsa State, with a view to profiting from it. Together with those who offer them bribe, they have made the fight against the pandemic more difficult for the government and well-meaning inhabitants of Bayelsa State and Nigeria in general.
The Bayelsa State Government in its frantic struggle to restore order in the fight against COVID-19, has again extended the partial lockdown in the State by two weeks. The State Governor, Douye Diri who announced the extension, emphasised that the 8pm – 8am curfew shall be strictly enforced in every LGA in the State, as he warned that the ban on inter-State border movement has not been lifted.Governor Diri further directed that all essential service providers who need to gain access into the State must subject themselves to screening at the border points.
The CSO Situation Room at a recent meeting with representatives of the Bayelsa State Government, reiterated its pledge to complement the efforts of the government in the continuous sensitisation campaigns across the State and called on the government to expedite the needed action in its decision to extend the partial lockdown, by deploying resources towards ensuring an immediate and effective enforcement of the ban on inter-State travel at the State’s boundaries, as well as a strict compliance with all public health safety guidelines by residents in every LGA of the State.