Rivers State Report:
Sequel to the introduction of health safety rules by the Rivers State Government to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the State,there has been several incidents reported within the State of little infants choking and gasping for breath after their parents ignorantly wore face masks on them, out of fear of flouting the government’s rules. The CSO Situation Room made up of civil societies in the State, is greatly alarmed by these reports as they are an indication of an acute lack of awareness amongst the populace, about the recommendations on the use of the facemask published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The level of public sensitisation about COVID-19 has been noticeably minimal in Rivers State. Though some parts of the State experienced a total lockdown for some days, imposed by the State Government, many residents in the State lamented that they were never enlightened about the pandemic,as the government appeared more interested in enforcing a strict compliance to the lockdown, than seeking the understanding and cooperation of the people.
A recent incident was reported to the CSO Situation Room, shortly after the lockdown in Port Harcourt was lifted, about a woman who boarded a commercial bus at Urualla junction in Diobu axis of Port Harcourt. She had an infant-child in her arms, and both the woman and her child had facemasks on. Unknown to the woman, the child started choking in the bus and it took the intervention of another passenger who raised an alarm, before the facemask was hurriedly taken off the child’s nose. It was reported that for several seconds, the child experienced tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. The child was visibly uncomfortable and could have suffocated, but for the timely intervention which saved the child’s life.
The CSO Situation Room therefore implores all parents and guardians of infants and toddlers, to pay more attention to the NCDC guidelines and recommendations on the use of facemasks, which prohibit the use of any type of facemask on children below 2 years of age, as they stand the risk of suffocating. Children under the age of 2 years are known to have smaller airways in their nostrils. Hence, parents and guardians must avoid placing restrictions over the nose and mouth of infants and toddlers. To protect such young children from contracting the coronavirus disease, parents are advised to always wash the hands of children with soap and water, and regularly sanitise all surfaces, door handles, toilets and items in the home. As much as possible, all infants and toddlers should be made to stay at home, when there is no compelling reason for them to be in a public place.
The CSO Situation Room also calls on the Rivers State Government to urgently begin a massive sensitisation campaign in each Local Government Area of the State, to raise more awareness about the health guidelines issued by the NCDC and the recommendations for each guideline, which are regularly being reviewed by the agency and published on its social media platforms. The government must be guided by the recommendations of the NCDC, as the country is presently witnessing a community spread of the pandemic and no State can tackle the crisis in isolation. The government must also ensure that officials of the State Task Force on COVID-19 and other Security operatives mandated to enforce the health safety rules, are educated on the exemption of children under 2 years from the use of facemasks, in order to prevent the unnecessary harassment of parents and guardians.