The Coronavirus diaries (13)

The Coronavirus diaries (13)

Festus ERIYE

WHAT is it about the novel coronavirus that makes it shameful? Many who come down with it prefer denial – except overwhelmed by symptoms. Some get tested but list fake phone numbers and addresses so they can’t be traced!




I was told of two families who virtually went to war after an individual who knew a neighbour was exhibiting obvious COVID-19 symptoms, secretly called NCDC and gave them an address where the sick man could be found.

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After he was evacuated, his family traced the whistleblower and a full scale physical confrontation ensued. Why did he call NCDC they wanted to know? They didn’t care whether his action was a humanitarian gesture that saved others in the block of flats from being infected. They were instead angry he had exposed a family secret that was better hidden!

Stigma is a major factor fuelling the spread of the virus as more infected persons hide their status as though they have leprosy.

It’s even worse when infection becomes fatal. It’s as if death by COVID-19 is more woeful than death by other means. This past week, the demise of two high profile Nigerians, and the manner in which their passing was announced, captured this point.

For weeks reports had indicated former Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, had coronavirus and was being treated at the same Lagos hospital that handled President Muhammadu Buhari’s former Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari’s, case.

Following his death, Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Akin Abayomi, issued a transparent statement that revealed he died of multiple organ failure arising from complications caused by COVID-19.

At the weekend, Kogi State Chief Judge, Nasir Ajanah, died at an isolation centre in Gwagwalada, Abuja. The government’s announcement was just an acknowledgment of his passing, but two days later Governor Yahaya Bello filled the missing gaps.

He declared emphatically that the judge’s death wasn’t related to COVID-19. We must then assume he was being treated for dysentery at the isolation centre!

The governor who keeps insisting his state is virus free – despite the testimonies of doctors and the NCDC, suggested that certain persons for “political and mischief purposes” were behind claims that Ajanah’s death was caused by the virus.

“Do not give in to fear and evil of the issues of COVID-19… it is a disease that has been imported, propagated and forced on the people for no just cause,” he said.

“Nothing kills faster than fear. I urge you all not to accept cut and paste as COVID-19. It is only out to create fear, panic, orchestrated to reduce and shorten the lifespan of the people.

“Whether medical experts and scientists believe it or not, COVID-19 is out to shorten the lifespans of the people. It is a disease propagated by force, for Nigerians to accept.”

Put simply, the governor is saying when it comes to health and medicine, believe what a politician tells you over any doctor or scientist’s opinion.

There’s just something about the Nigerian gubernatorial seat that inflates a man’s ego such that he wakes up every morning thinking he’s suddenly an expert on everything from archaeology to epidemiology. But nothing is more embarrassing, or deadlier, than folly unrecognised.

Now, from the unbelieving to the converted, there’s still not much to cheer. World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Monday warned that the “worst is yet to come” from the pandemic if governments around the world don’t adopt the right strategies.

He said: “Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up. Some countries have now experienced a resurgence of cases as they start to reopen their economies and societies.”

A similar message is being pushed in Nigeria by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 which, while acknowledging that the outbreak is not even close to its peak, continues its strategy of gradual easing.

This week, the farcical inter-state travel ban was lifted. While it lasted, people were crisscrossing the country by paying off compromised security agents at checkpoints. Now, it’s official – people can move again. The fear, however, is the virus would travel with them.

With infections not slowing down in the epicentre of Lagos, it appears the dreaded and unpopular lockdown might be back any moment now. The NCDC says 60% of cases in the country are found in just 18 of its 774 local government areas.

It now plans ‘precision lockdown’ in these localities. Many of these places are in Lagos – meaning the return of city-wide shutdown through the back door. The last such exercise was largely ineffective because of widespread non-compliance.

Up north, Kano continues to project a picture of progress with infections seeming to have plateaued. But a recent report by popular American website www.thedailybeast.com titled “Nigeria’s Gravediggers Bury Secret COVID Victims Every Day,” claims strange deaths haven’t ceased.

It quotes gravediggers at the Abbatuwa Cemetry as saying in normal times they dug two graves a day. But something unusual began happening in April that saw them excavating up to 40 per day! The numbers are not that high anymore: now they only bury 11 persons daily.

The fatalities may not all be COVID-related, but a Federal Government investigation of strange deaths in Kano found that of 979 cases in April and May, 60% were caused by coronavirus. Using those same parameters means official figures are still incredibly rosy.

Let’s end on the note of celebrities behaving badly. After the brouhaha surrounding Naira Marley’s recent concert at the Jabi Lake Mall, Abuja, you would have thought others have learnt a lesson.

Another star – D’Banj – is in the news after performing at a crowded party in Abuja where attendees ignored social distancing rules. Judging by the precedence of the Marley incident, no one should expect FCT authorities to make an example of a celebrity. Especially, not one who popularised the exclamation – ‘File!’ – Yoruba for ‘leave it alone’ or ‘drop it!’

NOTE: I have written these diaries for 13 unbroken weeks. But going forward they would appear intermittently – as occasion demands – affording me room to cast an eye on other issues of moment.



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