A woman wearing face mask walks outside the Central Mosque in Lagos, Nigeria Friday, March 20, 2020. Lagos government banned all religious activities for four weeks following confirmation of more cases of COVID-19 virus in Nigeria. (AP Photo/ Sunday Alamba)
Experts cite poor enforcement of guidelines, warn of more difficult days ahead
By Chioma Obinna
Non-compliance to the guidelines to contain raging coronavirus has shown a huge increase in infection rates across Nigeria and Lagos in particular. Between Monday and Thursday (four days), Nigeria recorded a total of 2,395 cases. Out of this number, Lagos contributed 33 per cent with a total of 793 cases. Sadly, despite the heavy toll of the infection, many Lagos residents have continued to flout the guidelines. Experts quoting unconfirmed statistics say 90 per cent of Lagosians do not wear a face mask.
Among the guidelines issued from the start of the containment of coronavirus was the wearing of face mask which falls under respiratory hygiene.
But like other guidelines, the use of a face mask has continuously been flouted by many Nigerians.
Studies have reportedly shown that COVID-19 is spread from aerosols and tiny viral particles. Unfortunately, people breathe in aerosols in crowded places like markets and buses among others and touch their face, unintentionally, many times with possibly infected hands. Experts say masks protect against all these.
Also, critical health watchers are worried about the development since the fears that there won’t be enough face masks to go round have been surmounted by the creativity of Nigerians.
Today, many tailors are making fabric face masks at an affordable price. With between N100 and N200, an individual could get a fabric face mask. For them, with this development, nobody has an excuse anymore not to wear a face mask in public places.
However, Lagos residents have jettisoned the use of face mask and other guidelines including social distancing. More pathetic is the fact that, out of the few people found with face mask, almost every one of them is wearing it as a ‘chin mask’.
The preponderance of this in Lagos immediately the lockdown was eased raises the question of the penchant of some Nigerians to disobey the law apparently, as a result of ignorance and lack of enforcement by the authorities.
Findings by Sunday Vanguard showed that the government has failed to prosecute defaulters which would have served as a deterrent to others.
But doing that merely shows the low state of mind of some people.
According to infectious disease experts, a face mask is one piece of Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, that can prevent COVID-19, stop the spread of the virus, together with social distancing, hand-washing, and save lives.
It was also revealed that many Lagosians are still wallowing in ignorance over Covid-19, no thanks to government as findings show that awareness about the disease has remained low. Many residents still do not understand the pandemic. For them, the outbreak of coronavirus was mere politics.
Mr. Sam Ugochukwu, a businessman at the Alaba market, says he does not wear a mask because he does not believe in the story.
“I don’t take the wearing of face mask seriously because what I think is at play is mere politics’, he said.
“Initially the records were true, but I can boldly say from experience that the records were doctored.
“Recently I left the hospital and the form presented to me had coronavirus patient after I was treated for a fever. How do you expect me to believe these people?”.
Another trader at the Amukoko market, Mrs. Stella Idemudia, called for more sensitization on coronavirus in Ajegunle and Amukoko environs as residents flout the use of face mask.
She expressed worry that many residents were already exposed due to the kind of activities that go on in the areas without compliance with the guidelines.
“Many people are already in grave danger because businesses are operating normally without the use of a face mask.”
To Mrs. Ifeoluwa Lawal, who owns a shop at the GSM village, Ikeja area of Lagos, the World Health Organisation, said only those infected and sick should wear a face mask.
“I am not sick, I am not a doctor. I am not doing surgery. I am not treating somebody, so why should I wear a mask? I see no reason why we are all asked to wear a face mask. Government is causing more fear than the virus.”
Mr. Kunle, on his part, said he did not see the reason why the wearing of a face mask should be made compulsory.
“I don’t believe in the measures taken by the government. People are not maintaining the social distance and yet nothing has happened to them”, he told Sunday Vanguard
“I believe that the real story behind coronavirus is yet unknown.”
Also, Mrs. Chinyere Ike said she was not comfortable with the cloth mask and could not afford to buy a surgical mask.
“I know there is coronavirus but I cannot breathe well while wearing a mask. My friend said I should buy a surgical mask but I cannot afford it.”
Compulsory wearing of face masks is among the Federal Government’s guidelines and it insisted that anyone without a face mask in public will be prosecuted.
To cascade the law down to his state, the governor of Lagos, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, also made the wearing of masks compulsory and threatened penalties and sanctions for anyone who violates the requirement to wear a mask.
Sanwo–Olu indicated that the state had made arrangements for the production of masks in large quantities for the people of Lagos, but, to date, many residents are asking questions about the whereabouts of the promised masks.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, also amplified the same message when it declared that face mask had become essential for Nigerians and that people wear them in addition to other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Despite this policy and the fact that the state had recorded 7,896 confirmed cases and 108 deaths as of last Thursday, the 18th of June, Lagosians have thrown caution to the wind.
The reality of coronavirus is no more in doubt; it is no longer news that a deadly invisible enemy is lurking around.
According to the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 Chairman, Mr. Boss Mustapha, the greatest challenge in the response to Covid-19 in Nigeria is the human challenge.
More so, the authorities and experts have warned that more than before, people are more likely to contract the virus because of the current spike of the infection.
According to the National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr. Sani Aliyu, with the number of cases recorded in the country in the last four or five weeks, it is more dangerous to flout the guidelines now that there is no relaxation.
Sani, who expressed displeasure over the public flouting of the safety guidelines, said the outbreak was not over, pointing out that the lockdown was relaxed to sustain the livelihood of Nigerians, particularly those who depend on the daily income for survival and to sustain the economy.
Speaking on the Covid-19 guidelines, the Chairman, Medical Guild, Dr. Oluwajimi Sodipo, said masks are supposed to cover the nose and mouth and not the chin.
“We have noticed that a lot of persons do not wear masks in public places. It is mandatory for masks to be worn in public places. There are also concerns about physical distancing and the issue of mass gatherings”, Sodipo told Sunday Vanguard.
Warning that more difficult days are ahead, he lamented that 90 per cent of Lagosians don’t wear masks.
His words: “Lagos State government has failed to enforce the guidelines it put in place to check the spread of the virus. We are worried as Medical Guild because we feel that the government has not been able to enforce the measures. There is no social distancing or use of a face mask. Hand washing is not in existence and 90 per cent of the people are not using face masks. It is already showing in the number of infections and deaths”.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Professor Wasiu Adeyemo, said face mask is one single piece of PPE that can prevent COVID-19, saying this is why people must wear it if Nigeria must flatten the curve.
Adeyemo said people cannot afford not to wear a mask as it can easily prevent infection.
“It does not matter any type of mask, any mask is better than no mask”, he said.
The professor, who also stressed that in many parts of Lagos people no longer wear face masks, said: “People have lowered their guard. I was in Ikorodu last weekend and it looked like people in the area are from a different world entirely; some of us wearing face masks were looking like strangers. People still do not believe the virus is very contagious.
“At the birthday party I witnessed, I saw over 100 people, and not even a single person was wearing a face mask. This is the reason why we are having more numbers of COVID -19 cases. The numbers are not a joke.”
Separately, a public health physician, Dr. Imeh Okon, expressed the fear that the poor usage of a mask could escalate the number of coronavirus cases, explaining that face masks (surgical especially) and cloth masks with good fabric prevent an infected/suspect case from spreading the virus.
According to her, if people mask up since COVID-19 was not written on anyone’s face, together with other precautionary measures, the spread would be controlled.
She said face mask usage has dropped in Lagos significantly because some people thought COVID -19 is a hoax.
Okon advised Lagosians not to wait until their loved ones become casualties before they take precautions adding, “It is better to err on the side of caution.
“Some fabrics can be suffocating which is one of the reasons usage has dropped. It is actually difficult to use it for a prolonged period; that is why people should only go out when absolutely necessary albeit for a short period. So you can have a free ‘breathing’ time.
“One should release to get fresh air to prevent hypoxia (lack of adequate oxygen) in the body. Nobody should see the wearing of a face mask as a joke”.
The physician urged the government to increase sensitization using gatekeepers and influencers such as community and religious leaders, etc to reinforce COVID -19 positive messages.
“Some countries have tried enforcing guidelines by introducing fines, and use of law enforcement agents but the use of people well respected in society to create positive reinforcement messages may have a better and longer-lasting positive impact”.
As coronavirus rages, stakeholders believe that there is a need for the state government to begin to enforce the guidelines and also fulfill its promise of producing masks in a larger quantity.
No doubt law enforcement officers are overwhelmed with the situation which makes individuals responsible for their behaviour.