Our fears living close to isolation centres —Residents

•Why we can’t relocate you —Govt

SYLVESTER OKORUWA and SEGUN KASALI probed into happenings at isolation centres’ neighbourhoods and testing centres, bringing an eyewitness account.

Lagos, which has the highest number of patients with COVID-19 infection, understandably has the highest number of isolation centres, topping four as of the last count. While two have been in use and frequently in news, two new ones located at Landmark Exhibition Centre in Victoria Island and Gbagada Hospital are also waiting to be put to use.

The functional three, that is, the Infectious Disease Centre at Yaba, the centre at Onikan stadium and Lagos University Teaching Hospital Complex (LUTH), Idi-Araba, have seen much of good news in recent time with tens of patients getting discharged, though not without their shares of recorded deaths.

While much attention has been paid to the patients and the health workers handling them, those who live in the neighbourhoods of the isolation centres have been raising concerns.

For an airborne, highly contagious virus, the isolation centres at Onikan and Yaba where the pandemic patients are being mainly treated are believed by many to be too close for comfort for Lagosians living in those areas.

 

Yaba centre too close for comfort?

Yaba Isolation Centre is situated at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Mainland Hospital which is not far from residential areas within the community. This also applies to Onikan Isolation Centre and Tobi Opemipo isn’t satisfied with the siting of the treatment centres.

Opemipo, a resident of Abule- Ijesha, behind Yaba isolation centre, feels the centre is too close for his liking. He, however, said he had no plan to move out of the vicinity despite the proximity to the Infectious Disease Hospital because there had not been a reported case due to such closeness. He said he had not subjected himself to testing due to the rigours of the process. He added that he experienced no symptoms of the virus yet, although there have been cases of asymptomatic patients.

“Proximity to an isolation centre like this makes one wonder if the disease is closer to them than expected, especially considering what happened in Kano State recently where some of the workers at the isolation/testing centers reportedly contracted the COVID-19 virus, causing the state government to temporarily shut down the centre. Considering the situation of our health sector, I am not comfortable with such a centre being close to me.

“I have not been tested, reason being that testing is done strictly by appointment with medical personnel. Secondly, I have not noticed any of the signs or symptoms of the virus such as sneezing, high fever and coughing. Of course, I would have undergone the test but I have not heard that anyone in my immediate environment has contracted the virus,” he said.

He expressed concern about how the government has handled the palliative measures, saying the demands of the residents had not been met, considering that the gesture did not cover a large number of persons, especially those experiencing hardship. He said research has shown that an average resident of the state lives on daily wage.

“Our demand has not been met in my own opinion. Palliatives ranging from monetary sum/food items should be distributed, covering a large scope of individuals so as to reduce the hardship currently being faced. This is because most Nigerians live mainly on what they earn per day,” Opemipo stated.

 

Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Hakeem Odumosu (second right) and Commander, Rapid Response Squad (RRS), DCP Tunji Disu (third right), leading other officers and men to enforce compliance with the lockdown order of the state government at Odi Olowo-Ojuwoyi Market in Mushin, on Thursday. Photos: Sylvester Okoruwa.

To govt, we don’t exist –CDA chair

The leader of Abule-Ijesha Community Development Association, Chief Isaac Ajewole, said there is no cause for alarm regarding the location of the Yaba Isolation Centre close the residential area. Chief Ajewole, however, alleged that the state government had neglected the area. He explained that they enjoy no amenities like good roads, water supply and effective drainage system. The community leader accused the government of only seeking their patronage at election times.

“Regarding the location of the isolation centre here, there is no cause for fear as the hospital is adequately fenced in case any patient decides to run away from the centre and into the community. What is disturbing is government’s neglect of our community. Here in Abule-Ijesha, we have no good road, no effective drainage system and water supply is bad. They only look for us during election time. Thereafter, they discard us like we never exist,” Ajewole alleged.

 

A policeman and a soldier at a checkpoint at 7-Up Tollgate. Photos: Sylvester Okoruwa.

‘I’m apprehensive’

Another resident of the area, Atanda Olowopejo, said he was a little apprehensive over the proximity of an isolation centre to his vicinity. He cited the possibility of a patient sneaking out of the centre into the community. According to him, the only thing close to that was the alleged attempt by the index case, the Italian patient who eventually recovered, to escape from the isolation centre because he was the only patient then and relatives were not allowed to be with him. The report was denied by the authorities.

Again, three crew members of an airline which flew an international route for the sake of the country were also alleged to have fled the quarantine centre, an allegation debunked by the airline management, which claimed the affected suspects didn’t know they were to go straight into quarantine after the flight.

Olowopejo, however, said he had not been tested due to the fact that he was not manifesting any COVID-19 symptoms. Like Opemipo, he stated there was no tangible reason to leave his area due to the nearness to the isolation centre since no one had ever come out to say he or she contracted the virus by living close to an isolation centre.

“I am a bit apprehensive because if one of them runs away, people around this locality would be at the risk of infection. I have not been tested because I have not seen symptoms of COVID-19. I will not leave this area because I have not seen cases of infection due to proximity to the isolation centre,” Atanda said.

He, however, charged the government to do more in the area of adequate testing and provision of palliatives for the people in view of the lockdown of the state.

 

‘Government should relocate us’

A resident of Akoka in Yaba, John Okeluwe, expressed fear over the location of the isolation centre in the area. He also explained that he had not been tested because of non-exhibition of symptoms and nobody in the area had been reported to have tested positive for the virus. Okeluwe, however, said he would relocate from the area once the pandemic is over.

Speaking on demands from government, he advocated more testing. He noted that Nigeria had done less than 10,000 tests in the past one month and described the situation as alarming. According to him, some other countries had carried out more than 60,000 tests within the time frame.

Tosin Olopade lives at the Onikan area of Lagos. He said he was not concerned about the proximity of his residence to the isolation centre. “I will continue to live there since I have no alternative accommodation. Will I sleep on the road? The government is supposed to relocate every household in that vicinity to another environment to avoid the risk of contracting the virus. At this period, to survive is a very serious matter, yet there have been no palliatives from the federal, state or local government. It is quiet painful as a giant of Africa,” he said.

Olopade has also not been tested and neither has he made himself available for testing. He claimed that the NCDC personnel have not come for him.

 

Security personnel on duty at a boundary between Lagos and Ogun State on the Lagos-Ibadan Expresswayway.

‘Testing kits only for the rich’   

Another resident of the area, Blessing Michael, said she wasn’t scared of her current location and wondered why she should be. When asked about testing for the virus, she alleged that the testing kits were only meant for influential people and not for everyone. State authorities had debunked such claims in the past.

Segun Sowunmi is a resident of Police Barracks in the area. He said it is human to be scared when “such a dangerous centre” is located close to one’s residence. He, however, said nothing called for jitters at the moment. Sowunmi expressed the belief that the centre is secure enough and does not pose any danger to the residents of the community. Regarding the curfew that will replace the lockdown from Monday, he said the new measure is preferable to the ongoing lockdown which, according to him, is stopping people from going out to look for their daily bread. A daily income earner himself, he said the new guideline proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari would also help in fighting against the spread of the virus.

 

A reporter’s diary

As the COVID-19 lockdown enters the fifth week, residents of the state are struggling to cope with the situation, though the presidential directive is still largely being obeyed despite the rising number of violators.

Hunger has been mainly blamed for the violation of the order which has seen even those who would be deemed comfortable at normal times becoming secret kabukabu drivers – using their luxury cars, including jeeps, for commercial purposes. Many of such emergency drivers are cleared to move around as part of the essential service providers. Even those not cleared to move around during the lockdown are also joining the kabukabu craze, bribing their way through checkpoints, all in a bid not to become beggars like many have in the last five weeks. Nearly all violators of the stay-at-home and social distancing regulations have cited hunger for their action.

 

Getting tested

A Saturday Tribune correspondent also presented himself for COVID-19 test in order to have a firsthand experience and be able to give an eyewitness account of the processes of getting tested. He was also out to seek an explanation for the noise about inadequate testing and complicated procedure.

With testing centres now in the 20 local government areas of the state, coupled with the three main testing centres at Yaba Infectious Hospital, NIMR, Yaba and LUTH, our correspondent first reported sick at a private hospital in Ketu, from where the doctor on duty referred him to Gbagada General Hospital. At the emergency section, our correspondent did not get the required attention for someone on a referral.

Our correspondent then moved to NIMR testing centre to be tested. From the street leading to the testing centre, you encounter a banner directing you to the testing area. The gate is always locked by the security officer on duty. As you approach the gate, the security officer asks for your registration code, which means before you can be tested, you must have filled an online form at nimrcovid.com.ng, an app created by co-creation hub.

If your registration online is successful, the app generates a code for you to be tested at the centre. The online registration captures your personal information where you have been to, whom you have met recently, your medical history and recent symptoms. If you go without a car, you are disinfected with chemicals before you are allowed entry into the centre. But if you drive in, your car is disinfected with chemicals. If you come in a car, you are not allowed to step down. You just drive in. You are asked some questions and then the test is done.

Samples are taken from your nose and mouth by fully kitted medical personnel. Everything is done with care. The atmosphere is full of anxiety, just like a woman waiting for pregnancy test or HIV test. The process is also fast and professional.

When Saturday Tribune got to the centre, they were about closing for the day and there were no persons waiting to be tested. It was a few minutes to 4.00 p.m.

One significant difference between getting tested at local government centres and the main centres is, while you call to be tested at the LG centres, the main centre at Yaba requires you registering online and having a code.

 

COVID blues in Lagos

As the battle against the killer virus rages in Lagos State, with many more residents breaking the ground rules meant to combat it, the nagging question is whether the residents, including members of the elite class, are either not sufficiently informed of the consequences or they just choose to ignore them.

With the state government doing everything to fight the pandemic and save lives, how responsive are the residents to the call by government to stay at home, wash their hands regularly, avoid crowed environments, use hand sanitiser and take advantage of the testing centers to know their COVID-19 status?

Visits to different parts of the state showed that many people were indoors, while a few others still moved around and on major highways. On the streets, it is virtually business as usual.

From the first day of the lockdown on March 28, one could move around so easily from one point to another with the hectic traffic going on immediate suspension. Checkpoints were mounted by men of the Nigerian Army, the police, Neighborhood Watch and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). Only vehicles carrying essential goods like petroleum products, food and medical items and those on essential services like security officers, medical personnel, journalists and legitimate state officials were seen allowed to pass.

Soon, the stubborn streak of Lagos residents began to manifest as those who do not have business being on the road started showing up, even creating gridlocks on major highways. Many vehicles owners were unlucky to have their vehicles impounded, while others bribed their way out of the situation. Though pardoned for their iniquity, the state government says they won’t have the impounded vehicles back until the pandemic is over.

 

Egunje galore

At the checkpoints, it has mostly been business as usual for the security officers, especially in the handling of those without a clearance to move about. It is either you ‘settle’ the officer on duty or your vehicle is impounded. A motorist who was arrested at Okota was lucky have a video clip of the police officer collecting N40,000 from him. The culprit was arrested and the money returned to the owner.

The most common factor is that unlike what obtains in other countries and major cities of the world where security officers have been consistently seen on COVID-19 line of duty, well kitted with protective gears, officers enforcing compliance on Lagos roads were even hardly seen wearing face masks.

Saturday Tribune saw these officers on many occasions interacting with motorists without any form of protection. Without doubt, these officers were putting their lives in jeopardy. Some lockdown violators were still seen, with effrontery, pleading for ride from those on essential services with many questioning why they should be on the road at all if they didn’t have the means, using available vehicles or running emergency commercial transportation.

This bus stop spectacle was a daily reoccurrence

A Saturday Tribune correspondent who encountered some of these stranded residents noted that they weren’t getting any help due to the fear that they could have dark intentions for coming out without means of transportation. Apart from the likelihood of some of them being armed robbers, their COVID-19 status was said to be another reason for vehicle owners not stopping when flagged down. It was also observed that at many check points, questions were always asked about extra persons in vehicles with pass to move around, considering the suspicion of car owners running commercial services.

Saturday Tribune also noticed that security officers are especially targeting car owners with others riding in their vehicles, some carrying passengers to the full capacity of their vehicles and breaching the social distancing order of the state government.

 

Lagos roads without danfo

In the first week of the lockdown, many stubborn danfo drivers were seen still operating until they were arrested and their vehicles impounded. Without them on the roads, there was an uncommon sanity. The roads were devoid of constant blaring of horns by the passenger-seeking drivers, danfo conductors’ chorus of Oshodi, Oshodi, loudspeakers playing loud music, among others.

If there is a major benefit of the lockdown for the state, it is the near-absolute absence of noise pollution from the worship centres, shops, malls, banks, companies, among others. Movements were also easy. Within minutes, you are at your destination, unlike what the situation was and is expected to be when the lockdown is lifted in another 48 hours.

 

Why we can’t relocate Yaba, Onikan residents –Govt

The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, reacting to issues raised by the residents, said: “We are not testing everybody now. Have they gone to the tracking centre at their local government? Are they showing symptoms? Not everybody is being tested now.

“On whether they will be relocated, I don’t think they are facing any danger. That the hospital is located in their community does not mean they are at greater risk. The hospital has always been there and don’t forget that people are working there, who are living inside there.

“Palliative is not for all Lagosians. There is no government that can feed 22 million people or more. It is for the poorest of the poor. It is for the needy, and we have given to all manner of people in the state, including the disabled. I mean people who cannot fend for themselves, old people, community associations, ethnic group associations, artisan associations and on and on like that. And we are proud to say the programme is successful.”

Additional Report by BOLA BADMUS.

 

 

 

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