From Maurice Okafor, Enugu
The Enugu State Ad hoc Expert Medical Advisory Committee (EMAC) on de-escalation of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) transmission has advised the state government to put in place stricter enforcement measures that will help contain the spread of the virus in the state.
Briefing newsmen in Enugu on their findings so far, Prof. Emmanuel Ejim, who is the Chairman of the 12-man committee, recently constituted by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, harped on the urgent need for the enforcement of “compulsory wearing of face masks, observing of physical distancing and ensuring hand hygiene”.
The committee, which has a two-week duration to submit its report, was mandated to engage with leaders of various religious groups, market associations, professional associations, labour unions, National Union of Road Transport Workers Enugu State Chapter, Association of Tricycle Riders Transport Union, civil society groups, organized private sector and all other relevant stakeholders.
It was also mandated to “recommend urgent and effective measures for de-escalation of transmission of Coronavirus infection in Enugu State, with due regard to all extant Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols for containment of the spread of the COVID-19”.
During the press briefing, Prof. Ejim said that their findings revealed that the stakeholders they interfaced with acknowledged the existence of COVID-19 but expressed concerns that the commitment and capacity to enforce the necessary preventive measures “were all being undermined by several factors that we continue to unearth”.
He pointed out that “a key recommendation therefore, will be for the government to broaden and deepen the enforcement of the use of face masks amongst citizenry and penalize defaulters so as to drive home the importance of these key preventive measures”.
The Chairman who expressed worries that many people do not still believe that COVID-19 is real, disclosed that the stakeholders were of the opinion that “seeing is believing” and that the government should involve the services of the neighborhood watch groups and forest guards in enforcement of COVID-19 prevention advisories in the rural areas “where it seems very little has changed despite the escalation of the outbreak”.
While employing the media to cooperate with the government in creating more awareness that the pandemic is not a “scam”, Prof. Ejim stressed that “this is clearly an indication of a suboptimal risk communication and a challenge all of us must face head on, if we are to save our lives and that of those in our communities”.
According to him, “we therefore have evidence from stakeholders across the markets, transport sector, healthcare system, religious bodies and the security operatives to call on government to strongly consider putting in place stricter enforcement measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state”.
The chairman explained that chief among the measures is the universal use of breathable (cloth) face masks by all, stating that “this remains the top evidence-based intervention that demonstrably reduces the transmission of COVID-19; particularly when combined with strict social distancing and restriction of crowding”.
His words: “Relatedly, this explains clearly why public gatherings for worship and celebrations need to be curtailed in scale, number of attendees, frequency of occurrence and length of time. Reduction in all these variables with regards to public gatherings will limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.
Additionally, elaborate burial ceremonies in an era of high rates of probable COVID-19 cases who may have passed on before a test result was done, puts the public at risk and therefore needs to be rethought”
Noting that the outbreak has continued to be a serious concern for all responsible citizens, Prof. Ejim consequently called on “our brothers and sisters to adhere to publicized preventive measures of social distancing, universal face mask use, hand hygiene practices and most importantly self isolating at home if “one” has lost his/her sense of smell/taste or if you have a fever”.
In his brief remark, the committee secretary, Dr. Chinemerem Dan Onwuliri, emphasized “the need for the people of the state to conduct their own personal risk assessment” to enable them regulate their daily public activities in order to reduce the spread of the viral disease.