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Ebonyi State has been proactive in preventing spread of coronavirus – Information commissioner

Orji Uchenna Orji is Ebonyi State commissioner for information and state orientation and acting commissioner for human capital development and monitoring. In this interview with Nkechinyere Oginyi, Orji speaks on measures taken by the state government to contain the spread of coronavirus. He insists that the five cases recorded in the state were imported by returnees from states ravaged by the pandemic.

Ebonyi State has recorded five cases of coronavirus pandemic. What do you think caused this outbreak of the virus in the state?
As a matter of fact, the five index cases we have recorded were discovered as a result of intensive enforcement of the regulations and precautionary measures adopted by Ebonyi State government as a result of the escalation of coronavirus pandemic in parts of Nigeria. We are conscious of the fact that we already have what we call epicentre states, that is, flashpoints or affected states. We are conscious that returnees (Ebonyians) from such states might come in through illegal means to Ebonyi State and so the governor, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, through his regulations ordered that all the borders, all entry and exit points, should be closed.
But we also had a window that if there are Ebonyians insisting that they will come in, if they are already at the border, after all our requests that they should stay wherever they are for the time being, if they by any means find their way to the border areas, the task force would need to intercept them and take them to the quarantine centre. As I speak with you, we have three quarantine/isolation centres. We have the one at the Unity Square, we have the one at the Virology Centre, that is, FETHA 2, and the one at Enugu/Ngalagu boundary.
So our idea is that when we get these people, we move them straight and that is the case with the five persons that tested positive. So for us, it is not a discouraging situation. It is a situation that makes us understand that our regulations are really working because it is through this means that we caught the returnees red-handed while around Ebonyi even before getting to their destinations. Before uniting with their families, we had intercepted them and taken them straight to the isolation centre. And these five cases were discovered in the course of health examination and of course, so far they have been quarantined and necessary medical attention given to them.

But the truth of the matter is that this is a healthy situation in the sense that we have minimal physical contact arising from our policy and regulation as a state. It is also a healthy situation in the sense that we have zero community transmission because we didn’t allow any breathing space for people from other states to come and get our people infected. It is also like that because we have facility for screening, we ensured that such persons were screened and those that tested positive were isolated. For us it is a good development. I must emphasise that the governor of Ebonyi State has been proactive in the preventive measures he did adopt. He thinks that in all of this we shouldn’t close down our economic activities in the state but we should man all our entry and exit points no matter how tiny they are. We had therefore charged all the task force members, security agents, the entire anti-coronavirus committee wherever they are, communities, development centres and local government areas officials to be on ground day and night to ensure that whoever that comes in is examined and that is where we are today. So far it has been eventful. You know if we had decided to turn them back, perhaps we would not have had a single case or worse still, we would have had community transmission because some would have succeeded in sneaking into the community at all costs.

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What is the state government doing to contain the outbreak?
The government of Ebonyi State under the watch of His Excellency, Engr. David Umahi, is proactively reviewing regulations and preventive measures already adopted in line with the State Coronavirus and other Dangerous Diseases and Related Matters law 005, 2020. The governor is empowered from time to time to review regulations and make further and better orders or precautionary measures that will help in the containment of coronavirus. That is what government is doing. At this point what we are doing is that every office holder will have a responsibility to man any border, any entry point, any exit point within his locality so that that person shall be held responsible should there be any case recorded in that point. This measure has reduced to the barest minimum the level of leakages we have in those points. Again, the governor also directed that should there be any person or any vehicle that is coming on essential service reasons, the driver together with maximum of two passengers in the vehicle, after being checked with the infra-red thermometer and other kits, should be accompanied to the place where they are delivering the services or the goods or commodities and immediately that is done, they have to be accompanied back to the boundary to avoid having unnecessary contact with the persons in Ebonyi State.
Now apart from this, if there are people within Ebonyi State who offend the regulations, they will be made to face the law to face the anti-coronavirus court. So, these are the regulations that government has put in place.

But you need to know also that we have intensified enforcement on regulations on use of face mask. Face mask is compulsory that anybody who is going outside his or her house must wear it. If you don’t wear, it is against our regulation and it is offence against the law. Now the issue of washing of hands through the use of hand sanitisers or through the use of detergent, especially in our markets, essential service centres, is being enforced. Through this we are sure this will discourage escalation of coronavirus. Again, government also gave a directive that from 8pm to 6am there will be no movement within 300m radius distance from the borders across the communities. The whole entry points will be locked down completely from 8pm to 6am; not even essential service vehicles will be allowed. That is one way of ensuring that there is no leakage or uncensored entry of returnees into Ebonyi State.
Again, the issue of motorcycle. Even though the order for ban has been lifted, movement of motorcycles along the border areas within the 300m radius is not allowed whether in the day time or in the evening time and the essence is to ensure that we don’t allow leakages of people who are entering illegally without being intercepted or censored accordingly. So these are what the government is doing but what is important is that the ban on social gatherings, especially those that are more than 20 persons, is still in force. It is helping us a lot in the issue of social distancing. Social distancing is very critical for us to ensure that we don’t get this coronavirus in Ebonyi State.

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Despite the closure of all borders across the state by the state government because of the pandemic, foreigners are still trooping the state. What is the government doing to stop this?
It is part of what we are checking but what we are getting as feedback is that people are already aware that Ebonyi State is a no-go area. From March 24, 2020, the governor had directed total closure of the borders so they are already aware. Most of the cases we are having now are Ebonyians returning into the state, but if there are people, by omission or commission, that are coming into the state, is either we show them the way out or we quarantine them for 14 days and do the screening and if they have issue, they will be quarantined and isolated accordingly.

In rural areas, people are not observing all the precautionary measures the state government directed. Is there anything the government is doing to enforce the measures?
We have a very formidable task force committee system that cuts across the 296 health wards, the 64 development centres and the local government areas, 13 in number. We also have a structure at the state and this committee system also helps in the sensitisation of the people in the rural communities. We also have what is called the situation room, a media sub-committee that is responsible for getting feedback from the various communities about compliances and also updating the people about the regulations or precautionary measures and all the orders of government. I think our people are gradually getting the information even within the rural communities. And I think Ebonyi State has one of the best organised systems of containing this coronavirus pandemic.

People are accusing the security guards at the borders of collecting bribes to allow illegal entries. What’s your take on this?
These are all possibilities. Even though they are allegations but they are all possibilities because of human tendencies. But we have also put a mechanism of checking those malpractices. We have given directives that the security chiefs should ensure they sensitise their officials about the need not to compromise at the borders or in any of the regulations of the government and we agreed that if we see such a case, we will ensure that the person is punished. So we will continue to intensify our sensitisation and conscientisation processes to ensure that people are aware and abreast of the importance of all of these regulations so that they will know it is in the interest of their health. I think by the power of God, we will all come together to sing a new song of how we did overcome.

We learnt the state government wants to install CCTV at the borders to check the activities there. How true is this?
That is part of the programmes of Ebonyi State government in the face of this coronavirus pandemic. The governor had directed that a cost be made for the procurement of all the necessary facilities that will help us fix CCTV in all the major borders. That means that those at the boardroom of the anti-coronavirus committee through their phones will have access to happenings in all the major borders, so that cases of malpractices, leakages, can be nipped in the bud. It’s also one of the preventive measures, it’s very sophisticated and very technical. I do hope that if it is fixed it will help us in containing this pandemic because coronavirus actually doesn’t have legs, it doesn’t have wings but it moves through persons and if we are able to censor movement of persons it will help us in securing minimal cases. The five cases we have recorded shows we are doing our best. Our measure is exemplary for others to follow. It is only in Ebonyi State that we have such a case where patients are those on their way returning into the state. In other states the patients would have entered into the community, united with their families before it was discovered. This is not the case in Ebonyi State, so it’s like we have zero case in the state.

How soon are we expecting the installation of the CCTV?
That is a policy thing, it’s not what one person can tell you, but we are hopeful. Communities are jittery over the five cases recorded. What is your message to Ebonyi people?
My message to the people of Ebonyi State in the face of these five cases we have recorded is that they must know that the measures we have taken even before now are the best in this problem, so they should not panic. From all indications we have no case of community transmission or community infection. What we have got is a case of people that were infected from another state and they were trying to come into Ebonyi State and we intercepted them. The governor is on top of the matter and I can say that the whole thing is under control and there is no cause for alarm at all. All we need to do is, if anybody comes into the state through any part of Ebonyi State, our people should please let us know. It is the only way we can be sure we will not have any case in the state at the end of the day.

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