COVID-19: Anambra and burden of a gate-keeper

Anambra state is fighting the battle against COVID-19 pandemic in many fronts. Its location as gateway to the eastern and western parts of the country, especially to the populous south-east region known for high level of business and commerce, makes it more vulnerable. Besides, Anambra shares boundaries with seven states – Delta, Edo, Kogi, Enugu, Imo, Abia and Rivers.

The exposure to neighbours with diverse cultural identities puts extra pressure on the state in contending with the ravaging coronavirus. It also creates additional security challenge for it. Unlike many states that initially engaged in foot-dragging, Gov. Willie Obiano hit the ground running. This suggests he realised he had to deal with the external pressures of neighbouring communities as well as delinquent residents. He therefore fired from many cylinders: First, the state government created the Task Force on Coronavirus.

The special agency comprises, among others, the Nigeria Police Force, Anambra Vigilante Group and other security and intelligence organisations. The mandate was to ensure strict compliance with the Governor’s order on closing down markets and prohibition of public gatherings given the cosmopolitan nature of Anambra. “Our people are unfortunately susceptible to the Coronavirus. We travel extensively to all parts of the world for business, leisure, study and medical tourism. Besides, we have as many as 63 major markets in the state, including the Onitsha Main Market which is the largest market in West Africa. The markets are always full of millions of people from different countries in West and Central Africa, thereby making our people vulnerable to the contagion”, Obiano said in a statewide broadcast in March.

To sustain the tempo, the state House of Assembly proceeded on indefinite suspension of legislative proceedings in compliance with Gov. Obiano’s directive to shut down all state institutions and stop public gatherings. The assembly members immediately engaged in an aggressive campaign to sensitize their constituents on precautionary measures against the spread of the pandemic. The state lawmakers were first tested and certified free of coronavirus by the state commissioner for health, Dr. Vincent Okpala, before they embarked on the campaign which involved free distribution of hand sanitizers and facemasks.

To show leadership by example, Gov. Obiano went into self-isolation while awaiting result of the test conducted on him from Irrua Specialist Hospital, Edo State. The result returned negative and this triggered the force behind the robust fight against Covid-19 in Anambra as gateway state. With this, it was easy to secure the confidence and support of the citizens as well as other levels of leadership in the statewide campaign, amid deviant characters.

Commendably, communities and markets in the 21 local government areas joined the state Task Force on COVID-19.  Many volunteers participated in monitoring strict compliance with government directives against public gathering and opening of business premises. Traditional rulers enforced the guidelines on marriage and funeral ceremonies. Bearing in mind that consolidating the home front was crucial in playing the role of a gate-keeper state, Anambra built well-equipped isolation centres when it had not recorded an index case of the Covid-19 pandemic. Surge centres meant to take excess patients from the designated isolation centres were created at different locations. Strict enforcement of ban against inter-state movement was visibly challenging, especially between Onitsha and Asaba. Most of the about 50 confirmed cases as of mid-June were traced to carriers who sneaked into the state by beating the tight security at the various boundary points. This development led to Gov. Obiano’s personal visit to the Bridge Head after which he ordered that an iron gate be erected at the Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge to curb inter-state movement.

To support the state government, many indigenes have donated generously to the Anambra COVID-19 Fund. Relief materials in the form of food, sanitisers, facemasks and drugs have also been donated in large quantity. Recently, an Anambra-based pharmaceutical company signed a N20 million memorandum of understanding with a drug manufacturing company for the production and supply of chloroquine, zinc and Azitromacin in the case of COVID-19 outbreak in the state. As the anti-COVID-19 pandemic campaign enters the community searching phase, the state government has moved to establish a COVID-19 Task Force in all the 21 local government areas (LGAs). There is also a COVID-19 Task Force in each of the 326 wards in the state. They are to take tackle the COVID-19 pandemic at the grassroots.

Based on data from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Anambra is not among those with a high rate of confirmed cases amid rising numbers  in the country. Only one COVID-19-related of death has been recorded so far. The proactive measures by Gov. Willie Obiano appear to be yielding the desired results. This has impacted positively on the neighbouring communities as they are not among the states with a high number of confirmed cases of the virus. These areas have become beneficiaries of Anambra’s timely stitch that saved nine against COVID-19 pandemic.

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