COVID-19: Obaseki shuns Benin monarch’s call for total lockdown, imposes dusk-to-dawn curfew

Says over N1b invested so far on COVID-19

Against the advice by the Benin monarch, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II for a total lockdown of Edo State in order to checkmate the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 in the state, the governor, Godwin Obaseki on Sunday announced a 10-day dawn to dusk curfew and a partial lockdown of the state. Edo State had recorded 15 cases but currently has eight patients receiving treatment following the recovery and discharge of seven persons, including the factional speaker of the state House of Assembly, Frank Okiye in the last few days. But Obaseki, at a press conference, regretted that “Unfortunately, the worst may yet come” as a rapid increase in the number of cases is expected when massive screening and testing begins.  He said over one billion naira had already been invested by his government on tackling the pandemic in the state.

 Concerned by the soaring figure of COVID-19 positive cases in the state, Oba Ewuare 11, in a letter to the governor dated April 16, 2020, suggested a total lockdown to stem the spread of the disease, stoppage of movement into and out of the state, strict enforcement of the ‘stay-at-home’ order, as well as the observance of social distancing practices as well as other health and safety protocols advised by health experts at the domestic and international levels. 

 Excerpts of the letter read: “Your Excellency, we respectfully wish to invite your attention to the incidents of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic and the attendant risk of its continued spread among the people of Edo State. You may wish to recall the stakeholders meeting convened by Your Excellency with traditional rulers at the onset of the outbreak of the virus wherein I advised that the Edo State Government should take very seriously the issue of containment to mitigate its contraction and spread among citizens and residents of the state. However, we have observed with serious concern the rising number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in the state which as at the date of this letter has reached 15 persons with one death recorded”.

The Oba advised that as efforts to manage the confirmed cases were ongoing, adequate measures should also be taken to design and implement effective contact-tracing strategies, noting that this was necessary to forestall a possible second wave of infections “which is imminent due to possibility of community transmission of the virus”. He urged the governor to adopt modern approaches to the unfortunate situation in the frontline territories in the country, expressing confidence that these approaches though difficult, were necessary to forestall the spread of the virus for the safety and well-being of the good people of Edo State.

The Benin monarch said the state government could mitigate the health and economic impact of such steps by making available facemasks and hand sanitizers to citizens as preventive and precautionary measures as well as providing the necessary support in the form of palliatives, especially for the poor, the vulnerable, and less-privileged ones as a way of cushioning the expected effects of the socio-economic disruptions envisaged.

However, Obaseki, perhaps in response to the Oba’s letter, insisted that the government would continue to impose a partial lockdown on the state for now but would not totally shut down the economy “because of the untold hardship which a total shut down will cause to our citizens”. The governor stated that government would however review its decisions based on the evidence to be obtained from the mass screening and testing being undertaken. “We realise however that there is need to do more social distancing this time. Therefore, we are taking additional measures to ensure that people stay at home. Consequently, with effect from tomorrow 20th of April, an order prohibiting the movement of people in Edo State from 7 pm to 6 am will be in force. This order will be reviewed after 10 days when we have increased screening and testing of our citizens”, Obaseki announced. He mandated security agencies to enforce “total compliance” by ensuring that movement is restricted at night across the state. He said all drivers and passengers of vehicles bringing in essential workers and commodities into Edo State or passing through Edo State would be screened by health professionals.

The governor also reiterated the ban on street trading earlier announced by the deputy governor, Philip Shaibu, stressing that it was in the best interest of the people. According to the governor, “this move is aimed at ensuring that all trading activities in the state during this period is concentrated in primary and secondary school premises where we can strictly enforce social distancing as well as hygiene and safety precautions”.

 Underscoring the importance of screening and testing which he noted “is key if we are to understand and have the required information to control the spread of this virus”, Obaseki said the goal of the government was to screen a minimum of 500,000 persons. “The first of the proposed 100 screening centres started operations last week in Oredo local government area where we already have reported cases. And of this 10, six are primary healthcare centres, and four are private hospitals. We will scale up the screening centres to all 18 local governments in the state within the next two weeks. I am glad to inform you that the testing centre at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital is now ready. We have begun trial tests with the guidance of the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC and we expect that it would be in full operations this week. We have also taken delivery of another PCR testing machine which we are currently installing at the Edo Specialist Hospital in Benin. That testing machine should be ready within the next two weeks”, the governor disclosed.

He was confident that with all the testing facilities the state now had, three of them – one in Irrua and two in Benin City, “we will now have the capacity to perform a minimum of 1,000 tests daily in Edo State”, adding that “with massive screening and testing, we will have sufficient information which is required to direct our decisions for proper management and control of this scourge”. The governor said healthcare workers handling the COVID-19 response in the state have been provided with life insurance and special allowances as motivation to work on the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic.  He assured Edo people that government was fully prepared to combat this pandemic with the state emerging from it stronger and more promising.

The governor however solicited the assistance of well-to-do Edo people to assist the government in tackling the pandemic. According to the governor, “the situation we find ourselves today is equivalent to a war with an unknown enemy. That is why I’m calling on every citizen of Edo State to partner with government on this shared responsibility to stop the spread of this virus. We are therefore appealing to everyone to support our fight by donating cash, healthcare equipment, water, food and testing supplies…The government of Edo State is leading this battle from the front and we have already spent over N1 billion of our limited resources so far on this fight”.

He said the government had constituted “Edo State Fund Raising Committee” which is made up of its sons and daughters who are captains of industry, religious leaders, traditional rulers, “to help us galvanise efforts at mobilizing resources to beef up the state government’s response to the pandemic”. The committee, the governor said, would be inaugurated on Monday April, 20. He expressed the expectation that their inputs would richly improve government’s efforts at building the required buffers to triumph over this setback.

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