There are fears of increased COVID-19 infections as the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) mobilises 66,000 prospective corps members to camps in different parts of the country.
The development came at a time the world is witnessing the second wave of COVID-19 infections.
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Some corps members spoken to said they were ready to go to camps while others expressed fears of contracting the disease in the course of mingling with their colleagues.
Experts yesterday expressed fears as to whether the NYSC had requisite facilities that would guarantee social distancing in line with COVID-19 prevention protocols.
The Director-General of NYSC, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, told pressmen at a media briefing yesterday that about 66,000 graduates had been mobilised for the 2020 batch B orientation exercise, which commences today.
He, however, said that the camp activities would take place in three streams.
The DG said Stream 1a would kick off today, November 10 and end on Monday, November 30.
Stream 1b would start from Thursday, December 3 and end on Tuesday, December 22nd.
According to him, Stream 2 would start from Tuesday, January 5 and end on Monday, January 25, 2021.
We’re fully ready
Gen. Ibrahim said the scheme had put in place essential measures in all orientation camps nationwide in line with the protocols for the safety of corps members and members of the communities hosting the camps.
He said the measures, which had been endorsed by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) included testing the corps members and camp officials for COVID-19 before they would be allowed to proceed to the camps.
Gen. Ibrahim said provisions had been made for hand washing points with an adequate supply of water, liquid soap and sanitizers, adding that the population of participants of each stream was set to a manageable size.
He said the beds in the hostels had been spaced to comply with the social distancing protocols, saying they had increased registration points for the corps members.
Ibrahim noted that the use of face masks was mandatory, stressing that the camp clinics had been strengthened to ensure sustained monitoring of body temperature of all participants.
He said corps members would be sent bulk SMS and there would be airing of jingles at the camp broadcasting stations.
Gen. Ibrahim disclosed that most of the activities, which normally take place in camps had been reduced.
Free health insurance for corps members
The NYSC DG said President Muhammadu Buhari had directed them to enrol all corps members set for mobilisation into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
To that effect, he said the NYSC had concluded all arrangements with the NHIS.
“The scheme has concluded arrangement with the NHIS for the enrolment of corps members into the NHIS in line with a presidential directive. We have also expended huge resources on critical health needs of corps members, including footing of medical bills,” he said.
According to him, a corps member, Nurudeen Tahir who lost his arms in a road traffic accident in Taraba State had been discharged after a successful clinical procedure on the usage of the smart prosthetic arms, which were procured for him by the scheme.
‘Second wave of infection possible’
On his part, the Director-General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, cautioned that the second wave of COVID-19 was possible but could be avoided through collective efforts and cooperation of Nigerians.
Dr Ihekweazu said the NCDC had put necessary measures in place to prevent the virus from spreading as the NYSC camps reopened.
“We have slowly reopened our economy, and we did not see a spike in infections,” he said.
“We have opened schools, we reopened airports; all of these have been done since. The next big challenge is the reopening of our NYSC camps.
“We are encouraged that with the type of collaboration we have achieved with NYSC, we will also be able to achieve this over the next few weeks,” he added.
He said assessments had been carried out on the camps nationwide to ensure that they were safe.
Compulsory isolation for foreign graduates
According to the NCDC DG, all international graduates coming into the country had been informed to go for seven days of compulsory isolation.
He said those who complied with the directive would also be mobilised for the NYSC scheme.
Dr Ihekweazu said the COVID-19 test was free for every corps members and urged those ready for mobilisation to ensure that they adhered to all the safety rules and hold each other responsible.
Mixed feelings by corps members
Checks across NYSC camps in the country showed some activities going on ahead of the take-off of orientation today.
At the NYSC Orientation Camp located at Nowa Gbam in Tai Local Government Area of Rivers State, our reporter observed that the management of the camp had put in place COVID-19 protocols just as early comers corps members had been briefed on the dos and don’ts at the camp.
It was gathered that the management of the camp had reduced the number of corps members that would be accommodated in the hostels.
A corps member, who identified herself as Abigail, said that they were directed to come along with face masks and hand sanitisers.
“I observed that they have reduced the number of corps members that will be accommodated in the hostel,” she said.
“Before now, over 80 corps members were forced to cramp in one hostel but that is not the case this time around. Each hostel takes not more than 30 corps members at a go. The bed spacing is very spacious for social distance,” she said.
The Public Relation Officer of NYSC in Rivers, Violet Appolo told our reporter that everything had been put in place for the take-off of the orientation camp.
In Kaduna State, about 650 corps members for the stream 1A were expected to take part in the induction programme at the camp located along Kaduna-Abuja Highway.
Our reporter also gathered that though measures had been put in place to protect the corps members from the coronavirus, some of those mobilised were skeptical about their safety.
“We have received assurances but honestly I am afraid of contracting the virus,” said one of the corps members who was posted to Kaduna from Nasarawa.
“I asked my mum to pray for me because I see this as a trying moment. I am going to meet people from all over the country,” she said.
Another corps member from Adamawa said if he had his way, he would prefer to serve when the COVID- 19 was over.
“Left to me the NYSC authorities should not rush in mobilising us…We should watch the situation very carefully because even the advanced societies are closing places because of the second wave of COVID-19,” he said.
Experts warn of infections
Speaking on how people were being brought together for different purposes such as the NYSC mobilisation, a renowned virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori said the number of COVID-19 cases were on the road to a huge surge.
He said: “We expect an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases as over 60 000 NYSC members gather in 37 locations in Nigeria….Each camp is a possible seeding centre for COVID-19 cases,” he said.
He said the NCDC had prematurely transitioned to providing “detailed” epidemiological COVID-19 situation reports weekly, meaning that the country will be at least one week behind the true situation of the epidemic.
He said: “One example was in week 43 when NCDC reported 972 cases out of 47, 501 tested giving a positivity rate of 2.04%.
“However, 29 304 of those tests, that is 6.2% of the total reportedly tested for that week were backlogs of result not earlier reported. In effect, our positivity rate is going up contrary to the impression we are given.
“These huge backlogs are diluting the true situation. “Moreover, around October 6, 181 of 441 students in a Lagos school were reported COVID-19 positive. I have checked the NCDC reports from October 6 all through Nov. 6, those cases were not indicated in the figures for Lagos State.
“There was also a report of 17 cases among Kaduna State University students. Only yesterday (Sunday), the NCDC reported 300 new cases from just six states.
“It is clear that we are on the road to a huge surge and gathering youth corps members in different camps may lead to an upsurge in the number of cases and distribution throughout the country. Get ready,” he warned.
Prof. Tanimola Akande, a public health expert from the University of Ilorin stressed the importance of preventive measures at the NYSC camps.
“As far as no positive COVID-19 case is allowed into the camp, there is no problem. When all measures are put in place, it will reduce the chances of a spread,” he said.
“Early detection of cases can be achieved. Thermometers should be used frequently during the duration of the camp to detect those who have a fever on time. Sensitising or giving talks to the corps members to educate them on the reason they must present early if they feel any symptoms is equally important.”
COVID-19 infection on the rise
Our correspondents report that beginning from October, COVID-19 cases in Nigeria had been on the rise as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged Europe and the USA, Iran and others. The United Kingdom had ordered another lockdown.
As of Monday, Nigeria had recorded 64, 090 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of this, 3 026 were active cases while 59, 910 had been discharged.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire recently warned that Nigeria may experience a second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak if the public continued with noncompliance to instituted health protocols.