Not a laughing matter – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

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For iSON Xperiences, a company in Ibadan South West Local Government Area of Oyo State, it has been, literally speaking, a harvest of coronavirus cases, going by the number of its workers that have so far tested positive for the novel virus. It started with 30 cases on May 16 when Governor Seyi Makinde disclosed in his COVID-19 updates that the company accounted for 30 of the 31 new cases in the state. According to him: “The COVID-19 confirmation tests for 31 suspected cases came back positive. Thirty of these cases are members of staff of the same organisation based in Ibadan South West Local Government Area. The organisation has been shut down and will be decontaminated …The remaining one case is from Egbeda Local Government Area. So, the total number of confirmed cases in Oyo State as at 8 p.m. today, is 107.” iSON Xperiences specialises in, among other things, partnering with organisations to provide customer care services.

The dust had barely settled on this when the governor updated the COVID-19 report, indicating that eight more workers of the company tested positive to the disease, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the establishment to 38. The figure rose to  57 when, by May 18, 19 more workers of the factory tested positive. The tally rose again to 63, with six more confirmed cases from the factory. The figure had jumped to 105 as at May 21, from 78 on May 20.

Given the severity of the incident, it would have been expected that the company’s name would have been mentioned as the governor was breaking the heartrending news, at least to alert the public, particularly its clients, so that those who have had contact with it or any of the workers could begin early to check their status with regard to the virus; but he didn’t. The state government said it kept the factory’s name close to its chest “…so as to allow the emergency operations centre gather intelligence and complete their investigation.”

Whether that was the appropriate thing to do in the circumstance is however not the issue now. That such a huge number of COVID-19 cases could emanate from just one company in a city is scary and scandalous. Scary because of the devastations caused worldwide by coronavirus in terms of mortalities as well as its socio-economic dislocations. It is scandalous because the factory accounted for 105 of the 190 COVID-19 confirmed cases in the state as at May 19, according to figures by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). This is about 55 per cent of the total number of cases in the state. The company has about 500 workers.

What does this tell us? Could it be a reflection of the governor’s cavalier handling of the coronavirus pandemic at the beginning when he trivialised and made it an object of a wall clock joke at a political event in the state? “ They say we should not do this rally because of coronavirus…their party leader say they have coronavirus… we don’t have coronavirus in our party” the governor was quoted as saying at the rally held in Ibadan on March 18. A few days later, the governor tested positive for the disease and had to self-isolate for the mandatory period. His chief press secretary, Taiwo Adisa, laboured to convince his interviewers on a television programme that the rally had nothing to do with the governor testing positive for COVID-19. This was a rally that breached one of the cardinal rules of coronavirus – social distancing – given the crowd at the event.

Be that as it may, we would be deceiving ourselves that breaching of safety and security standards, especially by factory or companies’  owners is peculiar to Oyo State or any other state for that matter. It is a national problem. Many factories in the country operate without regard for safety and security measures, taking advantage of the laxity on the part of the regulatory and monitoring agencies. Safety helmets are rarely used in many places where they are required; hand gloves and seat belts are never used even if it is boldly written on some of the factory premises that they must be worn. Many of the workplaces do not have any regard for the environment as they discharge all manner of wastes indiscriminately.

With regard to the instant incident, it is unlikely that such a huge number of their workers would have tested positive if adequate precautionary measures had been applied. For instance, mere temperature checks before the workers are allowed on the factory premises could have been helpful in preventing the high rate of confirmed cases of the virus there. This would have alerted the factory owners and management to the need to do the rightful before the matter escalated.

We can only imagine the number of people who are now at risk as a result of this singular carelessness. In the first place, the factory is located in an axis with a large concentration of factories, manufacturing companies, and industries.  Moreover, the workers, as with their counterparts elsewhere, must have mingled with a lot of people – food sellers, all manner of hawkers, among others who might be carrying the virus now without knowing. We should not lose sight of the fact that due to their social status, factory workers live in highly congested environments with scant regard for ventilation; they have families and neighbours. All of these compound contact tracing.

The incident is, simply put, a warning of  a potential apocalypse. It is a test case into the kind of emergencies that can arise from carelessness. That is part of the reasons churches and mosques have been shut down in many parts of the country: the need for social distancing. It is for the same reason that lockdowns and curfew have been imposed on some places, and inter-state travels banned.

The Oyo State incident should be a wake-up call on the state government and other governments – federal, state or local – on the need to go beyond updating Nigerians on the progress so far made on COVID-19; the confirmed cases, fatalities as well as those discharged, to ensuring that regulatory and monitoring agencies are alive to their responsibilities. There should be more vigorous and sustained campaign on how people can stay safe of COVID-19, the symptoms and what to do when they  start noticing them.

But, Oyo State government must investigate what led to the carelessness at iSON Xperiences. We need to find out what went wrong, identify the culprits and serve them their comeuppance. This is the only way appropriate lessons can be taught and learnt.

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