The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated some rather radical decisions by governments the world over, which were meant to stem the galloping spread of the disease, one of which was the closing down of centres of learning. But, following the drop in cases of infections in some countries, academic activities are gradually returning to schools as phased lifting of lockdowns are gradually being implemented.
In Nigeria, the Federal Government held series of top level meetings with critical stakeholders in the health and educational sectors before giving the go-ahead for a phased reopening of schools across the country. Part of the conditions given by the government for the reopening of schools was that COVID-19 protocols recommended by the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Conrol (NCDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) must be adhered to by all the country’s educational institutions, both public and private, with a warning that serious sanctions would be meted out to any erring institution.
To ensure compliance with this directive, the Federal Government announced that it had mobilized about 60,000 Environmental Health Emergency Volunteers for deployment to the country’s 774 Local Government Areas , in the 36 states of the federation, as monitors.
However, it is worrisome to note that since the resumption of academic activities in Nigerian schools, reports emanating from majority of them have been everything but encouraging as most of the coronavirus safety directives by government and the NCDC, such as social distancing, wearing of face masks/shields, washing of hands et.al, are being flagrantly flouted. To worsen matters, the health workers that were supposedly engaged by government to monitor compliance are virtually non-existent, leaving students and staff at the mercy of the deadly virus.
A recent report by Channels TV on Friday, October 16, 2020, that 181 Students and School Staff of just one private boarding school in the Lekki area of Lagos state tested positive for COVID-19, following the reopening of schools, is an early warning sign of impending disaster, if nothing is expeditiously done to arrest the ugly development. who knows the actual figures of new infections in other schools across the country considering the limited testing capacity of the country? What about the parents, friends, siblings and other acquaintances of these freshly infected students who are at risk of becoming infected themselves?
Nigeria is resting on the button of a ticking time bomb that might explode with a big bang that could be difficult for the country to recover from, considering the searing economic challenges already thrown up by the first wave.
IMPLICATIONS: The consequences of the obvious disregard of COVID-19 protocols in Nigerian schools are not far-fetched, the principal one being that it creates room for a possible second wave of infections that could be deadlier than imagined, and would undo all the hard work that had been put into curtailing the spread of the virus in Nigeria since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Again, government could be forced to close down the schools and some other critical sectors consequent to a second wave of infections, along with its concomitant economic and social drawbacks, the devastating effects which are better not contemplated.
WAY FORWARD: Government must immediately step in to arrest the danger posed to the entire populace, consequent to the careless deportment of the proprietors/administrators of some of the country’s schools, especially those of the private schools, who have allowed their profit-making inclinations to override their senses of reasoning, putting the entire country at risk in the process.
Henceforth, all Environmental Health Emergency Volunteers and other public health professionals, from the 60,000 supposedly mobilized by governments at the federal, state and local government levels should be promptly deployed to schools across the country’s 36 states to monitor adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols, with strict mandates to identify and report erring schools to the appropriate authorities for prompt action to be taken against them.
The federal and state ministries of education must be up and doing this time, as there is no room for complacency. They must work to ensure that erring institutions are promptly and summarily sanctioned to serve as deterrent to other would-be offenders. This is the only way going forward.
COVID-19, a pandemic that has already infected millions, killed thousands and ravaged several economies, even the most developed, globally, remains a real and present danger to mankind. That is why all efforts must be geared towards ensuring that it does not stage another comeback that could spell more disaster for all countries the world over, nay Nigeria.
A word is enough for the truly wise!