As business and social activities resume unhindered, the basic public health COVID 19 protocol appears to be slowing down, a visit to health institutions, business organisations, and public facilities in Calabar, Cross Rivers State, reveal a lowered guard on social distancing, use of face masks and handwashing protocols, reports Victor Emeruwa.

On Marian Road is one of the city’s popular spots for social activities. This area of Calabar municipal never goes asleep on social life, day and night, Marian Road is known for heavy vehicular and human movement. When the city was on compulsory COVID-19 lockdown sometime in March 2020, social activities on Marian Road was on a mild pulse, people still sneaked into the area to buy cheap food and locally brewed alcohol by the roadside. The lockdown was unfavorable for people who depended on roadside trading for livelihood.

“At the time of the first lockdown by around March, people were scared of the coronavirus, most of us could not even step out of our house without covering our nose with a mask, we were totally lockdown and praying that God will take away this strange sickness,” said John Atim, who spoke without a nose mask on.

Atim is not the only one without a nose mask, which according to the Cross Rivers COVID-19 public health guidelines is compulsory. On Marian Road today, as it is in any part of the city, people mingle freely without wearing nose masks. Another notoriously famous part of the city for social activities is the Mary Slessor round-about, connecting the University of Calabar as well as the Nursing Training School.

On the stretch of the round-about is an adornment of hotels and roadside food joints. The social distance protocol and the compulsory use of nose mask in public places no longer apply. The State government assigned a special Task Force for implementing the use of nose masks in public places is more interested in “extortion and harassment”.

Those were phrases used to qualify the activities of the State COVID-19 task force for implementing of public compliance. “I do not really like using the nose mask because of my medical history of asthma but I have it in my purse each time I am going out to work or market because of the extortion and harassment from the task force,” Affiong Okon said.

Affiong narrates how she had witnessed the corrupt activities of officials assigned to ensure public compliance of COVID-19 guidelines: “I have watched them drag people into their cars and before you know it they let them go after collecting money from them,” Affiong alleged.

That allegation was quickly debunked by Portrait Peterson, the head of the State Special Patrol team on COVID-19. Peterson, who could not immediately grant an official interview, motioning a busy schedule, insists his team is properly briefed about the guidelines and how to ensure public compliance: “We have trained and professional team on ground to ensure that the directive of His Excellency, the Governor is completely complied with,” he said, hurrying off into a waiting vehicle.

Peterson’s team on patrol had interrupted a wedding ceremony conducted in a Church during the compulsory lockdown. It was a celebrated incidence and one which showed the seriousness of the State government in confronting persons and institutions that fail to comply with COVID-19 public protocol.

In the State’s COVID-19 guideline, all public places such as offices, markets, and parks are to ensure that no person will access the building without wearing a face mask, washing, or sanitizing their hands. It also stipulated that passengers of public transport must ensure that they wear nose masks or face shields.

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In reality, this is no longer the case, except for some public places like Banks most offices visited including the State secretariat has citizens flouting the guidelines on social distancing and other recommended protective measures.

A high compliance level was however observed at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital. Right from the entrance gate, the security operative check for nose mask, no vehicle is allowed into the premises of the hospital if the occupants do not wear nose masks or face shields. Hospital security operatives were also spotted at the hospital wards, urging patients and visitors to wash their hands at the handwashing points sited around the entry points.

Banks are observed to keep strict compliance with the guidelines, most banks visited within the municipal maintained strict measures on hand sanitizing and use of nose mask.

Still, market places and motor parks with a concentration of human movement are not complying with the strict COVID-19 guidelines of the State. One of the reasons is a public perception voiced by a man who looks in his early 30s, who simply gave his name as Bassey, a staff of a transport company on Atabo.

“I am hustling for my daily bread, coro (COVID-19) cannot kill me like hunger,” with no face mask on, he quickly dashed across the road hailing and calling for passengers’ into his waiting taxi.

The Nation