Following the second wave of COVID-19 in Nigeria which resulted in another spike in the number of infected persons in the country, the Kaduna State Government took proactive measures to contain the spread of the outbreak in the state.
According to the State Commissioner of Health, Dr Amina Mohammed Baloni, Kaduna began to record more than 100 infections daily at the end of 2020, similar to the first wave of the COVID-19 spread in April, May, and June 2020.
“On 26th November 2020, the state recorded 74 positive results from 531 samples. The quantum of infections since then suggest both high infection rates and the reality of a new wave of infection spreading across the state,” she said. On December 11, 2020, the state recorded 117 positive cases from 518 samples. Dr Baloni said the infections cut across age groups, but that data shows that “the new wave especially affects those aged between 10-35 years of age.”
One of the measures put in place by the state government in light of the second wave of infections was the compulsory proper use of face masks in public places such as markets, motor parks, schools, workplaces, and places of worship. The Task Force Committee on COVID-19 Guidelines Enforcement also put in place measures to arrest and prosecute face mask defaulters in court where they would be fined or jailed. This policy went into effect on Thursday, 17, December 2021.
In his press briefing, the Chairman of the Task Force Committee (TFC) on COVID-19 Guidelines Enforcement, Major Garba Yahaya Rimi, said that the level of compliance by residents was 80% and that most people in markets, commercial vehicles, offices, and other public places have been compliant.
He explained the process around arresting and charging those who contravene this policy “They are fined ₦3,000 to ₦5,000 depending on the judge’s discretion. In a situation where an offender cannot pay the fine, the person would serve a three-month jail term,” he said.
According to him, preventing COVID-19 infection and transmission by adhering to the safety guidelines is more cost-effective than treating an infected patient who also stands the risk of death. Therefore, law enforcement agencies are empowered to arrest offenders and charge them appropriately.
Another important activity undertaken by the state government in collaboration with relevant stakeholders was the strengthening of advocacy structures across the state and local governments. This meant mass sensitization of people on the importance of using a face mask and following other non-pharmaceutical interventions for COVID 19. This was achieved using the media and key community influencers like religious leaders and traditional leaders.
The policy on the compulsory use of face masks is believed to be sustainable as long as COVID-19 remains a public health concern. In his own words, the chairman of the TFC ON COVID-19 Guidelines said “It is the responsibility of the government to protect the lives of its people“. He therefore urged other states to emulate Kaduna by enforcing the use of face masks by citizens to prevent them from contracting and spreading the disease.
Some residents in Kaduna however had differing opinions about the face mask policy and why they comply:
Zainab Ibrahim, a food seller, said that she wears a face mask to protect herself from contracting COVID-19 as she meets different customers who patronise her and would not want to be at risk of getting infected.
Businessman Kabir Tasiu said he wears his in compliance with the government’s face mask policy but finds it difficult to breathe well whenever he wears it. “I think the enforcement committee should consider those with breathing problems as it’s hard for them to wear the mask,” he said.
For Mr Enupe Odumu, he wears a mask to protect himself and avoid being fined but added that he thinks the government’s enforcement committee was a good initiative.
Architect Jason Kure said wearing a mask is one of the recommended preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19, adding that the prosecution of defaulters might be harsh but was necessary to ensure compliance of people who were still in doubt or disbelief of the disease.
The enforcement of masks by the state and the penalties for non-compliance may help people remember not to leave home without their masks. Aliyu Abubakar, a tricycle rider, said he once forgot to wear his mask and was arrested by the task force officials. He said he paid ₦5,000 as a fine, adding that he has always worn his mask since then. “Now I make sure I wear a mask all the time; I also advise my customers to wear a face mask before boarding my tricycle“, he said.
In light of residents’ complaints of difficulty breathing while wearing a face mask, Dr Saeed Zakaria Muhammad, a member of the State’s risk communications pillar on COVID-19, said that people in that category should wear masks made from light cotton material. “As you know, people react differently especially on the use of face mask, some use very tight face mask which press their nostrils resulting in a reduced amount of air going in and out from the nostrils,” he said. “For those that get very uncomfortable when they wear masks, we advise them to use facemasks when they are in the midst of people and remove it as soon as they are alone.”
Muhammad said that the use of the wrong type of material in the production of facemasks was the major cause of discomfort. He urged facemask producers to consult relevant authorities on guidance in producing facemasks.
He also urged people to withstand the temporal discomfort of face masks rather than risk their lives. “People need to consider that it’s only when you are alive and healthy that you can focus on your quality of life. When you are around people, wear your mask, protect yourself and be healthy,” he said, adding that by doing this they would also protect those around them, especially in cases where someone might be asymptomatic.
Currently, there is increased awareness of the importance of getting tested and appreciable progress in terms of containing the disease in the state. Reports by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) show that cases in Kaduna state dropped from 545 cases on January 22, 2021, to 32 cases on January 26, 2021(NCDC Twitter handle).
As the state government takes measures in ensuring the safety of its people, the people have to support the fight against COVID-19 by being responsible and staying safe and healthy.
This narrative was done as part of the #COVID19NigeriaStories documentation project on state-level responses to COVID-19, implemented by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Ford Foundation.