Cross River State has officially joined other states in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory with confirmed COVID-19 cases following an announcement by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Monday evening.
Hours before the NCDC released its daily case updates, the state branch of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) declared on an indefinite strike because of the government’s poor handling of the disease outbreak.
The association alleged that five COVID-19 cases from the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) confirmed since July 1 at Alex Ekwueme University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, were not reflected in NCDC’s reports.
“Congress demands explanation on why epidemiology code numbers have to be generated by Cross River Ministry of Health before results of samples sent by UCTH to an NCDC-approved laboratory can be published by NCDC, despite having approved UCTH as an independent test centre,” NMA said.
It passed a vote of no confidence on the commissioner for health, Dr Betta Edu.
The state’s five index cases were announced among a total of 575 new cases on Monday. The NCDC’s records also indicate that three of the cases have been discharged, one is on hospital admission and one has died from the virus infection.
Checks by HumAngle showed that none of this information was available on the NCDC website on Monday afternoon.
A member of the state house of assembly passed away on Thursday, June 18, after showing symptoms of COVID-19 and as soon as he was moved to an isolation centre at UCTH.
The state commissioner for health, however, said days later that the test result came out negative and there was no cause for alarm. It is not clear who the COVID-19 fatality noted by the NCDC on Monday involved.
Up until the announcement, the state government had continued to insist it had recorded no COVID-19 cases despite claims to the contrary.
Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed said in June that 15 people who tested positive for the virus in his state came from Calabar, the capital of Cross River State.
“I don’t want to join issues with anybody. But I want to tell Nigerians that they are going to be accountable to God,” Mohammed said about the discovery.
“There is no need pretending that this thing is not there. We, as leaders, must come out and face the challenges. We in Bauchi, we are not pretending.”
The Cross River Commissioner for Health, Edu, however, insisted “there is no coronavirus” within the state’s borders.
“We want to make it very clear that the 15 said persons have nothing whatsoever to do with Cross River State. We don’t know how Bauchi came to that conclusion because our borders have been closed for months now.”
“We understand the pressure, pains and stress our brother, the governor of Bauchi State, is passing through.
“Cross River State stands with Bauchi State at this trying moment. It is not easy to have the highest number of confirmed cases in the whole of Northeast of Nigeria, especially as it is leading the population of people that are probably not following the preventive measure reeled out by the government,” the commissioner said.
Findings have shown that like in many parts of the country, the borders in Cross River were not shut completely to movements from other states as travellers were allowed passage at security checkpoints after bribing officials.
Doctors in Cross River have complained about having inadequate protection against the pandemic and accused the state government of suppressing test results.
“He’s not telling the world the truth. Unfortunately, the man has always been big on words and light on action,” one doctor at UCTH said of the state Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade.
“Healthcare workers in Calabar do not have Personal Protective Equipment and I can tell you that COVID-19 test results in Cross River are being manipulated. We don’t even have test facilities here.
“So, samples are driven all the way to the Irua Specialist Hospital in Edo state and by the time they return, the state’s epidemiologist who acts on the governor’s orders, declares them all negative,” the doctor said.
Another health worker said they were at the mercy of God.
“Sometimes, we don’t know if the patients we are treating have COVID-19 and we aren’t even protected against the virus. There are no precautions whatsoever,” the worker said.
The disagreement between NMA and the government seems to have taken roots in April when the state governor claimed that people wearing face masks had enough protection and did not need to maintain physical distancing.
The governor was among the first to ask government officials to resume work despite the nationwide panic and measures announced by the Federal Government.
Ayade in the heat of the health crisis called for the reopening of the tourism sector to save the industry from collapse, adding that the country faced low risk of the virus infection.
Reacting to his statement, the NMA had said other measures still needed to be taken and face masks alone did not afford full protection against the coronavirus.
The government’s directive to its workers, it said, was “ill-timed and not in the best public health interest of the state”.
Last week the governor said the relaxation of the lockdown against COVID-19 had opened up the state to the virus infection since people from other parts of the country would be entering the state.