Delta variant: Experts warn as FG begins camping for 49,950 corps members

• It’s scary, coronavirus protocols mustn’t be violated, counsel virologists

The National Youth Service Corps is set to mobilise about 49,950 corps members in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory next week while another set will be mobilised in August.

This was revealed during a virtual meeting with prospective corps members which was also attended by the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu; and the Director General of the NYSC, Brig. Gen Shuaibu Ibrahim.

The NCDC revealed that between 1,200 and 1,500 corps members would be deployed in each orientation camp across the country, bringing the total to at least 49, 950 if an average of 1,350 corps members is housed in each camp.

Although virologists, including the Chairman of the Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Professor Oyewale Tomori, who spoke to The PUNCH, were not against the orientation, they warned that there would be problems if COVID-19 protocols were not obeyed in the camps.

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The development came just as the number of infections almost hit 170,000 on Sunday amid fears of a third wave propelled by the highly infectious Delta strain as well as a scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines nationwide.

Also, less than one per cent of Nigeria’s population has been vaccinated since the first dose was administered on March 6, 2021.

Nigeria recorded 203 new cases on Sunday, a wide departure from last month’s figures, when the country was recording an average of less than 50 cases daily.

On Thursday last week, the University of Lagos asked its students to vacate halls of residence to check the spread of the COVID-19 on the campus.

The Senate of the university took the decision to close the hostels during an emergency meeting held on Wednesday after some students tested positive for COVID-19.

As part of the preparations for the NYSC orientation, the Deputy Director, Surveillance/International Health Regulations, NCDC, Dr Oyeladun Okunromade, said the corps members would be mobilised on July 27, but only about 300 to 500 would resume in each camp per day.

She said corps members must provide their travel details and vaccination status as well as other information.

Okunromade further stated that testing would be free but corps members must come to camp with masks which they must wear at all times.

The NCDC official said, “For this Batch B camp resumption, camps reopen on July 27 according to the timetable available to us by the NYSC and this will run for three weeks and we expect about 1,200 to 1,500 corps members per camp. In the past, we used to have a lot of corps members in each camp but we don’t have that luxury because of COVID-19.”

She revealed that the next batch would be mobilised in late August, bringing the total number of corps members to about 99,900 within a space of two months.

The Economic Sustainability Committee led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had in June 2020 recommended that while the NYSC programme could continue, the three-week orientation exercise should be suspended for two years to prevent the spread of the virus.

Speaking earlier, the NCDC boss, Ihekweazu, asked prospective corps members to abide by COVID-19 protocols or risk camps being shut for the next two years.

“Like you know, we are beginning to see a slight increase in cases primarily in Lagos and a few other states. So, the mistake we can all make when we are dealing with the virus is to think that it has gone away. It definitely has not gone away and we have to sustain what we have been doing in order to keep the fragile successes that we have been doing together.

“So, in camp, there will be some limitations. If you hear about your story in camp, it might not be the same. There might be some limitations in what you are able to do and how you are able to engage. Please it is for our success. The alternative is to postpone camp for the next few years and none of us wants to do that.”

In his remarks, the NYSC boss asked prospective corps members not to bring drugs to the camp as officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency would be present.

He also stated that prospective corps members who present fake results during clearance would be arrested.

The NYSC boss said this would be the fifth orientation exercise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that some corps members might even meet their prospective spouses in the camp.

Shuaibu said all NYSC staff had been vaccinated.

When asked if corps members would receive vaccines at the camp, Dr. Okunromade said all vaccines had been exhausted but more would arrive late July or early August.

NYSC allays fears, says partnership with NCDC working

Also, the Director-General of the NYSC, Ibrahim, in an interview with  THE PUNCH, stated, “We have conducted more than five orientations under COVID – 19. Our partnership with the NCDC is working.  The NCDC  and NYSC had webinar meeting with prospective corps members on all that is expected of them for a seamless orientation exercise.

“All camp officials and prospective corps members will be tested and only those that are negative will be allowed in to the camp. We are following the same protocols as done in the previous exercise.”

Only COVID-19 negative corpers will be admitted – NYSC

Also, the NYSC Deputy Director (Press and Public Relations), Emeka Mgbemena, told one of our correspondents that, “The life of every corps member is not only very dear to the National Youth Service Corps, but the nation as well.

“As a precautionary measure, all prospective corps members, as well as camp officials must present themselves for COVID-19 test at the 37 NYSC camps.

“Only those that tested negative to COVID-19 test are admitted into the camps. The NCDC takes charge in any positive case.

“It is imperative to note that prior to the above test, PCMs (prospective corps members) fill COVID – 19 Rapid Diagnostic Test self reprinting form and print verification slip to be presented in camp for the test.

The NYSC works closely with the NCDC for proper guidance, while the NYSC Clinics are manned by Consultants.

“Accordingly, all NYSC Camps are free of COVID-19 infection.”

The Lagos State Coordinator of the NYSC, Mr Eddy Megwa, said the NYSC was working with the NCDC to achieve a smooth orientation camp in Lagos.

He said. “NYSC is working hand in hand with the NCDC in the orientation programme.”

COVID 19 is now an albatross, life must continue – NMA president

In his reaction, the National President of Nigeria Medical Association, Professor Innocent Uja,  said there was nothing wrong if the NYSC was planning to mobilise members for orientation camps as long as the officials ensure compliance with protocols laid down by the NCDC.

Uja, who said that COVID 19 had become an albatross, explained that life must continue because no one knew when the dreaded disease would go.

The NMA boss,  who is also the  Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Health Sciences, Otukpo maintained that COVID 19 was coming with different variants but said that nation should evolve strategies that would make people to navigate around the disease.

He said, “So long that they (NYSC) obey the protocols, I think the most important thing is for us to obey the NCDC protocols;  regular wearing of face mask, hand washing and of obeying the rule of social distancing, especially, when they (corps members) are marching, they should give space in accordance to the NCDC protocols.

“If we comply with all the protocols, we will not have problems because we don’t know how long COVID 19 will be with us.

“We just finished one variant only to discover there is another variant.  So, it has become an albatross and people must be alive but we can be alive if we follow the protocols.  That is what we should do because if we stay and hope that there will be no COVID, we have to navigate our strategies around COVID.

He also said that the mobilization of corps members would give an opportunity for massive vaccination and help the country to plan well for procurement of vaccine doses.

The NMA president stated, “This is an opportunity for them (NYSC) when you have such number of people in one place at the same time it helps to vaccinate large number of people. Immunize them against COVID.”

Camp accommodation must take into consideration non-pharmaceutical measures – Tomori

But virologists advised the Federal Government to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 prevention protocols at the NYSC camps.

Three virologists, who spoke in separate interviews with The PUNCH, on Monday, advised the government to ensure that there were no half measures in ensuring the safety of corps members as well as staff of the NYSC, especially during the three weeks orientation camp.

The Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Professor  Tomori, said, “If we are having close to 50,000 corps members being dispersed to about 36 states that means that each state gets less than 2,000 corps members.

“If the accommodation provided takes into consideration non-pharmaceutical measures, then they can cope but if not, there will be a problem. It is also necessary that they go on regular testing from time to time.”

An Associate Professor of Virology at the Osun State University, Dr Waidi Sule also agreed with Tomori.

He, however, advised that the date for the camp should be reviewed in view of the outbreak of the Delta variant of the virus.

He said” With what we are experiencing now, I would have advised that the camps be postponed given the issue we find ourselves in now but if public health measures will be put in place, then no problem.

“The camps will be crowded no doubt but we must make sure that there are measures put in place, washing of hands, using face masks and all of that. This is to avoid problems.”

In his contribution, another Professor of Virology at the University of Ibadan, Professor David Olaleye said, “It sounds scary but as it is now, we can only hope that COVID-19 guidelines are well implemented in the camps.  This is to avoid an outbreak.

“The corps members should also be subjected to regular testing from time to time, this is to make sure that cases are detected early enough.”

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