Medical doctors have faulted the plan by the National Youth Service Corps to open its orientation camps across the country and mobilise graduates for national service amid the ranging second wave of COVID-19.
This was as prominent virologist, Prof Oyewale Tomori, likened the move by the NYSC to an invitation to disaster.
The Director-General of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim disclosed on Friday that corps members would be allowed on the NYSC approved camps nationwide from January 19, 2021.
But speaking to Saturday PUNCH, Tomori said the reopening of the NYSC camps at this time was not safe for the country.
He said, “Having people together from different locations in the same place without face masks, washing of hands and the rest is an invitation to disaster.
“The issue of mobilisation, just like reopening of schools, should not be encouraged. Anywhere we have a congregation of people should not be encouraged. The virus is found almost all over the country, so if you are bringing people from different places, regions, and locations to camp in a place then it’s not a wise thing to do.”
Also, an Ogun State-based medical doctor, Dr Oladapo Ogunlaja, told Saturday PUNCH that it would be difficult for the NYSC to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols among the corps members.
Speaking in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday, he said, “For now, I don’t think it is a right decision, especially with this raging COVID-19.
Ogunlaja, who is also the NMA Chairman in Ogun State, said, “Are they going to be testing each person before they enter the camps? There are a lot of questions begging for answers. People are coming from different places and many people are not following COVID-19 protocols.
“How many people have you seen on the street using face masks? How many people do you see washing their hands regularly? How many people do you see using hand sanitisers?”
The NMA chairman equally expressed the fear over the planned reopening of schools by the government, saying there was a need to tread with caution.
He added, “Even the schools they want to open, I am so scared. Just about two or three days ago, we heard about LASUCOM hostel where three students tested positive; they have to close down the medical school, yet we are talking about the NYSC camps that would have thousands of young people.
“Why is the government doing this? Indeed, by now, what we should be talking about is a total lockdown.”
Also, the Medical Director of Magodo Specialist Hospital, Lagos, Dr Ayo Olamijulo, expressed concern that the opening of the NYSC camp would escalate COVID-19 cases.
Olamijulo, in an interview with our correspondent, noted that the country was still struggling to accommodate people who had already been infected.
Olamijulo said, “The opening of NYSC camps nationwide is a wrong move. Now, it is obvious that when it comes to attending to issues that need national and international attention, we are not there. We, as a nation, are very lackadaisical. More positive results would come from the NYSC camps nationwide. It is a pity.
“Nothing is being put in place to safeguard the lives of the innocent young Nigerians who are being asked to move to camps.
“Recall that even in cities and towns now, there are not enough oxygen and bed spaces for those battling with the virus. So, how many health workers are in the camps? How many bed spaces are there? How many useful and needed drugs are there for emergencies, which we are experiencing in this period? We have to be careful not to fall into the hands of our enemies.”
While noting that countries were closing their borders and banning gatherings, Olamijulo urged parents and the youths to carefully consider the situation before making a decision.
He added, “Individual parents should be allowed to weigh the options and decide on what to do. They have the right to ask their children to stay at home and go (NYSC) when the situation is conducive. At the end of the day, they should know it is their children.”
In the same vein, a Cross River State-based medical doctor, Dr Innocent Abang, warned of an imminent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country with the move by the NYSC to reopen orientation camps and mobilise youths.
He said, “Nigerians are not good at observing rules. There are a lot of conspiracy theories about COVID-19. Some people don’t believe it actually exists. You can’t even force them to use a face mask, let alone asking them to observe social distancing. These are the issues.”
Abang, who is also the NMA Chairman in Cross River State, added that the risk of reopening NYSC camps was particularly high as some corps members may be coming to camp from locations with high COVID-19 cases.
Also, an Ondo State-based medical practitioner Dr Stella Adegbehingbe advised against the move by the NYSC.
Adegbehingbe said health workers in the country found the move by the NYSC worrisome.
Adegbehingbe, who is also the NMA Chairman in Ondo State, said, “We are worried over the decision to open the NYSC camps but since they have decided to open the camps, we will appeal to the NYSC to observe the COVID-19 protocols in the camps.”
On his part, an Edo State-based medical doctor, Dr Harrison Omokhua, said the NYSC should only open camps if it could ensure adherence to safety protocols.
Omokhua, who is also the NMA Chairman in the state, said, “I think if the Federal Government is ready to enforce non-pharmaceutical control, the NYSC programme can go ahead. Enforcement of the protocols should be taken seriously.”
Also, Dr Edet Nkantah, who is the NMA Chairman in Taraba State, advised against the reopening of the NYSC camps at this time.
Nkantah said since national youth service was not an emergency, there was no reason the programme could not wait until the situation was safe.
He said, “There is no emergency as regards reopening of schools and NYSC camps. People are just afraid of the economic impact of not reopening camps because graduates want to serve and get jobs, but we don’t have the capacity to cope with the virus.
“The last time camps were opened, we had 11 cases of the virus among the prospective corps members. Now they are still going from across the country at a time we have a second wave of the pandemic. So, we don’t support it and that’s the position of the NMA.”
In his reaction, the Chief Medical Director, Mt. Moriah Hospital, Lagos, Dr William Odusola, said the reopening of the NYSC camp would certainly result in spike in cases.
“There is definitely going to be more cases as a result of reopening the camp. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about it. ” Odusola said.
However, an Akwa Ibom-based medical doctor, Dr Emmanuel John, said the NYSC should go ahead and reopen its orientation camps but ensure compliance with the NCDC safety protocols.
John, who is also the Public Relations Officer of the NMA in Akwa Ibom State, said, “The NCDC guidelines on COVID-19 have not changed; so we advise people to keep to the guidelines; if they do this, there should be no fear.”
Meanwhile, an NYSC supervisor has expressed reservation about the scheduled reopening of camps, saying he and his colleagues were embarking on their postings because “we have no option.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, said the organisation was also not supplying them with anything to protect themselves while in camp.
He said they were going on their postings grudgingly, saying refusing to do so would mean such officials would not be allowed to go to any camp again.
The official said, “We are leaving (for our postings) on Monday. The camps are going to be opened on Tuesday. It is sad that we were not given any face masks or hand sanitisers. We are going to buy them with our money.”
The Federal Government had again snubbed a recommendation by the Economic Sustainability Committee led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and decided to re-open orientation camps nationwide next Tuesday amid the rising COVID-19 infections.
The Osinbajo-led committee had in June 2020 recommended that while the National Youth Service Corps programme could continue, the three-week orientation exercise should be suspended for two years.
The recommendation read in part, “The immediate focus in the education sector is to address the disruptions caused by the pandemic and ensuring social distancing measures at all levels of education.
“In a similar context, consideration will be given to suspending the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp exercises for at least 24 months while allowing deployment to places of primary assignment. This will ensure that there is no backlog in the national service placement pipeline.”
It was learnt that when the spread of COVID-19 dropped late last year, camps were re-opened in November but the nation again recorded a surge.
The Director of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim stated that there would be no changes in the routine at the orientation camps. He, however, said there would be physical distancing.
He stated this on Friday at a sensitisation webinar for the 2020 Batch B Stream II corps members.
Responding to a question, he said, “No changes in the routine just that you will be observing social distancing.”
However, the NYSC Camp Safe Reopening Project Lead, Dr Oyeladun Okunromade, said there would be no religious gatherings on camp.
Okunromade said corps members would be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at the orientation camps, adding that those who test positive for the virus would be isolated at approved NCDC health facilities while those who test negative would be allowed on camps.
She said a maximum of 200 corps members would resume daily, adding that the orientation exercise would still hold for 21 days.
Okunromade said, “There won’t be any form of religious gatherings in the camps. We encourage virtual activities. Mammy Market (activities) have been significantly reduced in line with the new normal. There won’t be any sitting down with friends to dine at the market but there will be take away.”