Civil servants and COVID-19 test

Women sell face masks and gloves, to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, to passengers at a public minibus station in Lagos, Nigeria Friday, March 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Against the backdrop of the rising number of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections, a recent directive by the Federal Government that civil servants should undergo COVID-19 test would only make sense if adequate provisions are made to ensure a hitch-free exercise.

But going from experience, conducting a hitch-free test for civil servants would be a herculean task. In other words, an orderly test for thousands of civil servants is an invitation to chaos and disorder. Graft, favouritism and other unethical issues are bound to arise to make the exercise futile, after all.

How is government going to ensure that precious time, energy and resources are not wasted all in the name of undergoing COVID-19 test? According to reports, the Federal Government issued a circular directing all MDAs to carry out COVID-19 test for all civil servants. There was a specific location built by a private developer for the exercise in Abuja even as there is no word on public servants outside the nation’s capital.

The circular, dated July 17, 2020 and addressed to all permanent secretaries, was issued by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF), Dr. Mrs. Folashade Yemi-Esan in response to the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases from 38,048 to 39,539.

The circular: “I am directed to inform you that the Federal Government has provided facilities for the conduct of COVID-19 tests for civil servants at the ThisDay Dome, Mohammed Kur Avenue, by Nanet Suites, Central Business District, Abuja (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily) as part of efforts to curtail the spread of the disease. Accordingly, you are required to notify all staff of the testing facility to enable members of staff who experience COVID-19-related symptoms and those wishing to get tested in your MDAs to take advantage of this opportunity.” The officer who signed the circular on behalf of the HoS, requested all permanent secretaries to bring the contents of the circular to the attention of all staff and ensure that all parastatals and agencies under their supervision were notified.

Also, the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation reportedly updated the Guidelines on the Control of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Service-Wide, to address emerging issues in the control of the disease in the work environment.

The updated guidelines on the control of coronavirus in the civil service was developed through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and is intended to provide workable strategies for all MDAs and their staff to mitigate the impact of the outbreak in the workplace and wherever all civil servants are.

Some of its recommendations include approval of sick leave for staff that fall sick, restriction of movement in MDAs, discontinuation of non-essential travel and provision of face masks, gloves and respiratory protection for relevant staff among others.

At this juncture, it needs to be pointed out that whereas the Federal Government has come up with this order, it should not be seen as a priority. There should be no deadline for taking the test to avoid chaos at the centres. Besides, nobody should be penalised for failure to take it. There should be no victimisation. The civil servants should be encouraged to take the test without fear. There should be enough civic education to ensure that it is for protection of lives of the civil servants.

Taking a COVID-19 test, especially for symptomless individuals, should not be forced. There are too many survival issues that presently haunt Nigerians, including civil servants daily, which should be given priority. The basic issues of daily living – food, water, healthcare, are more important and deserve more attention. Doubtless, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the plight of people, socially and economically, which is why sensible governments elsewhere are preoccupied with giving palliatives to their citizens rather than creating more hurdles. Government has designated ThisDay Dome on Mohammed Kur Avenue, Abuja, as a test centre, is that all? How can that one private facility serve the entire civil servants population in the Federal Capital Territory? This is a huge joke. Why are the organic testing centres in the territory not involved when it comes to the civil and public servants? How about the federal civil servants in other states? Are they all required to travel to Abuja to do the test? Why should they be subjected to such an ordeal with all the attendant risks? Why are there not enough test centres across the federation to facilitate the exercise? There have been complaints about insufficient test kits by the NCDC; are there enough test kits for this exercise?

In the main, it is not enough to order civil servants to go for test. Government should set up more well equipped test centres. Having more test centres should be a condition precedent to this order. Besides, there should be a timetable to ensure orderliness instead of a free-for-all, another road to ad-hocism. What is worth doing is worth doing well – especially for civil and public servants.

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