Government has now ramped up efforts to track down those who travelled to the country from Europe and escaped quarantine. In fact, the Minister of Public Health, Manaouda Malachie, on March 30, in Yaoundé, admitted that some of 261passengers who arrived Douala from some COVID-19 infested countries in Europe, by Air France and SN Brussels on March 17, escaped from hotels where they were to be quarantined for 14 days.
The Public Health Minister promised that an operation to track down the quarantine-escapees, believed to be hiding among family members will effectively commence on April 2, alongside a mass testing exercise.
In a communiqué April 3, 2020, the Governor of the South West Region, Bernard Okalia Bilai drew the attention of the population that some individuals who recently arrived from abroad are living with their families and loved ones, without respecting the 14-day quarantine as prescribed by the Government in a bid to stop the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic in the country.
The Governor called on “patriotic citizens” and persons of goodwill to alert the competent authorities for adequate measures to be taken against the authors of such acts, in order to prevent the propagation of COVID-19.
When passengers from Europe arrived the Douala International Airport by Air France and SN Brussels on Tuesday, March 17, they were met by a team of local administrative, health and security officials led by the Governor of the Littoral Region, Samuel Dieudonné Ivaha Diboua, who had that afternoon, received instructions from the Government that all the passengers be quarantined in hotels.
The passengers were furious that they were not being allowed to freely go their different ways. They claimed that they did not have COVID-19, simply because none of them yet had any symptoms of the virus.
The next day, March 18, there were reports that workers in some of the hotels where the passengers were supposedly quarantined, had, in violation of norms, allowed family members and friends of some of the passengers to visit them. Some of the passengers even went out to town to visit family members or friends. Some of the men allegedly went out of their hotels in the night to look for prostitutes.
The next morning, March 19, it was alleged that some of the 261 passengers that were supposedly quarantined in some hotels in town, had sneaked away in the night.
The individuals reportedly bribed workers of the hotels as well as security men that were assigned to the different hotels to prevent any of the supposedly quarantined individuals from leaving the hotels.
The hotels reserved for the travellers by government are those considered in Douala as small hotels. Generally, workers these hotels are not only poorly paid, but the salary is often irregular, and thus many of the workers were easily bribed by the money-wielding ‘bush-fallers’.
Local administrative authorities resorted to lying to reporters that the escapees had simply gone elsewhere for quarantine.
Speaking March 30 in Yaounde, the Minister of Public Health, Manoauda Malachie, referred to the individuals who escaped from hotels as persons who disrupted the process of quarantine. He regretted that they have since not responded to calls to come out from wherever they are hiding, to be tested for COVID-19. He expressed the worry that some of them, who happened to be infected by the COVID-19, would certainly be spreading the virus in the communities, as they have certainly already infected some of their family members, friends or persons that they have been in physical contact with. But, so far, information the number of the escapees has not been provided.
Meanwhile, according to the Minister of Public Health, of 92 passengers who arrived the Yaounde-Nsiamalen International Airport form Europe on that March 17, and were placed on a 14-day quarantine, 51 tested positive, 19 doubtful (to be retested) and 24 negatives.
The figures are a pointer that several of the 291 passengers who arrived Douala from the same countries in Europe on that March 17, and were quarantined in hotels, were probably infected with COVID-19 too.
Minister Manoauda also announced on, March 30, that an operation will take place in Douala from April 2-7, in which the Ministry is to mobilise over 1,400 community health workers, to accompany the Ministry to carry out a mass sensitisation and testing of the population for COVID-19.
The Minister said the community health workers who will work in small groups, will be mobilised in all the five municipalities of Douala, and that their modus operandi will be door-to-door, to meet households. Minister Manaouda also disclosed that the operation that starts in Douala will move to other Regions.
The Minister disclosed that, one of the missions of the operation in Douala from April 2 – 7, will be to fish out those passengers that escaped from quarantine. As to why the Government cannot just publish the names of the persons concerned, so as to alert the population about the particular individuals, the Minister said international norms prohibit the publication of such names. He, however, warned that if the persons concerned continue to hide, than come forward to be tested for COVID-19 , he will be left with the no choice than to publish names.
Observers in Douala think that the Ministry of Public Health and the local administration in Douala are wrong to assume that, because, those passengers that escaped from quarantine in hotels got to the country through the Douala International Airport, they should all be in the town. While some are in Douala, it is certain that some of them have travelled to towns and villages in other Regions which were their original destinations. It is even likely that some of those who have been in Douala may even sneak out of the town, when they learn about the operation to fish them out.
The Ministry and local administrative authorities are relying on the information which the passengers gave in the forms they were given to fill, when they arrived the Douala Airport in the evening of March 17. The said information include among others, telephone numbers and local contact addresses of the passengers.