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Surviving coronavirus

International | Two Nigerians on what it feels like to have COVID-19
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/17/20, 03:18 pm

About a month ago, Juwon Olorunnipa, a Nigerian musician, lay on his bed in a high-rise building in east London thinking COVID-19 would kill him. In an isolation center in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, Oluwaseun Osowobi was putting together a succession plan for her nonprofit organization in case she died.

Both eventually recovered. The infection rates across Africa keep growing—nearly 19,000 people have the coronavirus as of Friday afternoon, and close to 1,000 have died across the continent. But 4,400 have recovered.

Olorunnipa, 30, also known by his stage name Jumabee, traveled from Lagos to London early in March before tougher border restrictions took effect. Looking back, he’s not sure where he picked up the disease, but he admitted he went to shopping malls and punched elevator buttons at his residence without much concern.

At first, Olorunnipa thought his fever was malaria. But on the third day, he woke up at around 3 a.m. struggling to breathe. “I had to use my mouth to breathe,” Olorunnipa said. “That’s when I knew it was a problem.”

His friends called for help, but it took emergency workers hours to arrive. They said they were receiving thousands of calls each day and advised him to take acetaminophen every four hours and stay hydrated.

Olorunnipa said his symptoms only worsened over the next few days: “My whole body felt as if they were sticking my skin with a needle. You wish your head would go off your body just for you to survive.”

He finally checked into a private hospital, where he recovered and later tested negative for the virus. Olorunnipa planned to return to Lagos on March 26, but travel restrictions left him stranded. He said he plans to take advantage of the Nigerian government’s repatriation plan if possible.

The downtime allowed him to review his priorities: “I love perfumes. I was staring at them but I couldn’t use even one. All these things are vanity.”

On March 9, 29-year-old Osowobi attended the Commonwealth Day ceremony in London, where she served as a flag bearer. Days after her return to Lagos, Osowobi started to feel ill and called the Nigerian Center for Disease Control to get tested, she tweeted.

When her test came back positive, an official ambulance took her to an isolation center. Osowobi tried to remain connected with the rest of the world and stay hydrated.

“The nausea, vomit, and stooling was unbearable,” she said. Osowobi started planning who would take over her initiative, Stand to End Rape, which advocates against sexual abuse.

She thanked God for her recovery and hoped her case would help end the stigma against those with the virus.

“Coronavirus is not a death sentence,” Osowobi said. “People can survive, and I have.”

The pandemic could trigger Africa’s first recession in 25 years and cause more food shortages, Elsie Kanza, head of the World Economic Forum in Africa, said during a news conference on Thursday.

In the meantime, the World Health Organization’s regional director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, encouraged solidarity and collective action to mitigate the humanitarian effects.

Social distancing rules are difficult to follow in overpopulated settings, but she asked governments to implement them when possible and balance restrictions with other hygiene measures like encouraging people to wear masks and increasing access to clean water.

“We’ve seen in the context of very difficult situations like the Ebola outbreak, people adopt very extreme measures that go against how they would normally behave,” Moeti said. “I have a lot of faith in African people and our communities.”

Facebook/Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church Facebook/Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church Members of Early Rain Covenant Church kneel to pray.

Crashing an online Easter worship

Chinese authorities briefly detained six leaders from Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu on Sunday as they participated in a worship service on the Zoom video conferencing.

A church member who was on the call confirmed the arrests to International Christian Concern and said government officials also cut off power at a leader’s home. Authorities released the six church leaders later the same day.

Chinese authorities repeatedly have staged sporadic crackdowns on Early Rain members since December 2018. In January, authorities sentenced Pastor Wang Yi to nine years in prison for inciting subversion of state power and operating an illegal business. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay (file) Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay (file) The burial of an Ebola victim in Beni, Congo, in July 2019

Ebola resurfaces

The Democratic Republic of Congo recorded three new Ebola cases after a lull of more than seven weeks and just days before the government planned to declare an end to the outbreak.

Authorities recorded all three cases in the northeastern town of Beni, which was the epicenter of the epidemic that began in August 2018 and ended with 3,310 cases recorded and more than 2,200 deaths.

The World Health Organization said health officials likely will identify additional cases.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the news was anticipated but “not welcome.” Congo also has recorded nearly 300 confirmed cases and more than 20 deaths from the new coronavirus.

“Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic adds challenges, we will continue this joint effort until we can declare the end of this Ebola outbreak together,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa. —O.O.

Refugees found at sea

The Bangladeshi coast guard on Wednesday rescued at least 382 Rohingya refugees who drifted for 58 days on a boat in the Bay of Bengal. “They were starving,” said coast guard spokesman Lt. Shah Zia Rahman. At least 32 Rohingya died on the overcrowded fishing trawler, their bodies falling into the sea. Rahman said the coast guard responded to a tip and searched for the boat for three days before locating it. Authorities are looking into whether the migrants came from the restive Rakhine state in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where the Rohingya minority face persecution. —O.O.

Chad weakens terror group

The Chadian army last week said it killed 1,000 Boko Haram extremists operating near the country’s western border. Chadian army spokesman Col. Azem Bermendoa Agouna said the military lost 52 soldiers in the operation, which began on March 31 across the Lake Chad border region. On March 23, Boko Haram militants killed more than 90 Chadian soldiers in their deadliest attack yet on the country’s armed forces. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • zonie
    Posted: Sat, 04/18/2020 11:51 pm

    Looks like little Chad is showing up big Nigeria.  Why can't Nigeria do something effective about Boko Haram?? Ah Ah?  I gather they don't really want to.  (I'm omo Nigeria so I can speak about them with some insight.)  BYW, Onize, I appreciate your reporting.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sun, 04/19/2020 11:59 pm

    Do the Nigerians really want to confront the Boko Haram? It seems to me they have fought them halfheartedly. Is it because some have Muslim sympathy for their cause?