Liberia: Close Associates of Pres. Weah Reportedly By-Pass Health Protocols at Airport, But…

There are allegations that a few individuals who are close to President George Weah are not adhering to health regulations at the Roberts International Airport but such claims have also been debunked by the individuals who insist they are serving quarantine

Monrovia – The fight against the spread of the coronavirus disease in Liberia is being marred by claims and counterclaims over the exemption of closed associates of President George Manneh Weah and some government officials from being quarantined when they arrive back into the country from Covid-19-hit places.

The situation is said to be making the fight against the virus difficult for health workers and joint security personnel assigned at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) to enforce such a measure. 

At least three cases of the Covid_19, the disease associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus, have been reported in Liberia.

Several protocols, including a mandatory quarantine for 14 days for all persons entering Liberia from covid-19-hit countries, are being instituted by the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) personnel, who are stationed at the RIA.

At least a list containing over 150 countries and cities have been released to officers of the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) and the Liberia National Police (LNP) to quarantine travellers from these destinations for the 14-day period.

The acting chairman of the Council of Patriots (COP), Mo Ali, disclosed that upon his return to Liberia from the United States on Monday, March 16, his passport was taken by immigration officers, along with several others. He and others were taken to be quarantined.

“At the airport, they have a protocol there and countries listed in which when you come, they have to quarantine you for 14 days. The United States at the time was treated state by state basis. Our passports were taken and we went through the Immigration process, collected our luggage and we were carried to various hotels. I was brought to the Golden Gate Hotel around the SKD Sports Complex,” Ali said.

At this hotel, along the RIA highway, he alleged to this newspaper that while he and other “low profiled” Liberians were being taken, the Executive Director of the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE), Mr. Pepci Yekeh, was not made to board the vehicle. 

According to Ali, who is a known critic of the government, Yekeh has not been spotted at the hotel, nor at any of the other quarantined centers and that he was allowed to go to his home. Yekeh is an official of the Liberian government.

The COP chairman claimed that the enforcement of protocols is being selectively carried out.

He said further that some government officials, as well as citizens and foreigners closer to those in power are being exempted from the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

“A government official, Pepci Yekeh was on the flight with me. He came from US State of Texas. In fact, we were all to be quarantined because his passport was taken from him. Texas is on the list and so, we all were waiting for the bus. I and others came ahead; Pepci and others were the last group, who came but he is not at the hotel. I understand that there are people at Golden Key, Executive Lounge, and the Kailondo Hotel on the Old Road. But two persons involved with the process, have told me that he hasn’t been seen around; he is not under quarantine.”

Using Connection to By-pass Quarantine

Last week, a photograph of a young lady identified as Fatu Sheriff-Schmidt, standing alongside Sekou Kalasco Damaro, Special Aide to President Weah, went viral on social media few hours after she had arrived in the country from Germany.

Fatu, who claims to be a businesswoman, reportedly received VIP treatment and was not quarantined in keeping with the protocols.

However, Ali claimed that some citizens are using their connection with senior government officials to bypass the mandate.

“We’ve seen several people who came into the country and because of their connection with people in power, have not been quarantined. You see all on social media the issue of Fatu Sheriff-Schmidt. She came from Germany, one of the epicenters of this virus. She arrived here on Tuesday and she was never quarantined.

“She claimed on Facebook that she did her test in Germany and the result was negative. Here is the thing, she did her test but she came into contact with people before coming into Liberia. Once you interacted with people, you must go through the quarantine. I know nurses, who were on the flight. They had come from Sweden; they were tested negative, but they are being quarantined at the Executive Lounge. So, what’s wrong with quarantining other people?”

Pepci speaks

Reacting to the report, LACE Executive Director Pepci Yekeh admitted being on the flight with Ali upon his return to Liberia. He spoke with our reporter via telephone on Saturday, March 21.

According to Yekeh, the mini bus, provided by health authorities to transport those coming into Liberia from the airport to various quarantined centers, was not spacious enough, as such, he (Pepci) and few others left at RIA, while Ali and the others boarded the bus.

He told FrontPageAfrica that contrary to Ali’s allegation, he and others were taken to the Golden Key Hotel and it was allegedly from that hotel that he was speaking with our reporter. 

“I got in Liberia on the 16th of March. We got at the airport and the people seized our passports and we were told that we were going under quarantine. I saw Mo Ali and we spoke about one minute. The health team brought the smaller buses to carry people and their luggage by phases. So, Mo Ali managed I think to get on the first or second phase. Where they are quarantining people-we are not in one hotel. Mo Ali and myself are not in the same hotel. I am currently at Golden Key Hotel right to King Gray. I been here since I been in the country.”

Both Golden Key and Golden Gate hotels are within the same vicinity of SKD Sports Complex.

Fatu’s reaction

Rebuffing all the allegations against her, Fatu took to Facebook to justify that a coronavirus test conducted on her proved negative prior to her trip to Liberia.

She described the comments being made against her on the social media as “unhealthy”.

She stressed that she followed all of the preventive measures instituted by health authorities at the RIA.

She, however, fell short of clarifying whether or not she was made to go through the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

“My attention has been drawn to some unhealthy comments on social media in connection to my arrival during this difficult and critical period of pandemic. Every country has introduced preventive measures to prevent of the coronavirus pandemic among its citizens. Before my departure from Germany, Europe I took the standard coronavirus test and got a negative result which was documented, indicating that I had no coronavirus upon boarding the flight.”

She added: “We were very few passengers on the flight wearing protective masks and sitting distant from one another as an additional preventive and precautionary measures recommended by the airline. Upon my arrival at the Roberts International Airport (RIA), I respectfully went through all preventive measures outlined by the national health authorities of Liberia. Again, there was no traces or symptoms of coronavirus detected in my body. I have never exercised any form of disregard against the preventive guidelines set”.

Fatu’s comments were later deleted from her Facebook page for unknown reasons just few minutes after it was posted.