Liberia Experiences Spike in COVID-19 Cases As the Country Prepares to Reopen Its International Airport

Barely a week before Liberia reopens its airport, the numbers appear to be on the rise. Testing has been blamed for the confusing numbers so far but that has changed. Today, there are more than five Sample Collection sites in Montserrado County. Since the introduction of the sample collections site couple with robust community Engagement campaigns, cases have started to skyrocket.

Monrovia – For weeks now, many have been quietly concerned that Liberia had been under-reporting the number of COVID-19 cases. However, over the past few days, the rapid rise in the number of positive tests have triggered a wave of reactions with many laying the blame squarely on emerging differences between the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the National Public Health Institute(NPHIL).

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

Senator  Saah Joseph(CDC, Montserrado) gave credence to the speculations that has been in the air for weeks, in a Facebook post this week. “MOH vs NPHIL! Because of your in-house fight, the number of cases are increasing on a daily basis. No communities awareness activities, where is the hazard support to health workers? You will be called upon to answer those questions. As of 10am on June 22, 2020, Liberia had reported 652 active confirmed cases, 34 deaths and 270 recoveries.”

As of close of day Wednesday, that number increased again, with NPHIL reporting  an additional ten new cases and 662 confirmed cases since March with 358 of that number still listed as active.

Why the numbers are rising

This week, NPHIL staffers report that Liberia has clocked 100 days of active response and 100 days.

So, what’s responsible for the increase?

Since March this year, a total of 7,269 samples have been collected and tested, representing people who have completed 14-days follow up.

Since March, 4,786 contacts have been listed since March. This means for every case generated, there is an average of seven contacts.

In order to mobilize the various communities and promote voluntary sample collections for testing, the Ministry of Health and the NPHIL, supported by the US Center for Disease Control and the GoL, have set up more than 500 community health workers, located in commonwealth and the central Monrovia health district, plus 100 community Health Supervisors and 14 Community-Based Organizations.

A total of six communities in Thinkers Village were targeted as hot spot and some 1000 community members were mobilized. As a result, a total of 673 persons turned out voluntary sample collections.

Additionally, authorities say, 30 communities in Duport Road were targeted and 2000 community members were mobilized, bringing the total there to 585 persons who turned out for Voluntary sample testing.

Today, there are more than five sample collections sites in Montserrado County. Authorities say since the introduction of the sample collections site, couple with robust community engagement campaigns, cases have started to skyrocket.

Nevertheless, many are concerned that some Liberians are not taking the pandemic seriously and even after 100 days of active engagements, it is difficult to gauge whether the country’s fight against the COVID-19 is progressing or retrogressing?

Judging from the numbers of the past few weeks, it appears Liberia may still be far away from full recovery.

Patient Zero Triggered Trend

An expert analysis of the history of the epi curve to date shows some of the possible reason the virus is spiking and why Liberia is seeing an upsurge in the number of cases.  The long and short explanation, experts says, is that the political strategy is not matching the technical strategy and the financial input also is not matching the sort of intervention that should be going into the COVID-19; thus, explaining the upward surge.

For example, a closer look through the key dates during the various periods leading up to Liberia’s Patient Zero, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), Nathaniel Blama, from March 8th to the 14, shows when the country was still in preparedness, when Liberians were still watching the trend of the virus and listening to the narratives from China and later to the US and to Europe.

During the week of the 15th of March to the 21st. when the first case zero was recorded on the 16th of March, the entire week also recorded three high-profile cases – the index case, Blama, and the two persons that worked for him.

The index case was dominated That received widespread media coverage because it was the first case that Liberia has seen. The days after when Blama was taken to the 14 military hospital, authorities began tracing those who came in contact with him. Many others were tested and dispatched to hotels that were being used as Precautionary Observation Centers.

In the days that followed, Liberia witnessed a slowdown in infections with many hopeful that the three cases were the only ones. But even after the fourteen days elapsed, Blama was still kept for observation, along with his two staffers.

Then came the controversial beach party where a number of persons were suspected of coming in contact with a positive case during the week of  March 29, to April 4th.

It was a seventh day window when a number of persons and one death occurred.

It was during a seven-day window after the beach party that the country recorded its first death, a 72-year-old man who tested positive for the virus died on April 5th.

In the days that followed, authorities emphasized the need for Liberians “to follow health protocols for the safety of everyone.”

From that week to the second week, the country began to witness increased number of cases, with closed to 100 persons in precautionary observation centers as the government came under fire for paying astronomical amount of money to keep people in POCs and the 14 Military Hospital, prompting technicians and the Incident Management System and partners to force the government to announce a lockdown.

Authorities say the lockdown, actually started to reduce the number of cases.

Month of June Seeing High Positive Tests

Looking at the week of May 3rd to the 9th and toward the week the 16th, the week of the lockdown when a 9pm to 6am curfew came into effect, authorities say most people observed the measures.

Over the past week, as the numbers continue to rise, authorities have embarked on a measure to force Liberians to wear masks.

Authorities hope that the mandatory technical strategy and push for social distancing and limiting movement between counties will help slow down the spike.

Authorities say the new rise in cases is not related to anything technical, but mostly because of the lack of commitment and adherence and political measures to ensure that people actually do wear the masks; and other measures were not adhered. Thus, cases piled up in the 24th and third week in May up to the first week in June.

In the first week of June for example, there were 70 cases. The next week of June recorded 99 cases – all this when everything was laxed and everything opened. The third week which was last week, recorded 168 cases.

Airport Reopening Pivotal Turn

Late last week, President Weah announced further extension of his State of Emergency, in a proclamation, extending the State of Emergency for a period of thirty (30) days effective 22 June (the date of its expiration) and ending on the twenty-one (21) day of July, 2020.

The extension comes at the country is bracing for the resumption of flights and reopening of the Roberts International Airport on June 28.

The government’s Chief Spokesman, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe told FrontPageAfrica Monday that the Roberts International Airport is still on course for June 28. “We are in discussions to work our modalities for special waiver, in keeping with the health protocols, for airlines. We going to also harmonize the schedules with the other requirements. The date for the airport reopening remains June 28, 2020,” the minister said.

SN Brussels is set to make the first flight out of Brussels on June 29, a day after the resumption of flights. Subsequent flights are also schedule from the US on July 6 and 10th respectively.

With an increased number of testing now going on, authorities expect new numbers Sunday should gauge the state of Liberia’s COVID-19 readiness ahead of the airport opening. “We have yet to assess the first week of the latest extension of the lockdown will have,” a member of the Incident Management Team told FrontPageAfrica Wednesday. The new numbers for the week of  June  21st to the 27th could give an idea about what Liberia can expect to deal with when flights recommences.