Liberia’s Public Health Institute Refutes Report of Suspected Coronavirus Case

Liberia’s National Public Health Institute Acting Director-General Dr. Mosaka Fallah

Monrovia – The acting Director-General of the National Public Health Institute said the agency is open to listening to rumor about the Coronavirus, but he warned against false rumor that would stir fear within the public.

Dr. Mosoka Fallah added that NPHIL has always been proactive in communicating information about the Coronavirus outbreak to the public through the media and will not renege on doing the needful.

He stressed that during outbreaks, it is “better for people to be talking than not talking” about the virus.

“We really welcome the sharing of rumors; however, rumors are rumors and whenever there is a rumor there is need to verify the rumor – so we encourage people to call 4455 and then give us any rumor for that matter because what that does for us is that we will go back to verify,” he said Thursday during a press conference at NPHIL office in Congo Town.

He was responding to a story published by FrontPageAfrica which quoted a source hinting about a suspected case of the novel Coronavirus virus within the Liberian population after a person suspected of being infected had reportedly travelled from China to Ghana and then opted to travel by road to enter Liberia.

Dr. Fallah, who rebutted the story, said it was only a rumor that should be verified, adding that health authorities have been trying to identify the source of the “false rumor”.

“There is a businesswoman in Liberia call Anna Wong – she said she heard it from the Chinese community. So, we asked her to tell us anything she knows about the rumor … but she could not say anything more than saying ‘it was a rumor’,” explained Dr. Fallah.

“So we want to treat it as a rumor as such and we cannot admit to a case that is a rumor as a true case – we want to remind the public that there is no case in the public – we are investigating the rumor and have been working with the Chinese Embassy and we have no name.”

Commenting on a recent “alert” case that was later proven negative, Dr. Fallah recalled how Liberia’s health authority effectively collaborated with the Ghanaian health authority to trace and determine that person.

The NPHIL boss stressed that countries in the region have intensified collaboration in keeping surveillance and tracking travellers from China or countries with infections.

He added that the regional collaboration would make it difficult for an infected person to breach such protocol and enter Liberia without being noticed.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fallah called on the media to avoid exacerbating any panic about the Coronavirus within the population, which he warned might have “devastating impact” on the country and its economy.

“You cannot publish a rumor and we cannot confirm a rumor – we had not started doing any investigation because it is a rumor, because the first thing you have to do is to establish the veracity of the rumor before you start doing investigation,” he said, adding that there have been “multiple rumors” since the virus began raging globally.

“We really welcome the sharing of rumors; however, rumors are rumors and whenever there is a rumor there is need to verify the rumor – so we encourage people to call 4455 and then give us any rumor for that matter because what that does for us is that we will go back to verify.”

– Acting Director-General, Dr. Mosaka Fallah

He disclosed that there have been rumor including one about a case at the Capitol – office of the Legislature – which was later proven untrue. 

Another rumor about a suspected case at the United Nations building was also proven as a false alarm, the public health expert said.

However, he emphasized that it is “very important” for the public to report to NPHIL and health authorities any rumor, while assuring that health experts are determined to investigate it whether true or false.

“What will be bad on our part is when we do not investigate, but when rumor comes we will investigate,” he said.

Observation Facility Better than Speculated

Meanwhile, travellers, who recently returned from China, have agreed to stay at the Star Base facility on the Bushrod Island, where they are being monitored for a period of 14 days as a means of preventing any case of the novel Coronavirus into the country.

This comes after speculation swirled on February 25, that those under observation at the facility were expressing dissatisfaction and wanted to leave.

But when a team of reporters toured Star Base on Wednesday, February 26, they observed that the facility was tidy with sanitary condition better then speculated. 

Reporters also observed that those under health authority’s observation were being catered to appropriately. 

The center serves as a Precautionary Observation Center (POC) where people, who recently returned home from China or any of the countries affected by the outbreak, are kept under scrutiny for 14 days and when they show no symptoms of the Coronavirus, they are released to their families.

National Public Health Institute says it would keep in contact with people who are released to avert any eventuality.

Public health experts with NPHIL have also stressed that when any person shows symptoms of the novel virus while at the POC, that individual will then be taken into isolation at the special center at Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town.

For now, the Star Base facility hosts 22 persons who recently arrived from China. Each person stays in a room. The facility, including halls and bathrooms are sensitized multiple times during the day and night, officials of the NPHIL said on Wednesday.

“This is just a precautionary measure but we have protocols in place that in case we see any confirmed case, we can go to a higher level making sure we separate them and pay special attention,” said Amos Gorie, Deputy Director, Division of Environmental and Occupational Health at NPHIL.

He said people at the POC are checked on a daily basis by health practitioners including a doctor who do temperature check and monitor their health.

Some of those at the POC told reporters that although the facility was not at the standard of their homes, they are prepared to remain under observation for the interest of public health. 

Prior to moving travelers from China to the Star Base POC, individuals coming into the country from the Asian country were being observed at hotels. But health authority said it is very cost intensive.

Almost a hundred people, who were being monitored at various POCs, have been graduated and sent home. This means they showed no symptoms of the virus as health authority insist that there is no case of the virus in the country.

On 17 February, 23 travellers from China, who were observed for 14 days, were certificated following completion of precautionary observation and were released to their families.

Globally, more than 80,000 people in 34 countries have been infected with the new coronavirus, which emerged in December. The vast majority of infections remain in China.

Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, has killed more than 2,700 people so far across the world.