Liberia Declares a State of Health Emergency In Wake of Coronavirus Pandemic
Monrovia – The Government of Liberia, in its latest move to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019, has declared a state of national health emergency. The government has even gone further to invoke the Public Health Law of Liberia, designating Montserrado and Margibi Counties as infected areas.
By doing so, the government instituted several measures largely aimed at limiting crowding in the two counties beginning “effective immediately.”
“In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and in an effort to keep our nation safe, the Minister of Health has declared a national health emergency,” Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina S. Jallah announced in a live radio broadcast on Sunday, March 22.
Dr. Jallah declared the two counties “infected areas” in keeping with Title 33, Chapter 14 of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised, known as the Public Health Law. She went on to list some rules and regulations, which are to remain in effect for the next 21 days.
Appearing live on state radio 48 hours later after Russ was diagnosed, Dr. Jallah, among several measures, announced the closure of all private and public schools, universities, colleges and other institutions of learning for 21 days as of March 21, 2019 within Montserrado and Margibi Counties.
She said the Ministry of Justice, as head of the Joint Security, shall enforce these rules without prejudice.
The ban also covers bars, night clubs, casinos, betting centers, cinemas, video clubs, entertainment centers, private and public beaches, barber shops and beauty salons.
“Churches, Mosques, religious centers and other places of worshiped are hereby ordered closed,” she said.
The government has also barred large gatherings, including sporting activities and parties of more than 10 people.
Allowed But Restricted
Meanwhile, the Government has ordered that banks, restaurants and cook shops should only allow five persons in at a time, while those outside should keep a distance of six feet apart.
Supermarket and large stores are requested to allow 10 customers at a time, while those waiting outside for their turn to be served should stand six feet apart, with businesses being encouraged to find innovative ways of promoting social distancing.
Regulation on Transportation
For public transport, taxis should carry no more than two passengers in the back, and one passenger in the front, while tricycle (kehkehs) take two passengers at the back, with the driver alone in the front seat.
Motorbike should abide by the previous mandate of carrying a passenger at a time.
“Except for cargo, chattered and special flights, all commercial flights are hereby ordered suspended as of Monday, March 23 at 11:59 PM,” Dr. Jallah said.
For health facilities and institutions, including pharmacies, the Minister said they will remain open for routine services, with social distancing practices, adding that all safety rules and procedures at health facilities should be strictly adhered to.
For the markets, Dr. Jallah announced that the Incident Management Team will work along with the Liberia Marketing Association to implement the requisite protocols for all markets during this period.
Meanwhile, the Health Minister has announced the restriction on the movement of people in and out of the affected areas, adding “All travels in and out outside the Montserrado and Margibi areas are discouraged.”
The Government also barred street selling by adults and children and called for mandatory hand washing with soap and clean water at homes and other private and public areas.
She cautioned community dwellers to report people showing signs and symptoms of the coronavirus including coughing, fever and difficulty in breathing to relevant health authorities or call the hotline 4455.
Third COVID-19 Case Triggers Gov’t’s Decision
The unprecedented and most stringent move so far, was triggered after authorities reported the third case of the coronavirus in Liberia.
While detailed information were given by authorities over the first and second cases involving Dr. Nathaniel Blama of the Environmental Protection Agency and his domestic worker Johnny Philips, there have been conflicting accounts on how the third carrier of the virus, Lenda Russ, 63 may have been infected.
However, the Director General-designate of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Dr. Mosoka Fallah, corroborated reports by FrontPageAfrica that Ms. Russ had attended a reunion beach party in Margibi County with old classmates on Sunday, March 8, 2020, and among them was a friend that had returned from Italy.
But the contact from Italy, along with closed family members was traced and tested negative, Dr. Fallah said.
Speaking further, he disclosed that more aggressive tracing of primary and secondary contacts of Ms. Russ was launched in the last 48 hours.
Said Dr. Fallah: “We retraced her steps and realized that she had generated lots of contacts from her house. At Aspen, we have listed 36 contacts; at the clinic lab, she generated 10 contacts, while at her work site, 56 contacts. At the beach party, we piece together a list of 90 persons and have obtained phone contacts of about 80 persons. Since today is day 14 of the party, all we are trying to do now is to see those people and make sure they are okay.”
He furthered that specimen of 50 of those contacts were gathered on Sunday to be tested, while tests for all those at the 14 Military Hospital who have been tested will be repeated this week, with those proving negative to be sent home.
‘Extreme Enemies of the State’
Meanwhile, Dr. Fallah has labelled as extreme enemies, those spreading false information about the coronavirus on social media and other platforms, and called on them to desist.
“We are appealing to people to stop the spread of false information. It is dangerous to spread misinformation, like the one that we are going to spread the virus from the air. How can you do this to your country? Every nation is shutting down. And in the midst of that you are spreading misinformation. Those who are doing that are extreme enemies of this country.”