House Summons Health, Foreign Affairs, Commerce and Education Ministers over COVID-19 Scare

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Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhemina Jallah; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gbehzohngar M. Findley; Minister of Commerce, Wilson K. Tarpeh; and Minister of Education, Anu Sonii

The Ministers of Health, Foreign Affairs, Commerce and Education have been summoned by the House of Representatives to provide an update on the country’s preparedness to combat coronavirus, which has so far been confirmed in Senegal and Nigeria.

So far, Senegal has reported two cases, and Nigeria one; thereby taking the total number of cases in sub-Saharan Africa to three. Both Senegal and Nigeria cases came as a result of traveller coming into their country from other coronavirus-hit regions.

Besides preventive measures, the Health Minister is expected to talk specifically on containments and diagnostic capabilities; while the Ministry of Commerce is expected to talk on the trade of importation, and Foreign Affairs and Education on bilateral and multilateral relationships and Liberian students on scholarships in COVID-19 affected countries.

Health Minister Dr Wilhelmina Jallah, Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Findley, Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh and Education Minister Ansu Sonii are expected to appear in the House Chambers on Thursday, March 5, 2020, at 10:00 a.m.

The decision of the lawmakers followed communications from Montserrado County District #8 Representative Acarous M. Gray, and Montserrado County District #17 Representative Hanson Kiazolu, for a national emergency in preventing the deadly Coronavirus. The motion was made by Montserrado County District #16 Representative, Dixon Seboe.

In his communication, Representative Gray said: “Distinguished Speaker and colleagues, the world is troubled as this virus has no cure and taking a cue from the deadly Ebola virus, we as the direct deputies of the Liberian people, need to lead the process by providing all supports to our health sector. This Coronavirus has begun to show face in West Africa and the likelihood of this virus spreading across the sub-region is highly possible. We need to speedily take appropriate measures in saving the lives of our people.”

“The distinguished people of District #8, Montserrado County would appreciate that this August Body invites the Minister of Health and other relevant authorities in the health sector for the sole purpose of inquiring measures that should be taken to prevent the spread of this virus into our country,” Rep. Gray said.

The House summoned comes days after the World Health Organization has increased its COVID-19 risk assessment to “very high at a global level,” as nearly 50 countries report cases within their borders with more than 3,000 deaths so far.

“We are on the highest level of alert or highest level of risk assessment in terms of spread and in terms of impact,” said Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program. The agency isn’t trying to incite panic, he added. “This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up, get ready, this virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready.”

The case in Nigeria, according to the WHO is part of a broader trend that represents a turning point in the Covid-19 epidemic. Before the virus hitting Nigeria, health officials have warned that a worst-case scenario for the outbreak involves the disease spreading in Africa’s fragile health systems.

“This virus has pandemic potential,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, on Thursday. (A pandemic means a new virus is spreading in multiple regions of the world, but it doesn’t say anything about a disease’s severity.) It was the first time the agency’s director-general acknowledged what other public health experts had been saying in recent weeks with increasing urgency: that we appear to be on the precipice of a pandemic if we’re not already in one.

Also Representative Kiazolu, in his communication said: “I have the honour to present my compliments and to draw the attention of this Plenary to the increasing health risks caused by the deadly Coronavirus which originated from China and has claimed the lives of thousands. This deadly disease is rapidly spreading across Asia and other parts of the globe.”

He indicated: “Hon. Speaker and esteemed colleagues, there are Liberians who are currently residing in China and Italy pursuing academic advancement; some of whom are on scholarship and self-contained. With the current epidemic in these countries, they stand at risk.”

Rep. Kiazolu added: “In view of the above, I’m craving the indulgence of Plenary to invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Education to provide information on the status of those Liberian students who are currently residing in China where the virus is rapidly spreading.”

Meanwhile, earlier this week the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and the Ministry of health, in consultation with the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Liberia, released a travel advisory on the precautionary observation of all persons arriving from countries with widespread and active human to human transmission of COVID-19 within 14 days of departure.

According to the Liberian health authorities, the following guidelines constitute the criteria necessitating transfer of arriving passengers to Star Base, the Government of Liberia’s (GOL) approved Precautionary Observation Center (POC).

  1. Any person who, within 14 days before arriving in Liberia, has resided in a country that has reported 200 or more confirmed cases will be taken to the Star base POC for 14 days of monitoring. As of February 26, 2020, those countries are the following: China (78,190 cases), Japan (835 cases) and South Korea (1,113 cases) and Italy (310 cases).
  2. Visitors who have been in countries with 50 to 100 confirmed cases (with widespread transmission in specific geographic areas, such as regions, states, provinces, cities, etc.) in the last 14 days, will be evaluated based on the specific geographical areas they visited. If visitors are coming from specific geographical areas in countries with 100 or more confirmed cases experiencing widespread transmission, they will undergo precautionary observation at the GOL approved POC.
  3. Visitors from countries with 15 to less than 50 cases will be documented and asked to do self-monitoring and report immediately to NPHIL’s emergency toll-free phone number (4455), if they experience any one of these symptoms; fever, cough and/or respiratory distress. Such countries include Thailand (15), Singapore (37) and Bahrain (23).

Additionally, given the fact that there are reported attempts to some visitors to circumvent enhanced airport screening procedures by obtaining a laissez-passer or new passport, we have also instituted the following measures:

  1. All persons who arrive with a laissez-passer will be immediately taken to the POC for secondary screening. If there is any suspicion of illegal attempts to circumvent process, such a visitor will be kept in the POC for 14 days.
  2. The above is also applicable to new arrivals with a brand-new passport. This advisory will be continuously modified as the epidemiology of the disease evolves over time.

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