Liberia: Mixed Reactions to Prospects of Lockdown

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President George Weah: ”Following calls from religious leaders, President Weah has proposed that Churches, and Mosques consider the commencement of their operations beginning Sunday, May 17, 2020, with 25 percent of the regular worship-hour occupancy for each service..."

As reports of an imminent national lock-down to stop the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) reverberate across Monrovia and its environs, thousands of Liberians would have been expected to anxiously rush to stores and market places to stock up on essentials in what is known as panic buying. Sadly, many do not have the means as they depend on a daily hustle to survive and, as such, they are only hoping that the country does not go into a lock-down.

A state of emergency is expected to be declared as President George Manneh Weah, according to a release from the Information Ministry, will address the nation today. This could leave many with no option but to brace themselves for the inevitable.

So far, 14 persons have tested positive for COVID-19 in Liberia. Health experts fear that the number would spike in the coming days, considering the number of contacts that have been generated. The upsurge in cases is being rapidly experienced after two weeks, since the Minister of Health imposed a national health emergency, restricting movement and group activities in Montserrado and Margibi Counties to help contain the spread.

With reports of a curfew coming into force at a time when government has not developed any economic contingency plan to assist the masses, the country could literally be sitting on combustible material and it will just be a matter of time before it explodes.

Some Liberians interviewed by the Daily Observer fear that a total lock-down is not advisable because a large percentage of the nation’s population does not have the capacity to store up food for more than a day.

With the looming imposition of a state of emergency, they fear that the biggest concern won’t be Coronavirus, but hunger as majority of the citizenry are dependent upon daily hustle — therefore, such a measure would throw the lives of many poor Liberians in disarray.

Mr. Aaron Mulbah said that the Government’s decisions to lock down some institutions, such as schools and churches, was a good one but it should not implement a total lock-down.

“If the government implements total lock-down measures aimed at containing the Coronavirus, then a lot of people will die of hunger instead of the virus being tackled through other means,” Mulbah said. “We all know that majority of the people feed on daily hustle and locking them in without alternative means will not be the best thing to do.”

“Many families don’t have the means to stockpile food at home if the government should implement the total lock-down,” Nancy Kollie, who trades in roasted cassava in Paynesville said. “This would surely make us die of hunger.”

Grand Kru County Electoral District 2 Representative, Jonathan Fonati Koffa, has since called for the development of a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Plan in order to help the people, especially the most vulnerable, just in case of a state of emergency. He urged the provision of free food and electricity for three consecutive months if the Coronavirus pandemic escalates in the country, but this is yet to be considered.

Some are calling on the government to rather implement restrictions on inter-county travels as opposed to the total lockdown that many think is imminent.

Emmanuel Logan, a student at the state-run University of Liberia, said that with the current hardship and sufferings even before the coming of COVID-19, total lockdown would worsen the situation.

“Some people didn’t save anything or prepare for any curfew or lockdown and some have to go and source to cater for their families on a daily basis. This measure will be unfair to so many families. No one will lock their family indoors to starve to death,” he said.

Some people have, however, been pushing for the lockdown, suggesting that it would be an effective and stringent measure to curtail and contain the spread of the virus. They also suggest that it should be done in a more responsible way by government making some sacrifices to cater to the needs of the people as it is being done in other countries.

One person who has called for the lockdown is renowned Liberian Infectious Disease Scientist, Christopher Dougbeh Nyan, who is resident in the USA.

He however urged government to do it in a way that the citizenry won’t be agitated—calling on the government to provide the people with the information that will prepare them for the lockdown.

Also, veteran Liberian journalist, Philipbert Browne, is another person who has been rooting for the lockdown. In an open letter to the President, Browne said any further delay will not be in the interest of the people and that the President should be decisive now.

“The Government should enforce strict measures and laws to prevent and contain the [spread of the] virus,” Browne said.

“Government fears that the virus may gain a stronghold in the country if drastic measures are not imposed. We need to take the hard decisions for the common good of the nation,” a top government official who hinted the Observer on the lockdown said. “This should have been locked down long before now. If advanced countries with all the medical expertise will be locked down, why not Liberia?” The official noted that with the daily increase of the number of people infected with the virus, the country would be locked down eventually.

The President had earlier stated that his government will take more stringent measures if that is what it will take to contain the virus.

Some of those interviewed lauded the government for the proactive steps to close schools, Churches, Mosques and the imposition of other social distancing measures in order to prevent and contain the spread of the virus. Many have been calling President Weah to show leadership in the fight against the virus. They want the President to be decisive and actively involved as the leader to inspire not just the front-liners, but the entire country.

A group of renowned Civil Society Organizations on Monday made a call for concerted national effort to be led by the President as the population is now being affected at an alarming rate.

The CSO group want the President Weah to lead a national effort that will rally the support of all stakeholders, including political parties, the private sector, religious community, civil society and media, traditional leaders, women and youth groupings etc.

Anderson Miamen, executive director of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), one of the CSOs, said the level at the which the crisis has escalated has the potential to undermine the economic, social and political stability of the country.

“President Weah must begin to show leadership now,” Miamen said. “As these threats loom, the CSOs are calling on President Weah to show leadership if Liberians are to emerge victorious from this crisis.”

Miamen noted that much is not seen at this moment as it relates to the level of leadership, coordination; community engagement and timely information sharing that characterized the fight against Ebola.

“We wish to call on the government to build on existing structures and resources used during the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) to save resources and timely eradicate the virus.”

Many have frowned upon the President’s decision to work from home at a time when he should be leading the national efforts to combat the virus. The CSOs said they are yet to see any semblance of leadership from Weah that would ensure a successful fight against the COVID-19.

“We saw the level of leadership that was exerted by President Sirleaf and the massive mobilization that she and her team employed during the Ebola the country. Those efforts led to a successful fight that even made country to be the first to be declared free of the virus,” a CSO leader said.

Sadly, Weah has been working from home since the country recorded its first two cases, he said.

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