Anti COVID-19 Social Distancing Guidelines Virtually Ignored at Market Centers

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Marketplaces in Paynesville are overcrowded and people very close together which is against the guidelines of social distancing.

By Tina S. Mehnpaine

The Daily Observer has gathered that marketers and shoppers alike at the Red Light Market and other marketplaces within and around Monrovia are not adhering to the anti COVID-19 social distancing guidelines promulgated by the Ministry of Health to stop the  spread of the coronavirus.

The social distancing requirement of 6-feet distance between any two people, especially in public places to reduce person to person contact, is among the several health protocols recently announced by health authorities.

Our reporter who visited the Red-light, Duport-Road and ELWA junction markets observed that those marketplaces were overcrowded and people very close together which is against the guidelines of social distancing.

It can be recalled that President George M. Weah in his state of emergency address to the nation ordered the closure all non-essential businesses and barred the sale of non food items restricting same  to only food items to be sold during the 21- day period.

Health authorities say the social distancing mandate aims to keep both buyers and sellers away from each other so that they do not transmit the virus. But it is a very tall order for those who have to venture into local markets and public transportation everyday.

According to reports quoting sources at the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA) Varney A. Sirleaf, Internal Affairs Minister, along with authorities of the LMA, the Paynesville City Corporation (PCC) and the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) recently signed an agreement(publicly undisclosed) to allow marketers to sell food items on a rotational basis in order to reduce the spread of the virus.

However, instead of people  selling only food items at marketplaces, our reporter observed that several individuals were observed to be  selling other goods (non food items) which, according to officially announced regulations remain banned but with a few exceptions such as building materials .

Gloria Tamba, who sells children’s clothes at the Red-light market, said they have to survive too and therefore without selling what they have, meaning non food items, they cannot eat.

“Some of us are lacking the money to engage in food business so we bring out our businesses to raise small money to buy food for our families,” she added.

She added that if the government wants them to stay home, there must be money provided to enable them to buy food.

For his part, Joseph Kollie said that due to the number of people attending the market on a daily basis it is difficult to observe social distancing.

“The market is increasingly packed, and therefore the joint security should regulate the movement of people,” he said.

“The joint security should stop those that are coming to buy non-food items” he said.

Mary Allison sells dry pepper and butter beans.  She said that non-food items are dominating the market, though the government only authorized the sale of food items throughout the 21 days. Although she did not explain why non food items appear to be dominating the market, analysts suggest that this could be due either to the effects of the lockdown which has restricted the movement of agricultural commodities to Monrovia or it could be due to the fact that under normal circumstances, sellers of no food items usually outnumber those selling food items.

For her part, Faith Gobler, a milk and sugarcane seller,  said that they are aware of an agreement signed between MIA and  mayors of the various cities as well as the LMA, to ensure that only food items are sold in the markets.
“Look into the market Hall people are only selling bitter balls, raw pepper, rice and other vegetables. It is outside the market building that people are found violating the order,” she stated.
Abigail Thomas, a buyer said that she knows that only food items are to be sold throughout the state of emergency.
She blamed the joint security for allowing non- food items to be sold, adding  “if only the security are serious no one will sell non food items here.”

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Wheinyue, Assistant Minister for Public Affairs, at the MIA has called on the public to cooperate with the government approved health measures at various market places.

According to Wheinyue the measures were put in place to ensure social distancing between both buyers and sellers. According to him, an  agreement was also signed between the Government  and the Liberia Marketing Association to stop all street selling throughout the country,” he added.
However, details of said agreement remain at best sketchy and have not been made publicly available so far.

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