The National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH) has warned Liberians who want to travel to China as well as those who want to travel from China to Liberia, to put a hold on their travel plans over the next one month, considering the threat posed by the coronavirus in China.
The warning came in the wake of the unprecedented manner in which the novel-2019 Coronavirus is spreading in China and around the world has resulted in the Declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concerns (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Addressing journalists on Sunday, February 2 at the Headquarters of the NPHIL in Congo Town, Health Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, said that there are about 12,000 cases and over 250 deaths as of that date, which according to her, are mostly in China and spreading rapidly from China to about 17 other countries. She said every province in China has reported a confirmed case, which means they are sites of active transmissions of the virus.
“This means that you increase your chances of contracting the disease and bringing to Liberia to spread it further,” Minister Jallah said.
Meanwhile, the ministry has refuted rumors regarding the coronavirus outbreak in Liberia. “The Ministry has not reported any case of the coronavirus in Liberia as it has been reported in Monrovia and its environs.”
Moreover, given the current explosive transmission of the virus that started in December 2019 from Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and to the rest of the world, the NPHIL and the MOH have activated their preparedness plans. At the press conference, the Acting Director of NPHIL, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, said as part of NPHIL’s plan, it has enhanced screening for all arrivals at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) since January 25, 2020.
Dr. Fallah told reporters that the Health Sector has instituted these measures to reduce the likelihood of an imported case of the deadly Coronavirus. He said there are reported cases of active human-to-human transmissions of the virus in many other countries, including North America, Europe, and Asia.
He noted that the World Health Organization Africa Region (WHO AFRO) has sent the Ministry of Health of Liberia guidelines on how to heighten the NPHIL’s preparedness, adding that utilizing the guidelines and experiences from the Ebola Outbreak is essential and, as such, they have instituted measures to include the following: Surge capacity in Airport Screening for 24 hours daily at the Roberts International Airport (RIA), as well as a 24-hour ambulance service at the same location.
Other measures include collaborating with the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) to track previous arrivals from transmissions zones, activating the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) and County EOC through the county health officers, as well as Commence Risk Communication through the media, religious groups, and Civil Society.
Dr. Fallah also noted that, as a result of NPHIL’s preparedness and interventions, they have identified 57 Liberian students, business people and other nationals who have arrived from the areas of hot transmission. “We have identified the history of travel to be through China. They filled the complete health form including their current phone numbers and home addresses,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that the NPHIL’s attempt to see them physically has not met with 100% success, noting that, “while most of them have answered their phone calls and allowed us to see them, some of them have decided not to answer phone calls, with others switching off their phones perpetually.”
When asked about the danger those individuals pose to the public, he said: “We are doing everything possible to track them soon.”
He said they have instituted a “Precautionary Observation Center”, where arrivals from hot zones will be kept for 14 days and monitored. “All of the comfort and psychosocial support will be provided to them while they are under precautionary observation,” Dr. Fallah added.
He emphasized that there will be no visitation for the 14 days, but they will be provided with the best support to make their stay comfortable and check daily. In another development, Dr. Fallah has disclosed that NPHIL in consultation with WHO and the United States Centers Disease Control (US CDC) has drafted a brief protocol to summarize the precautionary observation.