As COVID-19 fears Grip Monrovia amid fear of continued spread of virus
Liberians fear that the government through the Incident Management Team (IMT), as well as other relevant health authorities, are not providing the public with the real unfolding as it relates to the raging coronavirus disease that recently surfaced if an evacuation alert from the Embassy of the United States is anything to go by.
Liberia currently has three official confirmed cases of the COVID-19, as announced by the Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, but the US Embassy in a communication posted on its website said it is evacuating from the country some US citizens who have been infected by the disease.
News of a chartered medical flight scheduled to take COVID-19 patients, not any of the confirmed ones in government intensive care, to the USA via the Roberts International Airport Wednesday spread yesterday like wildfire as many fear that the government is underreporting the confirmed cases of the virus.
A Health Alert posted on the US Embassy website disclosed that the COVID-19 patients will be in a medically approved, isolated part of the US chartered plane. After the embassy publication, Social media, especially Facebook immediately became inundated with many users expressing fear that there might be more cases in the country and that the government is hiding the information.
The three confirmed cases of the virus, include suspended Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Nathaniel Blama, who became the country’s index case, Johnny Philips, a domestic worker of the first case and 63-year-old Lenda Russ, who is considered the source of nation’s first community transmission. Ms. Russ, being a citizen of the United States, did not get to travel on the chartered flight.
The US Embassy did not, in the Health Alert, give the exact number of patients as well as how and where they contracted the Coronavirus, but fears abound that these might be local cases. The alert did not also say whether the patients are US Embassy employees or US citizens.
Meanwhile, the chartered aircraft flew to Liberia from Burkina Faso, where two diplomats to that country including the U.S. Ambassador Andrew Robert Young and Italian Ambassador Andrea Romussi, have tested positive for the Coronavirus. Ambassador Young is believed to be a passenger on that flight.
The Embassy health alert, however, noted that the patients and other citizens will be flown to Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C. The alert reads in part, “The Department of State and U.S. Embassy Monrovia have very limited availability for U.S. citizens on a chartered medical flight which will depart Roberts International Airport at approximately midnight and fly to Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C.
Priority consideration will be given to older adults, people with underlying health conditions (such as diabetes or heart and lung disease), as well as other adults in need of medical assistance.
“All passengers will need to reimburse the U.S. Government for the flight at a later date. A promissory note for approximately $1,300 must be signed before boarding. No cash or credit card payments will be accepted,” the Health Alert indicated.
It said those taking advantage of the flight will be responsible for any arrangements or costs (lodging, onward destination or local transportation, etc.) beyond their initial destination in the USA.
“Exact departure time and routing are subject to change. Luggage will be limited to two bags per person, 20 KG maximum,” it said.
The virus is currently raging in the US, which currently has a total of 83,098 cases with 886 deaths and 338 recoveries. Many of the US cases, according to reports, were imported by nationals who returned home.
The head of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Mosoka Fallah, confirmed that he contacted the embassy over this development, but was told that a plane would be coming from Burkina Faso to take people to the US and that there will be no patient on the plane from Burkina Faso. He said the government will speak to the issue very soon.
Liberians have since begun to weigh in on the news after it broke with some calling on the government to take the news very seriously. Mark Willie said on his Facebook page. “A communication from the US Embassy that it is evacuating scores of its citizens, some of whom are Coronavirus patients, is sending shock-waves through some of us because we are only aware of three confirmed cases of the virus and those are currently quarantined by the government I think our authorities have been under-reporting the cases.”
Willie wondered whether the government was aware of the cases that the US Embassy is talking about and if it did, why it did not alert the public about those. “Are we saying that it is only our people that we can bring to public ridicule but shy away when it involves big hands?” he asked.
For Mercy Kollie, the situation is more worrisome as it is a clear indication that there is more to what the public is seeing on the surface as regards the severity of the pandemic in the country.
“This situation is deeper than what we think. With this news coming out now through an alert hidden on an Embassy’s website, I can just imagine what is going on in our government. We need to be fair to our people with the information we are providing,” Ms. Kollie noted.