Just a few days after the Liberian government granted permission for the reopening of mosques and churches, health authorities have reported that the country’s coronavirus cases have climbed to 212, an increase from 199.
The increase in the country’s COVID-19 cases comes as 1,330 suspected and probable cases have been reported across 13 counties with 20 deaths so far. Also 35 health workers have tested positive for the virus.
“Some 60% of the reported deaths were community deaths that were captured by the surveillance system. Ninety-eight and one-half percent (98.5%) of confirmed cases are locally transmitted and 1.5% remain imported with the age range among confirmed cases between 1 month and 74 years, with median age 42 years,” the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) has disclosed.
NPHIL added that Montserrado county remains the hotspot with 88.2% of the confirmed cases.
“A total of 20 deaths (CFR-11.8%) in confirmed cases, including two health workers, have been recorded. A total of 2,321 contacts have been recorded; 66 (2.8%) have tested positive; 1,463 (63%) have completed 14 days follow up; while 892 (38.4%) remains under active follow-up with 97.3% seen in the last 24 hours. Also, a total of 78 high risk contacts remain under observation in precautionary observation centers in four counties,” NPHIL said.
According to observers, the scary reality about Liberia’s COVID-19 deaths, which are relatively low compared to the number of people that have recovered, is that most of them are happening in the community. Some families have vehemently rejected the ‘positive test results’ pronounced on the remains of their deceased relatives, saying that the government is only trying to tally up “coronavirus bodies” to get more money from foreign donors.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Liberia’s chief infectious disease expert, has disclosed that in April about 300 Liberians were roaming free in public with the virus.
The increase in the country’s cases comes amid President Weah’s discussion to end the nationwide moratorium on church and mosque gatherings across the country — a measure instituted in early March to curtail the spread of the virus.
And while the number of confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in Liberia soars well beyond the 200 mark, it appears to be a no-brainer for all kinds of public (including religious) assembly to remain closed until some indication of a drawdown in the number of confirmed cases.
Instead, the President’s office had this to say:
”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, which will allow for social distancing and other protocols such as the use of face coverings and hand-washing. Muslims can begin on the Friday before that with the observation of similar 25 percent of its normal occupancy and the observance of health regulations.”
The move by President Weah’s comes after heavy criticism from some religious leaders who argue that the ban infringed on their constitutional rights, which guarantee freedom of worship. The religious leaders argue that the closure of religious centers was unnecessary because they are capable of following preventive health protocols including strict adherence to social distancing and frequent hand-washing as unfavorably compared to marketplaces and banks which have been struggling to follow these health guidelines.
Notable among the religious leaders who criticized the government ban, is Sheikh Ali Krayee, the Chief Imam for the Republic of Liberia. Says the chief Imam, “the same people who you don’t want to assemble are assembling at market places and that’s the same thing. That is why we are beginning to feel that probably it’s not worth closing Mosque and churches,” said Imam Krayee.
Presidential Press Secretary, Isaac Solo Kelgbeh, told the Daily Observer that, though the President does not have to power to open churches and mosques, he has the power to close them under the state of emergency, which he did. Yet, “the opening of churches and mosques was a suggestion made by the President, after consultation with health experts, members of the religious community and his advisors.”
The Daily Observer did some calling around to find out exactly who told the President that it was safe to allow churches and mosques to open while confirmed cases of the coronavirus were on the increase. A highly placed health official responded: “That is a very tough question. Let me call you back.”
In another phone conversation, Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francis Kateh, told the Daily Observer: “I have no comment.”
Meanwhile, President Weah’s decision to allow the reopening religious centers has apparently angered frontline health workers, particularly those from the Montserrado Country health team, who are struggling to combat the virus in the face of steady rise in Coronavirus cases in Liberia.
Montserrado, which is the most populated county in Liberia, continues to be the country’s worst-hit region, accounting for more than a half of total confirmed cases.
”We are seeing an increase in cases because people are not following the preventive measures and yet, the government has decided to make the situation worse,” said health care workers who spoke to this paper on conditions of anonymity.
Healthcare workers predict that the future appears grim under current circumstances and, many are of the opinion that reopening churches and mosques will reverse the gains that have been made.
“Now that religious centers are about to open, we are back to that same exponential trajectory in March, a situation which, in return, put strain on the country’s already struggling health care system that has already been dealt cruel financial and psychological blows from the first wave. And it is going to happen because we have limited security personnel to enforce the wearing of masks and social distancing protocol in religious centers. Once these measures are being disregarded in public, it will happen in the church and mosque,” healthcare workers added.
In a related development, Justice Minister, Frank Musa Dean, and Eugene Nagbe, Information Minister have reportedly recovered from the coronavirus, bringing the country’s total recoveries cases to 85. Informed sources suggest that the Minister’s reported recovery could be attributed to their intake of the Madagascar anti-COVID-19 tonic samples of which were brought into the country recently. Although Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah has disclosed that the appropriate agencies have received the tonic for testing and evaluation, it remains unknown at this stage what the results are.
Both Justice and Information ministers had tested positive with the virus after reportedly coming into contact with Marcus Soko, the former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) who is believed to have died from the virus.