If Liberia can recall any disease outbreak in its history, it will pinpoint Ebola as the worst ever. It claimed the lives of thousands in just a few months in the midst of unpreparedness, forcing us to put a halt to and reconsider the implications of our normal forms of interaction.
At this time of national emergency, when Liberians had nowhere to go and nothing to do but to look up to developed nations for aid, people had their own information to distract the public which consequently led to the denial of the reality of the virus. It circulated on social media in one instance that Ebola did not exist, and in another instance it information spread for political gains that the virus was imported by the Unity Party-led Government.
As the disease raged and created panic in the uninfected, the administration at the time took some stringent actions to curtail the spread, in the form of declaration of a state of emergency. At the time, social media posts diverted the focus from the intent of the state of emergency to insinuate that the government was strategizing to divert attention from the economic issues of the country to some unknown ulterior motive.
In addition to the hygienic practices of hand-washing and avoiding close contact with others and dead bodies, the government imposed a nationwide curfew and quarantined a whole community (West Point) that hosts thousands of people. Such a situation, as we may all know, comes with hunger and stress as people in confinement will have nothing to do for survival in the day. The curfew, in fact, was such that people could not leave or enter most affected areas like Monrovia and Ganta from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Supermarkets and other business centers were highly restricted by the government and individuals had to even restrict themselves, considering the value of life.
Today, Coronavirus has come and is raging around the world. Just in 24 hours, the virus claimed the lives of almost 800 persons in Italy, according to Aljazeera; the highest recorded in this outbreak in the world. The Africa superpower, Nigeria, has canceled all inbound and outbound flights as it records 22 cases. Angola, Eritrea, and Uganda have recorded their first cases, following recording by many African countries that have caused them to take measures in line with other affected countries around the world. Known cases in the State of New York have jumped to 7,800 (New York Times), India has recorded 313 so far (BBC), and Australia 1,300 with seven deaths (BBC).
In line with the World Health Organization (WHO) health protocols, President George Weah has come out to caution the public to keep a 2-meter distance away from others, practice hand-washing, avoid huge gathering, and those with cold to use nose masks.
In response to this advice, the Ministry of Education has suspended classes up to March 31 and it is expected to be extended; churches are suspending congregational gathering, and banks serving five persons at a time.
But as the situation worsens around the world and powerful countries are instituting lockdown and instructing people to stay indoors for hours in the day, the emergence of fake news and misinformation stands to far outpace the spread of the coronavirus itself and cause far greater damage.
Even on Sunday, March 22, we heard a lot of people claiming that the government was employing strategies to “get money” despite the glaring reality unfolding about the impact of the virus.
We, the Daily Observer, are urging the public to abide by the health protocols to make decisions based on official information in order to prevent the spread of the contagious virus. There may be extremely limited help coming our way from our traditional partners this time around, as the global pandemic has severely hit even the United States. Even our friends, the People’s Republic of China, who are showing a rebound from the epidemic, may be able to help with knowledge sharing and very limited supplies at best, until the global situation improves.
We saw what denial did to us during the Ebola crisis and there is no need to tell anybody the negative impact of Covid-19 on the rest of the world.
Let us also beware of false information and fake news on social and other media. On yesterday afternoon, National Public Health Institution of Liberia (NPHIL) Director General, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, said on public radio there has not been any plan to spray any part of Liberia, and if anything of such were in existence, the public would be duly informed well in advance.
Let us treat the situation with heightened caution and consciousness and cooperate with the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Liberia as we have no capacity to contend with it when it exacerbates.