Liberia Declares National Health Emergency After Third Case of Coronavirus

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The Ministry of Health has declared a national health emergency, two days after it reported the country’s third case of Coronavirus disease, otherwise known as COVID-19.

According to the government, a third person, a 63-year-old woman, has tested positive with the virus in a case that is unconnected to the first two cases. Accordingly, she was immediately taken to the newly built 14 Military Hospital to be treated, the press release said. Meanwhile, the patient’s contacts are being traced and monitored.

The patient in the third confirmed case has not traveled out of Liberia for a long time and health authorities have suggested that she may have contracted the virus at a March 8 beach party. However, health authorities are still working to determine the contact.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Wilhemina Jallah declared a national health emergency on Saturday, noting that the measure was intended to keep the nation safe in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. The minister designated Montserrado and Margibi as affected areas and said travel in and out of those areas would be restricted.

Jallah also ordered that all places of worship, entertainment centers, bars, beaches, casinos, beauty salons, barbershops, and video clubs be closed.

She said during the period of enforcement, all large gatherings of more than 10 persons are prohibited, including weddings, parties, funerals, and sporting events. Any such event should ensure that participants are at least six feet apart in distance.

Under the measure, banks, restaurants, supermarkets, and cookshops are still allowed to be open, but they must allow at most five customers at a time. Additionally, those waiting outside must observe a six-foot distance apart from each other.

In an extension of a previous measure on transportation, the minister ordered that taxis are now required to take no more than two persons in the back seat and no more than one passenger in the front passenger seat. Tricycles are also now restricted to two passengers in the back and only the driver in the front while motorcycles are restricted to one passenger a ride.

“All health facilities and health institutions, including pharmacies will remain for routine services, with social distancing practices. All safety rules and procedures at hospitals and all facilities shall be strictly adhered to,” the minister announced.

“Absolutely, no street selling by both adults and children during this period. Mandatory handwashing with soap and clean water is hereby ordered at homes and all establishments, public and private.”

Meanwhile, health authorities will work with the Liberia Marketing Association to implement the requisite protocols for all markets during this period.

Dr. Jallah asked community dwellers to report people who show signs and symptoms of the Coronavirus.

On Sunday, police had already begun enforcing the mandate by closing down larger churches that refused to adhere to the minister’s order.

A widely shared interaction on social media occurred when Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue visited the church of Nimba’s Sen. Prince Johnson. Johnson, who is also now an evangelist, told the police chief that the president of Liberia did not order any church closed and that the minister of health did not have the authority to declare a national health emergency.

“I just spoke with the minister of state now, and the president of Liberia did not give such order. And so, if you come to the church, you want to be a disciple of Christ, come sit down and listen to the word of God,” he said to Sudue.

“Mr. Director, don’t disturb my church. Please sit down and listen to the word of God.”

As of March 23, all commercial flights to the country have been suspended, allowing only cargo, chartered, and special flights.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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