Tubman Boulevard in Monrovia during the first lockdown. (photo: Darlington Porkpa)
By: R. Joyclyn Wea
The Liberian government is indecisive over the imposition of another round of nationwide lockdown amidst recent spike in COVID cases in the country.
The government could not resolve on nationwide lockdown at a cabinet meeting held last Thursday as officials were divided over imposing such stringent measure, sources privy to the meeting disclosed.
Like the government, Liberians are also indecisive or divided over the measure. While some people, including politicians and medical practitioners are urging the government to impose another round of lockdown to help curb the rapid spread, others are of the view that it will have a huge economic toll on the already struggling masses.
“We are experiencing a new wave of COVID-19. We are seeing more people getting infected. Our hospitals are already overwhelmed as there are no beds and oxygen for parents. The most sensible thing to do now is a lockdown,” popular opposition Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon, said.
The opposition Collaborating Political Parties’ strongman said via his social media page that the government must act now or will put the lives of Liberians at risk leading to more people being infected as the country is already reporting a huge number of new cases daily.
Like the whole of Africa, Liberia is in a full-blown third wave of COVID blamed on a myriad of factors, especially lack adherence to protocols and low-level vaccination.
The country’s COVID infection rate has peaked quite dramatically in the last few weeks and continues to rise with startling numbers as the country has now recorded a total caseload of 3736.
Health Minister, Dr. Wilhemina Jallahpainted a gloomy picture of the situation at a cabinet meeting last week, revealing to colleagues that hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients due to surging cases of the new COVID-19 variant over the last two weeks.
“The hospitals are currently full with people experiencing breathing difficulties. It is alarming to note that since the third wave began, there has been a surge in the number of cases. As we speak, public hospitals are full of patients. And there are no beds for people who have COVID-19,” she said.
The National Public Health Institute of Liberia has recorded 3736 confirmed cases with 120 deaths as of Sunday, June 27, 2021. 155. There were a total of 85 deaths recorded prior to the emergence of the new wave a fortnight ago.
The gloomy picture of the situation is increasing calls for the country to be lockdown.
Reechoing Senator Dillon’s call for an immediate lockdown is one of the nation’s outstanding medical practitioners, Dr. Alvin Nah Doe.
Dr. Doe, who works at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center as a neurosurgeon—the only person of such qualification in the country, wrote on his Facebook page, “A lockdown is urgent. We need to promote and continue the vaccination and establish treatment units across the country.”
In a more philosophical tone, the 40 years old brain specialist who made name for himself when
Dr. Doe made name for himself recently when he performed Liberia’s first brain tumor removal surgery with an all-Liberian team, noted, “Let’s do things conscious of our environment…we must be truly sincere to our people,”
“Having digested the series of information, I am faced with a simple choice: to keep quiet in order to avoid running against public sensitivities or to denounce loud and clear how our [care-giving] is going astray,” he added.
“Our strength is in prevention; let’s go for it as anything else is an unnecessary distraction. I want you to get vaccinated, practice physical distancing, mask up and stay safe,” Dr. Doe, whose brain surgery success was a national milestone that President George Weah to take to social media to express his joy about the feat, said.
Renowned Youth and Human Rights Activist, Dr. Kimmie Weeks, also wants the country shut down.
He posted on Sunday, “Mr. President, the world’s largest economies shut down during Covid-19. Keeping everything open sends the wrong message that it is business as usual.”
He said a shutdown highlights the gravity and severity of the crisis and helps the health care system rebalance.
“Don’t wait until bodies are lying in the streets before taking more stringent measures. Your actions to shut down the country during the first wave played a role in reducing the impact. We should do it again. SHUT IT DOWN! SAVE LIVES,” Dr. Weeks noted.
A view of Central Monrovia during the first lockdown
While the global economy appeared to have been experiencing a strong recovery from the peak impact of Covid-19 in 2020, such progress is now being stalled by the emergence of new Covid-19 variants, especially in poor countries like Liberia.
The George Weah led government in April 2020 order a lockdown of the in an effort to contain the further spread of the virus but the restrictions were relaxed in July in support of reopening the economy which been severely hit by the pandemic.
But the severity of the third wave will no doubt have a toll on the already shattered Liberian economy, a situation that many fears would further be exacerbated if government resolves on imposing another lockdown.
It is against this backdrop that some Liberians are arguing shutting down of the country.
Dominic Nimely is the president of the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), a group of indigenous Liberian businesses that boast of thousands of members.
Nimely predicts that the second round of lockdown will be devastating for the Liberian economy.
In a FrontPage Africa interview over the weekend, Nimely indicated that small businesses are financially fragile and the year-long crisis that witnessed the imposition of restrictions on movement and the closure of businesses has already impacted entrepreneurs negatively.
“There were mass layoffs and closures during the first lockdown. Some of the people relieved of their jobs have not been able to get back to work while some of the businesses that closed will never be able to reopen because they have run out of cash. They were able to turnaround in their funds and they have families to feed.”
Going into another lockdown would be the final nail in many coffins, the PATEL boss said. “This would not be a good sign for an already poor country. We will be tripling poverty with such action, and we cannot continue to treat our people like this,” he said.
Nimely called on the government to carry out mass vaccination and enforcement of the health protocols. “These are the best solutions at our disposal,” he noted.
Byron Brown, an influential youth leader from Senator Dillon’s CPP, does not favor another round of lockdown.
“Liberians should not follow recommendations from some of our friends who’re calling on the President to shut-down the Country once more. It’s not going to hurt them even if Weah decides to lock down the country for a year,” Brown, who heads the CPP Solidarity Brigade, said in an interview.
“Those calling for lockdown have generators in their homes, they have money in their vaults and they can sit at their various homes and drink their Hennessy XO from their refrigerators and eat well without thinking about the next day,” he added.
“I recommend that the President makes wearing of face masks compulsory. That’s the only solution,” Brown said.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights(JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Front Page Africa