Liberia Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francis Kateh Liberia Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francis Kateh

Social Distancing Remains a Serious Challenge against Covid-19 Fight -Chief Medical Officer frowns on violation of protocol, calls for robust enforcement

MONROVIA, LIBERIA -Among the biggest concerns of a cashless and wary Liberian government facing a huge task of combating the menace of Covid-19 is the lack of respect for social distancing measures and the disregard of the strong advice against people gathering in large numbers.

The Ministry of Health and the Incident Management System (IMS) daily reminds people of the importance of handwashing and social distancing. These are only some of the measures introduced by the government, but people largely keep ignoring the advice regarding social distancing. Liberians hardheadedness is however causing some level of nervousness within the hierarchy of the national response team, which continue to stress the need for adherence to the Covid-19 protocols if Liberia is to win the battle against the pandemic.
Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Francis Kateh says Liberians cannot continue to play death ears to a pandemic that is having a huge toll on the country. “We have to respect the health protocols if we are to safe our country and ourselves from this sickness,” he says. “It is saddened for people to become complacent with the social distancing health protocol when Liberia is not off the hook with the virus,” the CMO notes while referencing a total of 221 death caused by the pandemic out of 5478 cases as of August 8, 2021. Dr. Kateh told a state radio interview a fortnight ago that there has never been a week without a case since the emergence of the third wave virus hit the country in May.

This wave is caused by the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus—its contagiousness makes social distancing, which is undeniably awkward for the Liberian society, an imperative. “Despite Liberians experience with Ebola in 2014, we are yet to know the importance of social distancing. Until we can learn our lesson this kind of outbreak will continue to affect us,” Health Minister, Wilhemina Jallah, told a press conference last year. However, for many people, the request to socially distance themselves from others feels unnatural.

“It is unthinkable not to shake hands when greeting people - even if you bump into them for the tenth time in a day you are expected to shake hands. But we need to start to live differently now,” president of the Liberia Council of Churches, Bishop Kortu Brown, says. Such restraint is somehow difficult for the poor in slum communities and other disadvantaged places because of the level of vulnerabilities they are faced with. Houses in these areas are too small, too crowded, or too cramped to allow social distancing. The pandemic has also exacerbated an already critical situation for the country’s economy.

The economic hardship faced by many Liberians, especially those working for daily wages in the informal labor market has made social distancing, least to talk of the imposition of a lockdown difficult, if not unbearable. Petty traders and children selling their stuff in streets and at traffic lights simply cannot afford social distancing. But the country’s Chief Medical Officer says, “it is sad and unfortunate to see individuals cluster together in public areas without cognizant of the social distancing measure.” The government failed in its initial attempts during the first wave of the outbreak to enforce the protocols as people were seen clustered in marketplaces and banks trying to get food for their households.
There is strong advice issued by the government to avoid large gatherings. The IMS has restricted gathering to a maximum of 20 persons be it for religious or social purposes. However, people have continued to gather in violation of the facemasks wearing and social distancing orders. A series of protest actions have also been taking place lately. Last week, Officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) violently dispersed university students who were protesting against the introduction of a “premature” internet learning system introduced at the state-owned University of Liberia.
Also on August 3, 2021 police fired teargas in Monrovia to ward off some individuals who had gathered at its headquarters demanding “justice” for the alleged killing of a truck driver known as Alieu Sheriff by a police officer. Marketers at the Omega Market in Paynesville also protested against what they termed unfavorable conditions at the new site the government designated for them after being relocated from the popular Red Light. In what many consider as a fragrant violation of Covid-19 protocols, President George Weah Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill recently buried his mother in a flamboyant style that left the country shocked as a result of the number of attendees.
The youth wing of the ruling CDC has also been holding press conferences in huge numbers—all in violation of the protocols. These events and many more, have left many wondering about the government's seriousness to combat the virus. “I’m shocked to still see people gathering at funerals and other places when we have told them that they should not. I saw that on Saturday a lot, though it was a rainy day,” he says, “I think it’s very important that we be patient as possible to do these things to ensure that we become winners over this devil that is over strangulating the economies our country and the world” Stated Dr. kateh.
However, the health ministry and the National Public Health Institute f Liberia (NPHIL) are developing new health protocols that will be released to the public very soon. Said the Chief Medical Officer. This story was produced with support from the Journalists for Human Rights( JHR), through the Mobilizing Media against COVID-19, in partnership with FrontPage Africa and Heritage Newspaper


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