Case against a full 14 days lockdown in Sierra Leone

Herbert M’cleod: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 April 2020:

Just seen a letter to the President requesting 14-days “… full lockdown to flatten the curve in the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”  My first question was: what curve?

So far we haven’t seen any curve presented for Sierra Leone, so I assume that the curve here reflects the number of cases tested positive over time. However, as we have a limited number of test kits, only primary contacts are being tested.

As of today we have no idea whether many more people are infected without showing any of the symptoms  or avoiding hospital and taking care of themselves at home. If there were such cases, those would not feature in the cumulative number of cases presented in the daily bulletins.

If we undertake 10 tests a day because that is all we can afford, the maximum positive cases we will have in any given day will be 10.

Lockdown or not

A lockdown is argued as a mechanism to slow the transmission. Unfortunately, our reality in Sierra Leone means that in the urban areas  households sometime contain up to 30+ people who would have to be kept in very close quarters for 14 days and nights. Hence the likelihood of even more rapid spread in such large households when they are locked up together becomes even higher.

As the country started tests only in February, and only for those few suspected cases, we have no idea whether some asymptomatic cases had slipped through earlier. Especially given our porous borders with lenient guards at the borders.

Thus, the number of positive cases now being reported might not be the actual number of cases in the country and therefore not reflecting the extent of the spread in the country. Who knows, we may even be at the tail end of the “curve” but because of little knowledge about the virus’ behavior in our circumstance, we are assuming that what we see in the North applies here. OR in the middle of the Curve, but  we may well have been spared severe cases and even deaths. We have no idea because we have not been testing corpses.

It is too late now for a full two-week national lockdown, even if we could pull it off perfectly (strong community support, fair and adequate distribution of food and essential supplies, regular cleaning and disinfection, access to health services etc.).

What we do know is that we have porous borders, and that many of our businesspeople travel to China regularly – especially in December. To think that our first case only emerged with the tested index case on 31 March is to live in denial. Hence the increase in number after the first tested-positive case is, in my opinion just an interesting statistic for comparison purposes.

Thus, I will argue that using a “flattening of the curve” a la USA, in order to SLOW, not stop the transmission is not helpful for us and may even be counterproductive, given all the negatives associated with full Lockdowns.

Incidentally, S. Africa is reporting a dramatic increase in gender-based violence during their lockdowns Lagos and some cities faced defiant citizens, Malawians went to the courts to force their Government to delay their planned Lockdown.

Here is what We know

  • About 80% of positive cases go around without symptoms, for the rest, most  can be treated at early stages. Better to focus on that. Prevent casual contamination – masks, disinfection etc what Government is already doing, and plan for a surge in hospitalisation
  • We know natural immunity is first line of defence. Let’s help the population bolster that by education on nutrition etc.
  • We know infection can arise from contaminated surfaces. So let’s disinfect massively.
    There are so many ideas floating around that are more effective than lockdowns.

My next question is lockdown for what?

In the developed countries, the response is that lockdowns will slow transmission thus avoiding hospitals being overwhelmed. So, partial lockdowns are imposed while simultaneously, temporary hospitals are planned and constructed, plus other measures introduced.

We should be doing that now rather than focus on Lockdowns. Our security forces would be better employed in preparing temporary facilities, training health workers, repairing access roads to certain communities, ensuring ambulances are in good condition etc. NOW. Not patrolling a 14 days full lockdown. By the way, this would help clarify that the war is not the state against the people but everyone against the virus.

Indeed, rather than impose a full Lockdown with its known negative consequences for the average citizen, we need to be helping Government prepare; massive recruitment and training of contact tracers, preparing health workers for cases of infected patients with severe symptoms, (these are not Ebola patients) and getting better coordination, transparency and messaging at the national level.

I just wished our scientists, epidemiologists and health specialists in Africa could be networking and coordinating research on what is taking place locally to provide answer to us laymen, or we will continue to proffer counsel based on what we see in the developed countries,  that will continue to confuse our decision makers.

About the author

Herbert M’cleod is the Chairman of Standard Bank, Sierra Leone. Author and researcher of Sierra Leone Fragility Report.

8 Comments

  1. Common sense case for shelter-in-place and/or lockdown in the fight against CONVID-19. Culled from social media…all credit to the unknown writer:

    In a war situation, nobody asks anyone to stay indoors. You stay indoors by choice. In fact, if you have a basement, you hide there for as long as hostilities persist. During a war, you don’t insist on your freedom. You willingly give it up in exchange for survival. During a war, you don’t complain of hunger. You bear hunger and pray that you live to eat again.
    During a war, you don’t argue about opening your business. You close your shop (if you have the time), and run for your life. You pray to outlive the war so that you can return to your business (that’s if it has not been looted or destroyed by mortar fire.

    During a war, you are thankful to God for seeing another day in the land of the living. During a war, you don’t worry about your children not going to school. You pray that the government does not forcefully enlist them as soldiers to be trained in the school premises now turned military depot. The world is currently in a state of war. A war without guns and bullets. A war without human soldiers. A war without borders. A war without cease-fire agreements. A war without a war room. A war without sacred zones.

    The army in this war is without mercy. It is without any milk of human kindness. It is indiscriminate – it has no respect for children, women, or places of worship. This army is not interested in spoils of war. It has no intention of regime change. It is not concerned about the rich mineral resources underneath the earth. It is not even interested in religious, ethnic or ideological hegemony. Its ambition has nothing to do with racial superiority. It is an invisible, fleetfooted, and ruthlessly effective army. Its only agenda is a harvest of death. It is only satiated after turning the world into one big death field. Its capacity to achieve its aim is not in doubt. Without ground, amphibious and aeriel machines, it has bases in almost every country of the world. Its movement is not governed by any war convention or protocol. In short, it is a law unto itself. It is Coronavirus. Also known as COVID-19 (because it announced its destructive presence and intention in the year of our Lord 2019).

    Thankfully, this army has a weakness and it can be defeated. It only requires our collective action, discipline and forbearance. COVID-19 cannot survive social and physical distancing. It only thrives when you confront it. It loves to be confronted. It capitulates in the face of collective social and physical distancing. It bows before good personal hygiene. It is helpless when you take your destiny in your own hands by keeping them sanitized as often as possible. This is not a time to cry about bread and butter like spoilt children. After all, the Holy book tells us that man shall not live by bread alone. Let’s obey and follow the instructions of the authorities. Let’s flatten the COVID-19 curve. Let’s exercise patience. Let’s be our brothers’ keeper. In no time, we shall regain our freedom, enterprise and socializing. Be safe. Stay home.

  2. Lockdown does not help. Moreover, WHO has already issued a statement saying that Lockdown is not for poor Countries. Our Government is doing enough to combat Coronavirus.

  3. Let us be clear. Other nations have vacillated about lockdowns and no lockdowns and we have seen the price paid for non stringent measures against this pandemic. Wuahan, China Seoul, South Korea and Germany did not have adequate facilities or even enough health care workers to cover their millions population, but stringent measures stemmed the tide. Italian population was still watching Valencia soccer match when they should have stayed at home or locked down, they paid a heavy price. The UK. US, Spain and France, are paying similar price and counting.

  4. It may be a good idea to use some of the money from the world bank, to build two hospitals that would support a future increase of cases/sickness. A modular container hospital goes up fast. One on Eastside and one on West side. Of course, implementing a face shield with mask in one, so bikes, kks, taxies, buses, etc be mandatory to wear. Bleach is a great way to kill viruses and other bacteria…its more affective and cheaper than alcohol. A small cap full of bleach in the water when showering will help keep sickness down as well.

    Money is always the issue to resolve problems, but then theres the ideas, the speed of implementation and proper management of funds. I’m in Sierra Leone currently and see the issues in many areas that need to be addressed. Everything is easy with money, correct ideas for forward growth and honest implementation… this country needs a lot. Just needs to be used correctly. The money that comes in should be used to create businesses that make money to support the people and ogoing infrastructure needs.. not just a one time bandaid.

    I’m here to help too, I created an economic stimulus plan for this country back in 2017. Unfortunately, corruption and greed prevented it from lift off. Now there is a new president, I believe Sierra Leone has the strength and fresh innovative ideas for true change with President Julius Maada Bio. We, Us, All Together…FAMILY

  5. A very good and realistic article written by a pragmatic individual. This is my take: “Our security forces would be better employed in preparing temporary facilities, training health workers, repairing access roads to certain communities, ensuring ambulances are in good condition etc. NOW. Not patrolling a 14 days full lockdown. By the way, this would help clarify that the war is not the State against the People but everyone against the virus.”

    In other words, Maada Bio has failed the people again … just as he and his colleagues – a delusional ragtag army – miserably failed the natjion in the period 1992-1996, after overthrowing the legitimate government of President Joseph Saidu Momoh. That, there is no need for President Bio to deploy his security forces to go about flogging innocent civilians in an attempt to instil fear across the nation. And that, the current war is not about teaching the people a lesson for bad behaviour, or whatsoever. The people are already disciplined and happy-go-lucky. It is about a war against an invisible enemy that requires the effort of each and everyone in the country – especially in the prevailing difficult circumstances.

    Even before the fight against this dreadful coronavirus, Mr Bio had already lost the battle on the economic front. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any amount of beating would change the people’s minds about the ineptitude of his administration. Many are now wondering whether the sudden declaration of a year-long state of emergency, even without an index case of coronavirus, was a measure taken solely to prepare for the onslaught against the virus; or a mere pretext to disguise the rampant economic and socio-politcal failure on the part of the government. What a big-mouth approach in the politics of Sierra Leone.

  6. The government has no choice but to listen to Health Specialists and Economists at this moment and I personally believe that this article is spot on. The people of Sierra Leone have shown lots of courage and character this time around due to their experience during the Ebola crisis and I hope and pray that they will respect the current restrictions in order to avoid a 14 days total lockdown which will be really devastating to the entire nation. In other words “ One size cannot fit all.”

  7. Well done! Mr McLeod for seeing what many other have failed or refused to see. It is a NONSENSE decision to impose full lockdown believing that will contain or slowdown the virus spreading and ignoring the pain and bleed people endure.

    Imagine that if any western countries had had 30 cases of covid19, 0 death over 4 weeks (going by Sierra Leone statistics) and 6 discharged on the 19/04. None of these countries would have put their inhabitants on lockdown let alone the whole country on stand-by. African authorities need to see outside the box! And stop being Western and USA’s puppets! They are falling economically and they want us to fall with them!

    I really wish that your government will be realistic and listen to your suggestions and act on swiftly in order to get the country back on running. God bless you

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