Coronavirus – Sierra Leone locks its doors on its own citizens returning home from abroad

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 March 2020:

As the saying goes – “desperate situation calls for desperate measures”. That is the message from the government of Sierra Leone and from many living in the country, in response to Sierra Leoneans living and working abroad who are now being held in a disused, dirty, rundown hotel outside the country’s Lungi airport for a fourteen-day, medically unsupervised-quarantine, following their arrival two days ago from abroad.

Conditions at the Lungi Hotel where they are being held are described as appalling, dangerous and unsanitised, with no medical staff in sight to check their temperature and monitor their health.

Some of those kept at the hotel are children as young as four years old. There are complaints of lack of food, access to water and electricity. Those with pre-existing health conditions are worried their conditions may get worse, triggered by the appalling conditions in which they are being kept.

But what is even more troubling is the report that upon arrival at the airport, some of the White passengers were allowed to leave the airport after bribing their way out to airport officials.

Some Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora are now threatening to withhold their financial remittances to Sierra Leone which runs into hundreds of millions of dollars a year, in an angry response at the appalling manner in which they are being treated by the government of Sierra Leone.

Yesterday, the BBC reporter – Umaru Fofanah said: “Sierra Leone’s lack of coronavirus preparedness was laid bare for all to see after scores of passengers from Europe and USA who were supposed to have been quarantined on arrival were taken to the airport hotel without a single health official on hand.

“Contrary to assurances by senior health ministry officials that three isolation centers – “better than most of our homes” had been set up, it turned out it was a hotel that was neither isolated nor was any one present to check the health condition of the passengers at the facility. And their welfare was nil: no food or water or other basic facilities, many of them told me. Surely every home is better and safer than that”.

Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora have responded angrily to the report of discrimination and the arbitrary enforcement of the government’s Quarantine measures by Lungi airport staff towards Sierra Leoneans returning to their country of birth.

“This is disgraceful. Our people are being kept in appalling and dangerous conditions. This is how we treat our own people and make exceptions for foreigners and those who can afford to bribe their way out of the airport,” commented a Sierra Leonean living in the UK.

A retired former Sierra Leonean senior civil servant, told the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “I can see the other side of the argument. I agree that incoming passengers should undergo a period of quarantine.  What is pathetic is that the passengers were not informed before they undertook the journey that they would be quarantined for 14 days. If they had, most may have then decided not to go to Sierra Leone. That breakdown in communication is dreadful.

“Simply taking passengers in a discriminatory manner is not protecting the Sierra Leone public. Many people on the same flight who were not American or British were allowed to go home. So where is the rationale of setting up the quarantine?

“Simply taking the Sierra Leonean passengers and dumping them in an unclean hotel building,  leaving them outside under the burning heat of a March  month sun, with no provision made for food, water, soap, towels, exposes the healthy passengers to ill health. There was no security personnel at the hotel to provide the ‘quarantined’ passengers with security and more importantly – to prevent them from leaving.

“There are too many flaws that have made the lives of these passengers unbearable and untenable. I will not wish it on myself or even my worst enemy. But I  understand the concerns of the home based Sierra Leoneans that it appears unfair to them that now they are “healthy”, those abroad coming from countries where Coronavirus has taken hold like uncontrollable wildfires, now want to go to Safe Sierra Leone when they avoided Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis. It sounds selfish but prevention is better than cure.

“I however still insist that the passengers should have been notified before embarking on their journey that they would be in quarantine for 14  days. No one told them that they would be quarantined.”

Sierra Leone is gradually moving towards a complete lockdown, reminiscent of its battle with the Ebola virus in 2014 which took the lives of over 5,000 people.

Yesterday the government announced the banning of all sporting activities and public gathering throughout the country, as well as imposing an automatic quarantine of travellers from countries with confirmed cases of 50 or more cases of the coronavirus.

But as the country moves towards complete shutdown, civil society activists and politicians, including the leader of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) party in parliament – Dr Kandeh Yumkella, and the APC veteran – Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, are calling on the government to ensure that such draconian – though necessary measures, have the approval of parliament.

Yesterday, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella moved a motion in parliament, calling for a special session of parliament to discuss the imminent threat of the coronavirus and its economic ramifications.

He requested, as part of the motion, that all those in the front line of national emergency preparedness, as well as the  Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank, should attend the parliamentary session.

Dr Yumkella cited Rwanda and Ghana and other countries  who he said have taken pre-emptive actions against the coronavirus. His motion which was unanimously approved by MPs, was supported by Chernor Maju Bah MP – the leader of the APC party in parliament.

The Speaker of Parliament in supporting Yumkella’s motion, cited section 29 of the country’s 1991 Constitution and ruled that the coronavirus debate will take place tomorrow, Thursday 19th  March 2020.

Dr. Sylvia Blyden made the following comments about the government’s direction of travel on the coronavirus:

“As at now, H.E. President Bio has full powers to institute the “ban on overseas travel” for members of the Executive arm of Government. However, I regret to inform him that as President, he COMPLETELY LACKS the powers to order government officials of the Judiciary and the Legislature from overseas travel. I wonder who advised him to draft and issue that release? Are Attorney General Hon. Priscilla Schwartz and her deputy, Hon. Napoleon Koroma in town? Were they consulted? If so, I wonder what caused my dear sister and brother to advise H.E. Bio like that? If they were not consulted, then the President needs to be consulting his legal advisers more often. That release from State House, as at now, is a complete embarrassment and an aberration to Constitutional Order.

“I am on record to have vehemently opposed the granting of Emergency powers to President Bio last year for his so-called “Sexual & Rape Emergency”. This is because, from past experience of this country in the nineties, I have an opinion that our President may not be able to safely handle emergency powers without abuse of it (my opinion). However, let me now go on record to say that given what is now unfolding in the World today, I am hereby humbly inviting President Bio to consider to declare an immediate State Of Emergency in Sierra Leone. The circumstances do warrant for this to now be done. I only pray my opinion on him vis-à-vis abuse of Emergency Powers will prove to be wrong.

“It is only under a State Of Emergency that our President has powers to ban overseas travel of “ALL government officials” and it is only under a State Of Emergency that our President can proclaim a ban on public gatherings of more than one hundred (100) persons. For now, without a State Of Emergency, the bans proclaimed from State House are null and void. They are of no legal effect and can be discountenanced with no legal consequence.

“I call on Parliament to fully cooperate with President Bio when the President declares a State Of Emergency under Section 29 of Sierra Leone Constitution. Such will give His Excellency the required sweeping powers to start to implement measures such as: limiting the number of passengers in public transportation; limiting public gatherings; limiting rights and freedoms; restricting herbalists/traditional treatments; and banning overseas travel of ALL arms of Government.

“All such limitations to only be in place for an initial ninety (90) days after prior approval by Parliament. See Section 29(10)(a) of Sierra Leone Constitution for more knowledge on time limit of all such regulations and measures that a sitting President can implement under a State Of Emergency.”

12 Comments

  1. The measures taken by his excellency is a drastic one. Even though the COVID 19 has been declared as a pandemic by WHO, I believe this is not the time for us to think politics but think Sierra Leone. Mr President please ensure you go through the appropriate channels before you declared state of emergency or limiting activities. Let us try to ensure we are United so that we can prevent the deadly COVID 19 against our nation. My advices to my president is that:
    * Corona need no egos
    * Corona battle is an inclusion fright
    *Corona needs virbrant proactive measures
    *No underestimation and discrimination should be encouraged
    *As it stands now our priority is to beef up our medical sector
    * Lastly lets increase the level of education on this virus to our people especially those in the provinces

  2. My wife and I stayed at this hotel on our return to Europe after a month in Sierra Leone where my wife was born. It is awful. This was only a week ago and the hotel was full of soldiers and medical personnel whom I assume were preparing for this. The hotel should NEVER have been accepting guests such as ourselves under the circumstances. One man I met working in Sierra Leone had paid a month in advance and is unlikely to get a refund. That is incredibly unfair financially AND he should NOT have to be in the same place as folk quarantined.

  3. Whenever you find this level of perplexing incompetence being practiced and embraced shamelessly by any government,as if it was an acceptable norm,then do not hesitate to declare that all things virtuous have already been lost. What this notorious government is now doing to its own citizens returning from abroad,is totally disgraceful,unacceptable,and uncalled for. Any leader that frowns on his own people,trample on their rights, diminishes and reduces them is totally unfit to rule. It is only in Sierra Leone that one would be able to find a Captain sailing the high,tumultuous political seas,that is still learning how to drop anchor, doesn’t know how to read a compass, adjust a wind vane and navigate a ship, desperately in search of achieving credible and sustainable goals.

    How on earth did this inept, clueless government end up choosing a dirty,filthy, mosquito,and rodent infested Hotel,as a place fit to be used strictly and mainly for isolating people suspected of being infected by the Corona Virus? Why didn’t this President save for rainy days like these, instead of running around on wild goose chases wasting our meagre revenues? And why is the SLPP not using those stolen billions the ACC claims to have retrieved to build a nice,efficient, and hygienic facility for patients in quarantine,and those who are going to be receiving treatment for the Corona Virus? Empty vessels make the most noise; a challenge comes along and the SLPP has lost its voice.

    Yep,they have become totally speechless,confused like impalas in the midsts of raging wildfires;Visionless,having no clear, realistic plans or strategies already put in place to protect the good people of Sierra Leone,from the deadly virus. A Shameless, aimless,brainless SLPP government is now in power; Gestapos treating citizens like outcasts and criminals,taking bribes from foreigners, and letting them walk free.(lol).

    Government of Sierra Leone, quit tarnishing the image of our beloved nation – Either create a strict hygienic atmosphere for isolating patients,or let them go,unhindered,quietly to their loving,peaceful homes…Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  4. Has the ACC asked for the Passenger Manifest of the flight in question? The manifest will help expose the corrupt practices of the Airport Officials involved. It would not be magic to find those rogue officials who were engaged in tarnishing the image of our country. Why should some passengers be allowed to leave the Airport without being quarantined and others don’t. This is first class corruption Mr. ACC Boss.

    I hope the ACC Boss takes his responsibility and bring those rogue and unscrupulous Airport Officials to justice. The passengers affected must be compensated and the rogue Airport Officials must face the maximum penalty that exists. Again, God help all our brothers, sisters, children, fathers, mothers and everyone suffering in such squalid conditions. Ce degueulasse et honteux, Monsieur Le President, de la repulique Leonais. It’s actually disgusting indeed.

  5. Like so many other actions taken so far by the Bio regime, the trend is usually taking actions without due process of the law or implementation strategies. We have observed time and again how this administration bastardized our constitution and infringes on citizens rights in the heat of the moment ever since they took over governance.

    Now in regards to the current topic, the Sierra Leone government issued out a press release pertaining to the mandatory quarantine of all arrivals on Friday the 13th of March exactly 5 days ago. Unlike other nations, the press release did not provide any lapse time or days before the new measures will take effect. So once the press release was disseminated out to airport authorities, they immediately rushed into implementing the measures.

    By all indications, the affected Sierra Leoneans were already airborne or en-route to Sierra Leone when this press release was sent out to the public. Many of them arrived on Sunday and Monday respectively. I happen to be among the group of Sierra Leoneans who had made plans to visit Salone in the coming weeks, my trip was suppose to be on the 20th March. Fortunately for me and my 3yrs daughter, we have never left the shores of the U.S.A, so the trip was cancelled.

    Now, it’s ludicrous for anyone to proclaim that the Sierra Leoneans affected are in a better place than us in the Western world. It makes no sense at all, not even remotely close. Politics have clouded our mental capacity so much so that, some individuals in this platform are in the habit of just uttering total gibberish to satisfy God knows what.

  6. I will personally like to advice the people on these videos that they have to count their blessings at the moment because they are in one of the safest countries on the planet and I wish I was in her position rather than what most of us are going through in the western world, because now it’s just survival of the fittest because there is no hiding place for us in the USA.

    At the moment based on the information we’re getting about this virus, I don’t even care about Air Conditioner. This situation just reminds me of the movie Titanic when passengers on board the sinking ship were trading their expensive diamond necklaces for a bottle of water just to survive. May the Almighty continue to guide and protect us.

  7. According to medical experts and professionals Coronavirus is inevitable around all countries on planet earth; that means in the case of Sierra Leone it’s just a matter of time. The only option we have now is to try to prevent it with a combination of INTENSIVE PRAYERS and hopefully the Almighty will listen to our cry and will save us from this plague.

    With all politics aside, the truth is that Africa is not prepared or equipped to handle this disease even economically, but since Sierra Leone is one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world, the Almighty will reward us with his protection. AMEN AND AMEEN.

  8. This is what happens when a President and everyone arround him, have no clue about good governance. How can the Bio Administration for God’s sake implement such measures without adequate preparation. Since the Coronavirus started in China, the President and his administration were informed through this glorious platform to release funds recovered from corrupt civil servants to construct Isolation centers in all 12 districts including the western area. Also, medical equipment and protective wear for nurses, doctors; tests kits, etc must be made available as soon as possible. That was almost 3 months ago. They did nothing. OK.

    Is this another way of barbarity against Sierra Leoneans? Because, you can’t just go unlawfully detaining decent people in squalid conditions in the name of Coronavirus, without providing proper isolation centres, food and medical professionals. In fact, you create an environment for the spread of Coronavirus part I and II and many more diseases. Terrible. God help all those presently detained in that squalid hotel. To be continued.

  9. If the president fails to take measures and corona enters the country through carelessness, the people of Sierra Leone will hold him responsible. Bureaucracy is the Englishman’s way of destroying everyone! This is a deadly disease! With the medical conditions in our hospitals, limited beds, few trained personnel, its better to err in such circumstances! What would you do if you were in the President’s position?

  10. “I however still insist that the passengers should have been notified before embarking on their journey that they would be in quarantine for 14 days. No one told them that they would be quarantined.”

    I wonder if some of our compatriots have any time to follow developments in Sierra Leone while they are out of that country.

    The father of a close friend of mine passed away last week and when I called her to sympathize with her, she told me that she will not be traveling to Sierra Leone because she does not want to be quarantined.

    The Government of Sierra Leone, according to reliable sources, had announced restrictions on visitors from Europe and North America as early as early last week. So, ignorance to the law cannot be an excuse.

    Accordingly, arriving from the UK, Canada or the USA does not preclude one from obeying the laws of Sierra Leone. The law should not be a respecter of persons. Sure, the facilities where new arrivals are quarantined leave a lot to be desired. But it is what it is. Sierra Leone is too fragile to deal with the raging global pandemic. Good job, President Bio, for keeping Sierra Leone safe.

  11. When the government announced these measures my first thought was whether they have the necessary facilities to carry it out. This is what happens when the focus is too much on the policy rather than the implementation as in most cases. Someone should be held responsible for this.

    Who was responsible for organising this hotel to ensure that food and medical staff was made available? Its a disgrace that people had to be treated in this manner. In my experience our authorities are only interested in things that will earn them extra money and nothing else.

  12. Too much over ruled of power causes heads of states to function non-ethically. So in parallel with Dr. Kandeh, H.E.Bio if he did act in said manner, has constitutionally mis-used and abused power and must make a national apology to the people of Sierra Leone over his declaration of public gathering ban made yesterday at a press briefing the 17th of March,2020 AD

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