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.”