Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 April 2020:
In compliance with its own measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Sierra Leone’s ministry of information and communication held its first video conference press briefing ysterday, on the latest actions and decisions taken by the government in combating the coronavirus. Both ministries of Trade and Industry, and Transport and Aviation were present at the briefing.
The minister of information said that there are no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, since the reported second case two days ago, as the government suspends all monthly Saturday cleaning until further notice.
Updating the press about the current COVID-19 cases, the minister said that surveillance officers and contact tracers are working hard to reach the primary and secondary contacts of the two individuals that have so far tested positive for the virus.
All frontline healthcare workers are now mandated to wear surgical masks which will be provided by the government.
The government has lifted its 7am – 12pm restrictions on movement, imposed on all monthly cleaning Saturdays.
All government salaries have been paid in advance of the three days lockdown, which commences this Sunday to enable public sector workers who make up over 60% of all workers in the country, buy household necessities.
The minister of trade announced that prices of all fuel products have been reduced with immediate effect from Le8,500 to Le7,000 per litre.
But there are fears, the prices of many basic shopping items including food, have gone up sharply since the announcement of the lockdown.
The minister of trade said that more supply of fuel products are expected in the country shortly, but in the meantime there is sufficient petroleum products, and that no one should be hoarding fuel, nor is there any need for panic buying.
There is enough stock to last until May, and the government is monitoring the supply and prices of all fuel products, the minister said. Trade monitors are visiting shops and markets – monitoring stocks and prices.
The prices of all essential commodities such as rice, flour, sugar, vegetable oil and cement are not expected to rise the minister warns. The price of sugar has been reduced from Le255,000 to Le236,000 per bag to help cushion the economic imapact of the crisis.
The trade minister informed that CTC has 1.2 million bags of rice in stock, and is expected the arrival of additional supply of rice and sugar to last until September 2020.
The government says it is ensuring that the Bank of Sierra Leone is making foreign currency available to importers to pay for essential goods coming into the country.
Following the government’s announcement yesterday to reduce the prices of all fuel products, transport fares have also been reduced. Travelling by the popular Kekeh has gone down to Le1,500.
Passengers are encouraged to help enforce the new tarvelling costs, the minister said. He reiterated the government’s directive on loading of passengers and called on the media to report cases of overloading.
The government is holding meetings with the Drivers Union, Police and other bodies regarding transport services and the safety of passengers.
During the question and answer session, the Minister of Trade said he has met with the Ministry of Marine Resources to discuss the movement of passengers and foods by boat. Foods should not be transported to other countries, he warns.
What will happen to the funds designated for Saturday cleaning? The information minister said that this budget has been ring-fenced for cleaning, and that government will ensure local councils are funded when the Saturday cleaning is restarted.
All commercial banks will be opened on Saturday in advance of the lockdown.
Speaking about the enforcement of the lockdown, the information minister said that large numbers of soldiers and police will be deployed across the country.
When questioned whether three days lockdown is sufficient to enable effective contact tracing, the minister said that this decision is in constant review and subject to change in the best interest of the people.
Finally, speaking about sources of funding for the government’s COVID-19 strategy, the minister said that they are not using any external funding. All expenditures he said are being paid for by the government from income generated in the country, and that there is no fixed budget set for the fight against the virus.
I am pleased that the government has made it easy for the populace in these trying times of COVID19 crisis. Fuel was reduced from Le9000 to Le 8500 in early March and now it has been reduced further to Le 7000. This is following reduction in global oil prices. At least this has eased transport fares and commodity prices.
Frontline staff are expected to wear masks which will be provided by the government. I do hope the full PPE is also provided for those in contact with COVID19 patients.
I feel even the ordinary citizens should wear masks when they go out to help reduce transmission of the virus. Masks should be easy to find. Just after COVID19 broke out in December 2019 in China, I was in Freetown and was able to buy N95 masks from a pharmacy on Sani Abacha Street. These are one of the WHO recommended masks, which cannot even be found in UK. I guess Sierra Leone has had experience of the deadly Ebola disease and so they still order masks in case another disease befalls the nation.
This is very serviceable. Please continue your good works.