Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 March 2020:
Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) has today published its findings on investigations it carried out at the Lungi international airport hotel quarantine centre, where it is alleged that Sierra Leoneans arriving at the airport a few days ago from abroad were maltreated and denied their human rights.
The investigation was conducted on the same day the Chief Minster, the Minister of Health and other senior officials of the government went to the Hotel to meet those quarantined and speak to the owners of the hotel. This raises serious questions about the integrity and independence of the HRCSL investigations.
This is the report of the HRCSL:
A five man delegation from the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone led by the Chairperson Patricia Narsu Ndanema, on Tuesday 17th March 2020 undertook a monitoring activity at the Lungi International Airport Hotel (LIAH) housing approximately 49 quarantined passengers who had come from the UK, Kenya and Morocco.
The quarantine process in the hotel commenced on 4th March 2020. Quarantined guests in this hotel arrived between 6th -16th March. Some of the quarantined guests are Sierra Leonean Nationals, Chinese and Indians. Two suckling mothers and two sick children also formed part of the number of quarantined guests.
The purpose of the visit was to assess whether guests were enjoying their human rights despite their current location. The HRCSL engaged the following appropriate authorities i.e. the hotel manager, the representative from the District Health Medical Team attached to the airport and the hotel, a staff of SALWACO and 10 quarantined guests on human rights concerns related to the rights to food, water, medical care, security, shelter and electricity.
The Hotel Manager and the DHMT Representative informed the HRCSL of the under mentioned:
▪The hotel is one of the three designated quarantine centers in the community and its role is to provide accommodation for travellers who disembark in Sierra Leone and brought to the center by the District Health Medical Team having gone through COVID-19 checks at the airport.
▪The DHMT representative reported that the normal temperature check is conducted every morning. According to him, temperatures have remained normal since the arrival of all quarantined guests in the hotel. No alarming case of increase in temperature has been recorded.
▪ According to the Hotel Manager, government’s responsibility is to provide all essential facilities for quarantined guests i.e. food, water, security, shelter, medical facility and electricity.
▪ HRCSL was informed that electricity (provided by generator) in the hotel is rationed based on the number of guests present. However, when there is an adequate number of quests, electricity runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. This is how the hotel operates under normal circumstances.
The manager informed the HRCSL that provision of 24 hours electricity will pose a challenge for the management.
▪HRCSL was informed that government is in the process of making concrete arrangements for the provision of fuel to have electricity provided for longer hours.
▪ The incident which occurred on Sunday 15th March resulted from some passengers who had arrived at the hotel at 2 a.m. without management’s knowledge. According to the manager, some of these guests refused to be quarantined due to the fact that they had not been informed about the 14 days quarantine process. During the course of settling down the new arrivals at the hotel, the lights went off. This aggravated the situation and thus became chaotic.
Engagement With Quarantined Guests
▪ Ten quarantined guests engaged revealed that they were not informed about the 14 days quarantine process. According to the respondents this has to a large extent affected several planned activities and other official assignments. They however expressed their commitments to the process.
▪ Guests reported that drinking and bathing water no longer pose challenges. However, timely provision of breakfast, lunch and dinner do. Dietary concerns have not been taken into consideration as there was a diabetic guest amongst them who raised concern to the HRCSL.
Quarantined guests confirm that since their arrival at the hotel, all toiletries have been provided by government.
▪ Two children aged 8 and 9 were found with serious health issues. They were, in the presence of the HRCSL and other partners transferred from the hotel to a medical facility under the directives of the Minister of Health and Sanitation.
▪ A guest expressed concerns over the discriminatory manner in which some were treated. ‘Why are some guests allowed to quit the hotel while others are not?’ She asked.
▪HRCSL was also informed by a passenger that he was the only one brought to the center who had come from Kenya on 16th March while the others were allowed to go home.
▪ All quarantined guests were found to have access to accommodation facilities. HRCSL attested to the availability of some empty rooms through inspection.
As at the time of the visit, electricity was available at the hotel.
▪ HRCSL met on site the Chief Minister, the Minister of Health and Sanitation, the Resident Minister North West, the Head of ONS, the Chief Immigration Officer, Former Ebola Response Lead Paolo Conteh and other key government stake holders, who had gone to discuss issues concerning government’s preparedness to the process. The Chief Minister openly engaged quarantined guests present and assured them of government’s commitment to address all the concerns raised against Friday 20th March 2020. He encouraged all to understand the extra ordinary measures taken at a time like this in the country.
▪Although the presence of both military and police security was glaring, access to quarantined guests seemed porous. Little or no restriction was observed as visitors walked in the hotel at ease to engage family members and friends. Respect for social distancing was not observed.
- Government to provide the Ministry of Health and Sanitation with all financial support to address this health emergency.
- Government to ensure that persons in quarantined centers are provided with the minimum essentials for their well-being.
- Security personnel to ensure that persons in quarantined centers are strictly monitored and prevented from mingling in a bid to ensure that the rights to health and life of others outside these centers are protected. (END OF REPORT).
Sierra Leone’s Chief Minister, Professor David Francis, and Minister of Health, Professor Alpha Tejan Wurie, on the 17th March 2020, paid an unannounced visit to the three quarantine facilities designated for the coronavirus in Lungi, the northern town with the country’s only international airport.
The two senior government officials are said to be have been asked by President Bio to immediately travel across the sea to get first-hand information on the status of people being accommodated in places transformed into confinement facilities and to further gauge the preparedness level of health workers at that entry point.
The minister of health encouraged people, who had arrived into the country by air from different parts of the world, to allow to be quarantined as part of the measures in place to manage any possible case of the coronavirus, adding that they might be aware of the strangeness of the infectious disease ravaging the world partly because of the difficulty in detecting it without having to quarantine them for 14 days, the incubation period for the coronavirus.
Professor Wurie stated that so far that is one of the most effective ways to make sure that people coming from different countries protect themselves and their families.
“We started quarantining passengers from 4 February 2020, but this is the first time we are having a larger number of passengers in quarantine. We have released 68 people and none of them showed any sign of the virus. We have not said you are infected with the virus, but also we have no reason to believe that you don’t have the virus. We want you to show this country that you are patriots by staying away from society for 14 days, after which everyone will be allowed to go about their normal business,” he explained.
The Chief Minister, Professor Francis told passengers that their instruction from the President is to visit the quarantining centres and see whats going on, adding that the coronavirus is a global problem challenging bigger economies with advanced and sophisticated healthcare systems.
“Sierra Leone is the only country within the Man River countries that has not recorded any case of this deadly virus. We are here to assure all of you that we are trying our best as a government to ensure that there is no case of coronavirus in Sierra Leone. But if accidentally we record any, we will be on better grounds to eradicate it immediately and entirely,’’ he said.
He assured those quarantined of three meals per day in all quarantine facilities, adding that all essential items that would keep them safe during the 14-day period would be provided by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
He further stated that it is difficult for people to be quarantined, especially when they would have travelled for long and wanted to see their family members. He therefore admonished them to show the highest level of compliance and ensure that the protocols and guidelines stated by the World Health Organization for people in quarantine are observed.