Sierra Leone Telegraph: 02 April 2020:
Yesterday, Sierra Leone’s ministers of information and health gave a joint press briefing about the current status of the government’s preparedness in stemming the transmission and spread of COVID-19 across the wider population.
But the country’s medics say that the government hasn’t gone far enough. They want the government to do more.
Speaking at the press conference, the government confirmed that the country now has two cases of COVID-19, and that the first confirmed case has an estimated 130 contacts that the government is now tracing for testing; 43 of his primary contacts have been traced, and 8 tested negative.
The ministers said that 3 of his contacts have already travelled to Kenema and Kono.
They said that from today, Thursday 2nd April, anyone arriving in Sierra Leone via boat or land from Guinea and Liberia will be held in custody for not less than 14 days, and that a nationwide lockdown will start 6am Sunday 5th April to 11.59pm on Tuesday 7th April.
The ministers warned that any evidence of community transmission will be met with more stringent safety measures; advising the people to avoid crowded areas, practice social distancing and regular handwashing.
All vehicles they said must limit passengers to the barest minimum: Taxis – 2 at the back and 1 in the front; Kekeh – limited to 2 passengers; Poda-Poda, Buses, Mini-buses – no standing allowed, no passengers in middle seats; All vehicles should have sanitizers for their passengers; Ferries & boats – only the barest minimum of passengers and vehicles allowed on boats and ferries. Social distancing should be practiced and enforced on ferries.
They call on traditional societies to be hygiene- sensitive; Secret societies are banned until further notice; Religious houses should not be operational until further notice; Funerals – restricted to family members of not more than 20 people; Weddings – limited to immediate family.
The practice of washing dead bodies is discouraged until the scientists can confirm whether the virus can be transmitted from corpses or not, ministers warned.
Local weekly markets – known as Lumas are banned until further notice as they attract large crowds.; shops and supermarkets should all have handwashing facilities and practice social distancing.
Night clubs and bars can be opened from 7am-7pm and must enforce social distancing; restaurants can stay opened from 7am – 9pm and must adhere to social distancing and handwashing measures.
All beaches have been closed for mass entertainment, including mass jogging.
All Sporting activities – sports, video centres showing matches are all banned until further notice.
During the nationwide lockdown that starts 6am on Sunday 5th April to 11.59pm on Tuesday 7th April, no one should leave their homes, except for essential services – health personnel, members of the security forces and designated number of journalists who will be given passes.
Speaking about the much questioned supply of ventilators and testing Kits, the ministers conformed that currently there are 3 ventilators in the country at Choithram Hospital.
The government they said has procured 8 more ventilators which have not yet arrived, prompting reminder of the Ebola government procurement fiasco with a loss of millions of Dollars.
The African Union they said will be donating 11 additional ventilators and that the government intends to procure up to 50 more.
The ministers said that only critical cases will be put on ventilators.
Speaking about support from China, the ministers said that the Chinese Billionaire – Jack Ma, has donated 20,800 test kits to Sierra Leone, which will be sufficient for testing on 4,000 cases.
3,500 more test kits the ministers said are expected from WHO with 1,000 already in the country.
Finally, the informed the media that from next Wednesday, all press briefings will be held through video conferencing.
But responding to the government’s responses and preparedness so far, the country’s medics – the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association, are far less than satisfied.
They are calling for the government to do. Yesterday, the medics published a statement, signed by the President – Dr. Delwin M. Findlay. This is what they said:
“The Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association notes the announcement of a second confirmed case of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone and attendant measures proclaimed.
“The Association notes that one of our colleagues and the husband of one of our colleagues have tested positive.
“We want to express our strongest show of solidarity to these colleagues and their families as they get through this challenging moments. We want to express our firm support and also called on the public to show solidarity to all healthcare workers, including those who may have directly or indirectly come in contact with the confirm case.
“As an association we are not happy with the measures that have been taken so far, namely testing of contacts. There is strong indication that there is already community transmission of the virus within the Sierra Leone population. In keeping with stringent measures to control the virus, we as an Association recommend that:-
– The period of Lockdown (i.e. Limiting movement of citizens) be extended to 14 (fourteen) days (based on the known disease incubation period), where all previously quarantined be located and tested and if positive their contacts traced, isolated and tested.
– Ensure that PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and N95 masks are immediately available to all health facilities for healthcare workers as the frontline against the disease.
– All 26 (twenty six) doctors and staff at Ola During Children’s Hospital are potential contacts of Case 2 and should be isolated and tested after quarantine whether symptomatic or not.
– A designated and adequate facility be made available immediately for affected frontline healthcare workers.
– To strongly consider all necessary support and compensation for frontline healthcare workers who will be risking their lives and those of their families to provide much needed service to Sierra Leone.
“We urge the Ministry of Health/Govt. Of Sierra Leone to act with extreme urgency to control the COVID-19.
“The loss of our colleagues and other healthcare workers during the Ebola epidemic are still fresh in our minds.
“Meanwhile we advise the general public to remain calm and observe all messages on personal hygiene, and social distancing. Together we can fight COVID-19.”