President Bio eases corona lockdown measures – but airport will remain closed

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 June 2020:

President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone has this afternoon addressed the nation about reports of the death of a five year old girl, allegedly raped. Police are currently investigating. Speaking at a press conference held in State House on the progress in combatting covid-19, the president announced easing of the inter-district travelling measures, but the airport will remain close.

This is what he said:

“I would like us to begin this press briefing with a minute of silence in memory of young and beautiful lives that have not been allowed to blossom. May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed rest in perfect peace.

Permit me to digress briefly from the purpose of this press engagement today and express both outrage and total condemnation of continued incidents of rape, sexual, and gender-based violence in this country. The depravity of sexual violence is obscene, criminal, and totally objectionable.

As a Government, we stand with the survivors, victims, and their loved ones, and my Government will vigorously prosecute cases and bring all perpetrators to justice. My Government is committed to providing support for survivors and the First Lady, myself, and my Government urge every Sierra Leonean to join in raising awareness, advocating, and standing up to rid this country of this menace.

My Government is committed to equal protection and justice, inclusive development, and equal access to opportunity for every Sierra Leonean especially women who constitute 51% of our population.

COVID-19

With the support of international and development partners, traditional and religious leaders, civil society, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, and various community stakeholders, our COVID-19 preparedness and response measures have been robust. We have not experienced the apocalyptic-scale infections and deaths that have been recorded in other countries.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our health workers, NaCovERC and COVID-19 staff, the security forces, and district and other administrators and staff, who have all worked relentlessly. To every Sierra Leonean who has complied with healthcare protocols, public-safety directives, and also communicated awareness of the virus, we thank you immensely.

As a Government, we acknowledge that we could have better anticipated and handled, at the outset, some lapses in restrictions on movement, care and quarantine administration, delayed payments and procurement, 117 calls, and slow district operations set-ups. We have largely resolved most of them and we will continue working harder to minimise gaps and lapses.

We have had high recovery and discharge rates, lower infection rates, and proportionally lower death rates three months on. This is because we have got a lot of things right over those three months.

Our anticipation and timely responses, contact tracing and surveillance, well-considered economic response, social safety support, and other measures have been praised and well-supported by our multilateral and development partners.

We now have greater lab capacity and more specimen collectors, more care beds, better IPC protocols and equipment, enhanced and purposeful use of digitalisation and technology to support our response, more social and mental healthcare support, a decentralised response network, and increased public messaging.

NACOVERC has developed an updated National Strategic Response plan that takes into account our current needs and situation. Details will be announced soon.

Overall, we are now more adept, nimble, and confident that we will surmount challenges and continue managing this crisis.

As other countries worldwide and the World Health Organisation have acknowledged, COVID-19 will be with the world for probably the next one year as experts find an effective vaccine. It will remain highly infectious disease and deadly. I, therefore, strongly encourage continued compliance with all measures that will help us mitigate and suppress the spread of this virus.

I urge every citizen to strictly comply with healthcare and public safety protocols — from handwashing, using face masks, social distancing, travel restrictions, and all other restrictions on public gatherings in public spaces. As a person, only you can protect yourself and your loved ones from this virus by choosing to comply with all directives.

We are encouraged that surveys indicate that more Sierra Leoneans are aware of the Corona virus and know what to do to prevent and treat the disease. But there is alarming apathy and a refusal to comply with protocols. Sierra Leoneans either refuse to or do not PROPERLY WEAR FACE MASKS or practice social-distancing. That attitude is irresponsible and dangerous for citizens who continue to live in denial. Remember, only you and your actions can help protect yourself against the Corona virus.

In all our decisions during this crisis, we have aimed to save lives but we have also worked to sustain livelihoods, support the most vulnerable, and keep our key economic and human capital development sectors healthy. Our considerations have been driven by copious real-time data. We continue to closely monitor data and we are attentive to advice from the Sierra Leonean and global scientific community.

It is in that vein that I therefore announce the following adjustments that will ease constraints while not compromising the fight against the Corona virus:

Effective immediately, the curfew is adjusted to the period 11pm to 6am.

The Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority has held extensive consultations with stakeholders and considered developments in the aviation sector around Africa and in the world. Countries are opening their airspaces.

A broad inter-sectoral body will soon finalise rational, effective, and affordable pre-arrival and departure protocols that are in consonance with best practices elsewhere and WHO guidelines. We will also soon install technology at the Lungi International Airport that will help us monitor, test, and trace all travellers. Once all measures are in place, commercial flights will resume in the very short run.

I have initiated engagements with colleague Heads of State of the Mano River Union countries with a view to discussing and adopting a harmonised approach and common measures on the re-opening and monitoring of our common land borders. Once we finalise those discussions, we will open all land borders and crossing points.

The Inter-District Lockdown continues to be an important suppression measure. However, it has presented some constraints for Sierra Leoneans. With the following specific conditions, I announce a lifting of the ban on Inter-District travel starting on Wednesday, 24 June 2020.

I have instructed the NaCOVERC Interim Coordinator and his team to develop and announce enforceable infection prevention control protocols (especially the mandatory and proper wearing of face masks and other healthcare protocols).

Only travellers who comply shall be allowed to travel on all vehicular transportation. This will be strictly enforced by the security forces. We will CLOSELY assess the data and announce further measures, if necessary.

The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary School, in consultation with stakeholders, has developed comprehensive health and safety guidelines for teachers, pupils, and their communities for the sole purpose of providing a safe environment for our students who are taking public examinations at all levels. Those guidelines are consistent with best practices around the sub-region and the world. We will monitor the data and determine and scale up further actions as necessary.

Whilst easing restrictions, Government will expand testing, contact tracing, and surveillance to unprecedented levels. Government will monitor the data and take all further necessary action. While there may be a temporary surge in numbers, this aggressive action will help us isolate and deal with pockets of community infections.

So the key take-away from this engagement today is that as we are easing restrictions and re-opening the economy and livelihoods. I urge all citizens to comply with all healthcare and public safety directives. The NaCOVERC Coordinator and Security forces will strictly enforce all measures deemed necessary to flatten the curve.

I thank you.”

5 Comments

  1. So far so good, but we are not there yet. The talking needs to stop Mr president, we require action. If you talk the talk, you should walk the walk. When it comes to the treatment of women in Sierra Leone we have failed them. They make up 51% of the population, but you wouldn’t think that the way our countrymen are carrying on. I’m glad to see this president take the initiative to fight this scourge in our society. The rape of women and girls, and generally the way they are treated should all make us stop and hang our heads in shame. Is it a crime to be a woman in today’s Sierra Leone? Are women being treated with dignity and the freedom to live their lives without being harassed, heckle by testosterone filled men?

    What sort of country we want to live where women are scared to come out of their homes in fear of being assaulted? For some people that like to pigeon hole us through tribal lines and if they have their way would like to take us back to the tribal RUF wars of the 90s, they should bear in mind our country is still dealing with the after effect of that war. President Bio didn’t mince his words, when he said: “we should all come together and fight this menace in our society.” So for those of you who never experienced the civil war, or is still wedded in tribal politics, rape and amputation, long sleeves or short sleeves was the signature trade mark of those deranged, drugged up, with no sense of purpose in life, so called Revolutionary United Front rebels.

    I suggest one of the ways to tackle this rape emergency facing us, is for those caught and found guilty to go for long prison terms or face the hangman at Pademba Road prison. One or two convicts will teach the others a lesson that this government is not mocking about when they say they will act.

  2. Welcoming news for this measured approach in reopening our nation. Unlike prior pandemic, convid-19 is everywhere and will likely stick around in the foreseeable future, so until a vaccine is discover, no amount of restrictions will safeguard our nation from reinfections. Albeit the many lapses and ill advised actions taken so far by the regime, we must commend the main stakeholders, particularly our health workers across the nation who despite the deplorable working conditions, have tirelessly managed to make a difference.

  3. Inter-district restrictions lifted, market places still left crowded, the flowing in and out of people will be buzzing in the first one or two weeks. But Mosques and Churches remain closed. I just don’t get it. What crooked prevention of Coronavirus is that?

  4. Fascinating stuff. See how tough and presidential our President looks. What a candid speech on all fronts by the President and Commander in Chief of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, President Julius Maada Bio. When a president shows leadership and takes responsibility of any failures by his Administration, then he wins the admiration and respect of many. Everything concerning Coronavirus is under control in my view.

    This is what President Bio said “As a Government, we acknowledge that we could have better anticipated and handled, at the outset, some lapses in restrictions on movement, care and quarantine administration, delayed payments and procurement, 117 calls, and slow district operations set-ups.” Just straight talk and no blame games. The President accepted the shortcomings of the situation by his government and more importantly, promised to correct it – “we will continue working harder to minimise gaps and lapses.” The President made me just cool and cozy.

    This statement by President Bio and Commander in Chief of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces caught my attention – “Sierra Leoneans either refuse to or do not PROPERLY WEAR FACE MASKS or practice social-distancing. That attitude is irresponsible and dangerous for citizens who continue to live in denial. Remember, only you and your actions can help protect yourself against the Corona virus.” Have our ministers and top government officials got the message? I hope they do. The population will follow when they set examples. Finally, am I right to say that President Bio has got the message and has started providing the leadership the country needs and more important, ignoring those extremists? God bless the President and the Commander in Chief of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, Dr Julius Maada Bio. Amen and Amen.

  5. This is exactly what I asserted back in April – that rather than creating a Think Thank to study and strategize a new way of thinking and doing business, African leaders were only waiting in the wings for ‘Donor conferences , loan and grants opportunities to deal with the virus and its cascaded outcome. No new thinking way forward, we’re back to where we were with business as usual- the begging, foreign visits, overburden budgets without sustainable priorities. .

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