Pres. Bio Talks Tough on Safety Measures to Prevent Covid-19

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President, Julius Maada Bio

By Sam Pratt

At exactly 8:00 PM on the 18 March 2020 , His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone addressed the nation on the current steps that his Government has put in place to enhance preparedness vis a vis the current spread of the corona virus which is claiming the lives of infected persons in different continents.

President Bio told the nation that we are threatened by the global Corona virus pandemic which he described as a public health emergency of global concern.

“It is a deadly virus that has infected hundreds of thousands of people all over the world from China and the far East to Europe, America, and some African countries,” the President furthered adding that the Corona Virus has tested and overwhelmed the organisation, expertise, and vast resources of the healthcare systems of the richest and most advanced countries including China, America, United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain, to name a few.

He underscored that like the Ebola virus, it is easily transmitted from person to person emphasizing that like Ebola it is spread through social contact.

“It is spread through contact with respiratory droplets through the mouth, eyes, and ears. If you have flu-like symptoms including fever, cough, and difficult breathing that last three days, you must self-report by calling 117 or at the nearest healthcare facility,” the President admonished also stating that the Corona or COVID-19 is a virus for which there is currently no vaccine.

The 1st Gentleman stated that it can even be transmitted by certain population groups that show no obvious symptoms of an infection also underscoring that like the Ebola virus, the Corona virus can be deadly.

The President stated that our immediate neighbours, Guinea and Liberia have both reported confirmed cases of Corona virus infections saying the deadly Corona virus is in our neighbourhood saying it is no longer a question of whether the Corona Virus will come to Sierra Leone, it is a question of WHEN.

“Over a month ago, my Government began implementing a raft of measures to prevent the incidence of the Corona virus. We have implemented stringent entry port surveillance measures at our international airport at Lungi and two major land border posts at Gbalamuya and Gendema. We have instituted robust entry port screening, monitoring, and quarantine arrangements,” the President informed.

He told the nation how he has personally assumed leadership of all preparations, that he has visited and overseen the diagnostic and isolation unit at 34 Military hospital; the Lungi International Airport Quarantine facility and airport; and, the Gbamulaya border post in Kambia.

The President said at all those locations and at every public speaking opportunity since he has publicly called for heightened vigilance pointing out that Corona, like Ebola, is a highly infectious and deadly virus.

“We have three testing laboratories, an equipped purposely built isolation unit, and we are fully equipping treatment centres. We have also approached a friendly Government to support our effort with equipment and medical supplies,” he went on.

The President said they have triggered public health emergency measures and have committed some financial resources to preparedness and public health education.

He said the Ministry of Health and Sanitation has activated the Emergency Operations Centre to Level 2 to coordinate initial preparedness and response and they have activated the Emergency contact number 117 revealing how an associated call centre will process all calls to that number and act on each call and every information received accordingly.

The President told Sierra Leoneans that they have streamlined standard operating procedures to cover screening, quarantine, laboratory, and data management for persons from identified epicentres and sites of incidence of the Corona Virus stating how they have positioned expert contact tracers and disease surveillance units in all district levels.

“We have implemented handwashing procedures at most medical institutions and urged citizens to observe limited social contact, have alerted our healthcare personnel and strengthened our healthcare systems across the country,” the President added.

He said they are determined to prevent the incidence and spread of the virus stating how they are also extremely cautious that like Ebola, by the time we identify one positive case, we would have had several dozen disease contacts maintaining that we cannot afford to wait for a positive case.

The President informed that we are not going into imminent lockdown but said the actions and the preventive measures we take now as individuals and as communities are critical to ensuring we don’t have to.

He said this is not a time to panic.

“I have held consultative meetings with fellow Sierra Leoneans right across the board including those persons who managed the Ebola crisis.  To my mind, this is a time for close attention to detail, focus, and intensify discipline,” he cautioned.

The President announced the additional guidance to citizens in order to further enhance our national preparedness: Directed the military to immediately deploy to our international airport and land crossing points in order to enhance security and support compliance with all public health directives and advisories.

That Ministries, Departments, and Agencies are urged to collaborate very closely to support and ensure compliance with all preventive measures we have put in place. That all Government officials are directed to suspend all foreign travel until further notice, that citizens are strongly encouraged to postpone all overseas travel especially to locations with reported cases of the Corona virus. He stated that the country’s biggest source of threat is persons who have travelled from Corona infected countries.

President Bio said the Ministry of Health has issued a comprehensive advisory for the administration of quarantine for citizens, legal residents, and visitors who arrive in Sierra Leone saying we urge strict compliance adding that these measures will be monitored and continually reviewed.

He mentioned that citizens are strongly encouraged to tell their family members, their neighbours, and other persons in their communities that the Corona virus is already in Liberia and Guinea. It is highly infectious; it is a virus for which there is currently no vaccine; and it can kill.

The President cautioned citizens to avoid physical contact and practice social distancing at all social and public gatherings stating how such applies to public events including but not limited to football matches, public concerts, social events, religious congregations, weddings, funerals, and other such large gatherings.

He furthered that citizens with flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough, and difficult breathing are encouraged to seek immediate medical attention and call 117. He advised, “Nor peppeh doctor Yousef”.

The President said as at the time of Ebola, good personal hygiene and behaviour are critical to preventing the spread of the Corona Virus. He said citizens must:

Avoid handshakes and hugs when greeting people, avoid direct contact with persons with cold or flu-symptoms, cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing; wash their hands often with soap, clean water, and use a hand sanitiser.

He appealed to private businesses, public institutions, event organisers, stores, supermarkets, and market women to provide enhanced hygiene facilities including handwashing stations with clean water, liquid soap, hand sanitisers at all entrances. They should also ensure that all toilets and common areas are regularly cleaned and disinfected.

The 1st gentleman urged operators of minibuses, taxis, and kekehs to minimise congestion and to provide hand sanitisers to passengers encouraging them to call 117 and report persons who are visibly sick with a fever, cough, and difficult breathing.

“ I urge all public and private radio stations; religious leaders; chiefs, tribal authorities and headmen and women; community leaders; local council administrators and leaders; political party leaders and representatives at the ward, constituency and national levels; and, administrators and staff of educational institutions at the basic, secondary, vocational, and tertiary levels; to continually broadcast and reinforce public health education information on Corona virus prevention including hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and social distancing,” he admonished.

He said although there are no confirmed cases in Sierra Leone at this time, we must adopt the foregoing immediately in order to forestall the deadly risk of the Corona Virus.

He said they will continue to actively monitor developments around the Corona Virus and will announce further enhanced measures including a declaration of a State of Emergency to protect public health and safety.

The President ended by stating that as a nation, we have triumphed together over war, Ebola, and natural disasters inspiring all that together again, by the grace of God, Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, and through our collective resolve, vigilance, and determination to strive and thrive as a nation, we will overcome the menace, yet again.

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