30 August 2014

Liberia's Ebola Curfew Hurting and Slowing Business Activities

Monrovia — Fighting Ebola in Liberia, a country now recording increase in the number of cases of the deadly virus is having a toll on commercial activities in the Capital Monrovia with normal business hours reduced and in some commercial areas, businesses are perpetually shut down due to a curfew imposed by the Government of Liberia ranging from 9:PM to 6:AM.

It's 9:30AM and stores are still closed in the commercial hub of the Vai Town business district on the Bushrod Island, an area known for having major importers of commodities such as rice, flour, milk and nearly all commodities as people travel from other parts of Monrovia and the entire country to buy wholesale from importers in Vai Town.

In this busy business district, stores normally open at 8 am and close at 6 pm or even operate till night hours as demands for goods increase, especially during festive seasons, but since the introduction of the curfew, store attendants who live far away on the outskirts of the city, usually seen rushing as early as 5:00AM enabling them to beat the early morning traffic and fight for vehicles to get to work at 7:30AM can no longer venture into the streets until at least 6:10AM.

At 4:30PM all stores in the Vai Town area are closing down and people coming in are told it is time to go home, a significant reduction in business hours, which is intended to enable store attendants make their way home to beat the curfew. The new commercial schedule as a consequence of the curfew means businesses now run about five to six hours, a huge reduction from the normal 10 to 11 hours or even more business time.

Several other stores in the commercial area are perpetually closed down, which some say is due to fear from store owners that they do not want to interact with people to avoid contracting the Ebola various and therefore prefer to stay out of business until the situation is brought under control. In several communities outside Monrovia, huge traffic congestion characterized by an acute shortage of commercial vehicles means one has to take two hours or more to get to work.

As further measures to fight the Ebola virus, taxis are now ordered to carry only three passengers in the back, which until now used to be four and in some instances people seen sitting on the others lap to help due to lack of vehicles. Commercial buses, too, have reduced the number of passengers transported at a time, thereby causing more transport constraints.

Though the World Health organization has maintained that imposition of curfew and quarantining communities are not some of the effective ways to fight the Ebola virus, the Government of Liberia has is continuing the measure, preventing the movement of people which is also having a tool for commercial activities. The major market, Waterside is shut down due to the quarantining of West Point as hawkers and other marketers who engage in the retail business can no longer buy from wholesalers.

Most businesses are complaining that they are losing money because their employees are spending less time at work because they have to leave early to get home. Even for some companies providing transport for employees, the measure is hampering consumers. Even the cellular companies are said to be taking a hit with Cellcom, Lone Star and Novafone all reported a dip in profit margins during the period.

Finance Minister Amara Konneh acknowledged recently that the Ebola crisis will dampen the economy and could take a while to recover. Said Minister Konneh: "Weak domestic demand driven by consumers fear and uncertainty over the length of this crisis will certainly affect inventory and by extension trade volume, but these are early days and we are working internally with all our colleagues to calculate the extent of loss in this sector."

In Monrovia, residents said the Ebola emergency, and the fear and suspicion it has generated, was disrupting daily life, affecting everything from food prices and transport fare."

Bearing further imposition of the curfew, business analysts say commercial activities could continue to stall and add more burden to the country's economy. The situation has been complicated as the World Health Organization suggested last week that the crisis is getting worse. The Center for Disease Control has also said the crisis will get worse before coming under control.

This could point to more difficulty as many Liberians struggle to provide for their families. As a result of the curfew some businesses are said to be contemplating layoffs, meaning more people are set to lose their jobs in the coming days due to lack of commercial activities. The total number of cases stands at 3,069, with 40% occurring in the past three weeks. "However, most cases are concentrated in only a few localities," the WHO said.

The outbreak, the deadliest ever, has been centered in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with a handful of cases in Nigeria. The overall fatality rate is 52%, the WHO said, ranging from 42% in Sierra Leone to 66% in Guinea.

"So far, 129 contacts have been listed, and the contact tracing team has identified 32 deaths (occurring over the period from July 29th to August 24th) that are suspected of being Ebola. The team is working to complete investigation forms for these deaths." Regionally, the outbreak has killed 1,552 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

The WHO is predicting that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa could eventually infect more than 20,000 people - more than six times as many doctors currently know about. The organization made the statement Thursday, as it called for a global response to the spread of the virus.

The United Nations' health agency warned that it needed $490 million to combat Ebola over the next six months as it set out a "roadmap" for tackling the outbreak. The death toll has climbed to 1, 552 and "continues to accelerate," the agency said.

West Point quarantine lifted

On Friday, Information Minister Lewis Brown announced that the quarantine of the West Point Community has been lifted effective 6am on Saturday morning. The slum community was quarantined a week and three days ago, a situation that has resulted in violent clashes between state security forces and the residents.

Live bullets were fired and several persons sustained injuries with one death so far, Shaki Kamara a boy who was shot in the leg and later died while being treated at the Redemption Hospital.

It is not yet clear what was achieved by the government during the period West Point was quarantined as residents say there was no testing carried out in the community to know the status of many whether positive or negative of the Ebola virus.

Quarantine is meant to avoid the movement of people in and out except health care workers, but during the quarantined period, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and several others visited the community to identify with the people after sea erosion led to the destruction of houses.

Several politicians also visited the community which was quarantined to prevent the spread of Ebola. West Point was quarantined days after some residents looted an Ebola holding facility meant for suspected Ebola patients taking away utensils used by these patients.

With the quarantine now lifted, business owners will be hoping that the government can extend the curfew shut off to at least 12 midnight to give businesses a window of opportunity to break even in what some owners are suggesting is no doubt a challenging atmosphere for business.


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