Liberia's First Case of Coronavirus Leaves More Dangling Questions Amid Claims and Counterclaims

analysis

Monrovia — The first case of the novel coronavirus (covid-19) landed with so many controversies, leaving more questions than answers and the public wondering if precautionary measures are truly enforced by health officials at the country's entry points, especially at the Roberts International Airport.

The first case which was announced on Monday, March 16, 2020, is believed to have come from Switzerland. The carrier, Dr. Nathaniel Blama, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had returned from an official trip where he attended a Global Climate Fund (GCF) conference.

Though he returned during the evening hours of Friday, March 13, his case was not reported until Monday.

FrontPageAfrica gathered that Dr. Blama along with other officials of government, including a staff of the EPA came on the same flight and they all passed through the regular temperature check at the RIA upon arrival. Accordingly, they all recorded normal temperatures and were asked to go home.

However, as he started feeling feverish at home, he called in health authorities to conduct further testing on him which later confirmed he is a carrier of the Coronavirus. He was, then, reportedly asked for self-quarantine in his home until an appreciate holding place can be prepared for him.

But addressing a press conference at the head office of the National Public Health Institute on Monday, Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah said Mr. Blama refused to be kept in isolation when he returned to the country.

The health authorities disclosed that they had announced that travelers returning from any country with 200 cases will be subjected to 14 days of precautionary observation.

A Health Ministry source, however, informed FPA that at the time of Dr. Blama's arrival, the Ministry had not updated its list to include Switzerland.

"If that was the case, why wasn't the other EPA official who also came with Dr. Blama quarantined? Why did they allow him to go home? That official only turned himself in for quarantine after it was discovered that Dr. Blama had tested positive. This official's test has also been done and we're awaiting the result," the health ministry staff who asked for anonymity said.

In his announcement of the presence of the disease in Liberia, President George Weah said, "... Let me assure you that the Government is taking every precaution and action to protect our borders and ports of entry. However, in spite of these arrangements, I regret to inform you that Liberia has recorded a confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus."

"The infected person is Mr. Nathaniel Blama, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, who arrived in Liberia on Brussels Airlines on Friday night, the 13th of March. Along with several other officials of Government traveling on the same flight, Mr. Blama chose not to be quarantined, in keeping with the health protocols that were in place at the airport."

This President's disclosure led to several condemnations against Mr. Blama with some believing that he purposely entered Liberia with COVID-19.

Upon the President's pronouncement, the EPA posted to its Facebook page that its Executive Director voluntarily asked for additional testing after the regular screening at the Roberts International Airport. The EPA in the post also stated that Dr. Blama immediately informed his staff upon being told that he is a carrier of the virus.

Blama Broke Silence

For the EPA Executive, the pronouncement by the President who was informed by health authorities was unfair to him and has caused sufficient damage.

In an audio recording obtained by FrontPageAfrica, Mr. Blama said, "I want to urge you guys to stay calm; I'm not doing anything out of protocol. I talked to the doctor and the doctor advised that since I'm okay, to not create panic, I should drive myself to the hospital and the ambulance was going to drive behind me and we did just that.

Why are you guys panicking, talk to Dr. Kateh, talk to Dr. Fallah, that's what we agreed. And when they brought the ambulance in the community, the community members got concerned and started running behind it after even the health workers escorted me and I got in it.

Then you guys have done enough damage by misinforming the public that I refused quarantine. That's not true and that's not fair.

Suspended by The President

Despite refuting allegations that he resisted quarantine, the Executive Mansion on Monday announced the indefinite suspension of Dr. Blama for his alleged refusal to obey health protocols.

According to the Executive Mansion, following the arrival of the medical staff at his residence to take him for treatment, he again declined to board an ambulance, opting instead to follow the team with his private vehicle which is a further violation of public health measures.

"The President strongly warns all officials of the government in particular and members of the general public to strictly abide by the directives of health officials as the country strives to contain coronavirus," the Executive Mansion noted.

Health Ministry's Admittance to Cracks

At Monday's press conference, the Acting Executive Director of the National Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Mr. Mosoka Fallah, said though they have stringent measures in place, they are also aware that there are loopholes that could be taken advantage of.

"No system is full proof; there were cracks - we had over 240 persons that we took [under quarantine] and it cost the government so much money to keep them in precautionary observation center and we were convinced that no matter how the system is, there will be a possibility of cracks," Dr. Fallah said.

Driver Left to Wander

The driver of Nathaniel Blama, who drove him from the airport to his house, has alarmed that health authorities have refused to quarantine him since he turned himself in, after hearing that his boss was infected.

William Ballah, speaking to a local radio station on Monday explained that he was picked up by health workers from his house who told him they were taking him to the Redemption Hospital to be quarantined and tested.

However, Ballah said to his utmost surprise, he was not taken to Redemption, but to the Beyan Kesselly Military Barracks in Schefflin, Margibi County, and he along with two persons including the driver was made to sit in the ambulance for more than six hours at the entrance of the barracks.

Said Ballah: "This morning I got a call that my boss man was tested positive. So, I decided to call the people (health authorities) to take me for testing. They came and I got in the ambulance and they told me that they were taking me to Redemption [Hospital]. But while on the way, unfortunately, they passed by Redemption and brought me all the way to the barrack here... And since today they brought me here, I am just sitting in the ambulance before the gate. I have been here for almost six hours now."

Mr. Ballah said he was fed up with the action of the health authorities and threatened to leave since officials refused to quarantine him for more than six hours after was picked up.

The reporter was heard pleading to him to stay in the car, and that he will do everything to get health authorities to attend to him.

Prior to him being picked up, Ballah disclosed that he had attended church service and further attended a musical concert at the S. T. Nagbe Methodist Church on 13th Street in Sinkor.

He lives with his wife and children.

FrontPage Africa was unable to get authorities of the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) as their phone rang and no answer.

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