Liberia: Roll Back Slow for West African Leaders Exercising Cautious Easing of COVID-19 Border, Travel Restrictions

Monrovia — Last week, Air Ivoire sent out text and email messages to its millions of travelers across West Africa that it is bracing for the resumption of flights with the health of customers a top priority, as it prepares to adapt to the new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The message, followed by a short video illustrating what travelers can expect when the airline finally resumes air travel will come as a relief for many eager for the pandemic to come to an end or at least radically, subside.

KQ, Air Ivoire Eyeing Return to Sky

Similarly, Kenya Airways (KQ) is announcing that it will resume its passenger flights on June 8th with the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) declaring that it continues to place the necessary safety measures ahead of the opening of the country's airports for passengers.

The airline says majority of its 36 aircraft, including 9 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, 10 Boeing 737 aircraft, and 17 Embraers, have remained grounded since 25th March after the government suspended all international passenger flights, in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

For nationalities of countries still trapped abroad as a result of the pandemic, the wait may soon be over even as some of the major airlines gauge the right timing of returning to the skies.

SN Brussels announced last week that it will shortly resume, after more than seven weeks with the tentative date of from 15 June. However, according to the airlines, its Belgiam home carrier plans to start with a reduced flight offer that will be built up in a phased approach according to the market demand and to the travel restrictions. "While preparing its restart, Brussels Airlines will put in place every health protection measure necessary to protect its customers and staff during their travel journey.

The airline which had to cease its commercial flight operations as a consequence of the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, says it will unveil a complete destination portfolio and flight offer in the coming days.

Over the past few weeks, many countries in the region have been easing restrictions with caution.

In the Ivory Coast, authorities relaxed the curfew from 21:00 to 05:00 (local time) and allowing maquis and restaurants to reopen.

Additionally, schools have been permitted to reopen but bars, nightclubs, and cinemas will remain closed indefinitely. Borders were instructed to remain closed until at least Sunday, May 31.

As part of the measure, all movement of people to and from Abidjan will still be prohibited after the state of emergency expires.

Additionally, the use of protective face masks is mandatory in all public places nationwide, and those who do not comply are liable to be sanctioned by the authorities. International flights to and from Côte d'Ivoire also remain suspended indefinitely except for humanitarian and security purposes.

In Nigeria, the federal government has extended movement restrictions in the country, signaling it is still too early to lift the lid. "In spite of the modest progress made, Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority," Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation said recently. "Any relaxation will only portend grave danger for our populace"

In neighboring Ghana, a total of 194 more cases were reported Sunday, taking its total number of infections to 7,881.

Besides, the number of recovered cases has increased to 2,841, as 301 more cases under treatment have recovered, authorities reported Sunday.

Ghana recently lifted a three-week partial lockdown in major cities over the coronavirus - one of the first African countries to ease such restrictions.

Public gatherings are still banned, schools remain closed and social distancing measures continue.

In a nationwide address on Sunday night, President Akufo Addo said the borders will remain closed except from airlifting Ghanaians from abroad.

However, 9th grade, 12th grade and final year university students would resume school on June 15. Churches and Mosques are allowed to worship with only 100 members at a time.

Mid-June Likely for Liberia Airport Resumption

In Liberia, where the Government recently announced an additional two-week extension of restrictions, the death toll remain at 27 Sunday.

To date, only 280 cases have been reported and 146 recoveries. Bong, Bomi, Grand Gedeh, Grand Cape Mount and Rivercess are counties without a COVID-19 case since the outbreak began in March 2020.

Curfew has been extended from 3pm to 6pm with President George M. Weah stating that the easing of measures became necessary in light of the new global reality and the advice of local health authorities.

Under the updated guidelines, restaurants, stores selling food commodities, dry goods, building materials and electronic appliances, are allowed to open provided they take in 25% of their full occupancy at a time while observing social distancing.

The President has also instructed the joint security to enforce the mandatory wearing of masks in all public spaces and ensure full compliance. The government will take the appropriate legal action in cases of violation of any these measures.

While the President has left the door open for the measures to be revisit in the coming days, authorities says, the effectiveness of the measures will determine the need for further easing - given the urgency of opening up the economy so that possible shocks from the global pandemic can be mitigated.

With air, sea and land ports taking a beating from the pandemic in terms of income generation, the economy is being hardly hit.

Nevertheless, authorities say, caution is key even as one official confirmed Sunday that the ideal date being discussed for reopening of the airport likely between June 12 and 15.

Guinea Bissau has taken the bold step of easing restrictions by reopening its borders but requiring all passengers entering Guinea-Bissau to present at the borders a medical certificate indicating that the passenger has tested negative for COVID-19. However, all the residents of Guinea-Bissau's nine regions are still confined to their regions, and not allowed to travel between regions.

The government says the conditions being required for this "partial deconfinement" is rigorous compliance with barrier gestures, especially in public transport where the distancing of passengers must be respected and all passengers must wear masks.

Public transport can only operate at half capacity, and there is a limit of three passengers for all taxis.

In Senegal, where 1,886 cases have been recorded, President Macky Sall recently announced the re-opening of mosques and churches and the easing of other restrictions

The cautious easing of restrictions come as the World Food Programme says the coronavirus pandemic could push an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation by the end of the year.

While the number of infections is multiplying in Senegal, the government is easing restriction on movement, fearing a looming food crisis.


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