President Julius Maada Bio yesterday announced the lifting of the inter-district lockdown across the country and also made a little adjustment to the curfew from 11pm to 6am effective today, Wednesday, 24th June.
President Bio made the pronouncement while addressing journalists on the current situation in the country, noting that the Inter-District Lockdown continues to be an important suppression measure, but it has however 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," he said.
He further stated that the measures will be strictly enforced by the security forces and they will closely assess the data and announce further measures, if necessary, noting that 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.
He said those guidelines are consistent with best practices around the sub-region and the world and they will monitor the data and determine and scale up further actions if necessary, noting that whilst easing restrictions, his government will expand testing, contact tracing, and surveillance.
President Bio said they will soon install technology at the Lungi International Airport that will help them monitor, test, and trace all travellers, and that once all measures are in place, commercial flights will resume in the very short run.
He said he had initiated engagements with his colleague Heads of State in the Mano River Union countries with a view to discussing and adopting a harmonized approach and common measures on the re-opening and monitoring of their common land borders and that once they finalize those discussions, they will open all land borders and crossing points.
He said with the support from international development partners, traditional and religious leaders, civil society, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, and various community stakeholders, the COVID-19 preparedness and response measures have been robust.
He said the country has not experienced the 'apocalyptic-scale' infections and deaths that have been recorded in other countries, and that they owe a debt of gratitude to the health workers, NACOVERC and COVID-19 staff, the security forces, and district and other administrators and staff, who have all worked relentlessly.
He said they acknowledged that they 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, thus adding that they have largely resolved most of them and they will continue working harder to minimize gaps and lapses.
He said they have had high recovery and discharge rates, lower infection rates, and proportionally lower death rates three months on because they have got a lot of things right for the period under review.
"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," he said.
He disclosed that the country now has a greater lab capacity and more specimen collectors, more care beds, better IPC protocols and equipment, enhanced and purposeful use of digitalization and technology to support response, more social and mental healthcare support, a decentralized response network, and increased public messaging.
He said NACOVERC has developed an updated National Strategic Response plan that takes into account the current needs and situation and that detail in the said document will be announced soon, adding that overall, 'they are now more adept, nimble, and confident that they will surmount challenges and continue managing the crisis'.
As other countries worldwide and the World Health Organization have acknowledged, COVID-19 will be with the world for probably the next one year as experts find an effective vaccine, he said adding that, 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," he noted.
He said the government's decisions during the crisis does not only aimed to save lives, but also worked to sustain livelihoods, support the most vulnerable, and keep their key economic and human capital development sectors healthy.
Speaking on the gender-based violence and rape in the country, Mr. Bio said his government was going to vigorously prosecute cases and bring all rape, sexual, and gender-based violence perpetrators to justice, noting that, the 'depravity of sexual violence is obscene, criminal, and totally objectionable'.
"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," he said.