WHEN LIBERIA RECORDED its first COVID-19 case on March 16 this year, millions of fingers were pointed at the Roberts International Airport for allowing Mr. Nathaniel Blama to slip through the cracks of the health protocols meant to screen incoming passengers. There were also accusations leveled against the National Public Health Institute of Liberia for being lackadaisical in thoroughly screening passengers for COVID-19 at the RIA.
BE AS IT MAY, there were clear indications that the mishaps and sluggishness in the handling of the health protocols at the RIA led to the country's first confirmed coronavirus case; hence, the current devasting situation. With the number of confirmed cases growing exponentially amid fear that the economy, which is seems partially opened, may suffer an even more far-reaching effect from the global pandemic.
RELAXING the restrictions including the resumption of international flights is expected to help the country gradually respond to the volatile shocks of the COVID-19 economic fallout, according to economists. However, the risk of importing new cases is lurking as more passengers from countries that have huge number of cases will be allowed into the country in the coming months.
ON MONDAY, some 60 passengers arrived on a SN Brussels flight and they were greeted by strict health protocol. The passengers were taken into a section of the airport where they were tested for COVID-19, one by one. Each passenger had their temperature taken for symptoms of the virus, which was registered via phones numbers/USSD/Mobile App.
ALTHOUGH SOME passengers came along with test results showing they had been tested prior to their exit from the country of departure, Liberia's airport authorities required them to also go through the testing as an extra precaution. The enforcement of these protocols is laudable, but we want to caution against reluctance. That it should not fade with time just as we have seen short-lived policies that gradually became pretty much overlooked or ignored in a space of one month.
THEREFORE, we are calling on the Management of the Liberia Airport Authority, the Ministry of Health and all government agencies working to enforce the health protocol at the RIA to be robust, vigilant, and uncompromising. Reopening the airport was a risky move albeit very significant to salvaging our economy from further shrinking. We must balance the two. We cannot be careless, else, we will open a flood gate of infections that will obviously overwhelm our already underfunded fragile health system.
AS OF JUNE 30, Liberia had already recorded 780 confirmed cases with 420 active cases. One grim statistic that many people are ignoring is the 1,181 contacts that are under follow-up by NPHIL. This means, we might probably have more cases in the coming days if more tests are done and results come back positive. And more confirmed cases mean over stretching the existing meager resources to provide isolation and treatment of patients. This would make our response to the pandemic even more cumbersome and expensive, something that we cannot afford.
WHILE WE FOLLOW up the existing contacts, test, isolate and treat infected persons, we cannot afford to have a new chain of cases. This is a fact that we cannot not ignore; it would happen if folks at the RIA slack in doing their jobs. If they become reckless in screening passengers - by allowing so called "big shots' to elude the process, the whole nation will be in trouble. We want to frown on the "You know who I am?" syndrome by calling on for everyone to follow the process to preclude the importation of a new chain of infections.
SCREENERS or health workers implementing health protocols at the RIA must do their job without fear or favor! We want to emphasize that your job as frontline health worker is most significant not only to the efforts toward flattening the curve but also in averting another chain of transmission that would compound the already devasting problem. Please work like the life of the nation depends on it, and you can be rest assured that we will expose anyone who attempts dodging the COVID-19 screening process or attempt to subject you to the "big shot" syndrome.
WHILE WE hailed the regulations by the RIA that passengers coming to the country must obtained a certificate to show that they are free of the virus when they arrived at the airport, we want health authorities to go one step further. We agree this is a good move; however, keeping incoming passengers under surveillance for at least 14 days should be an additional measure. This, we believe, will ensure contact tracing is fast tracked in case of any eventuality.
AS WE CALL on the health workers and the management of RIA to be steadfast in enforcing the preventive measures, we suggest that President George Weah should send a caveat to all government officials, stressing that they MUST follow the protocols, no matter who they are.
AT THE SAME TIME, we want to call on the respective leaderships of the two Houses of Legislature to lure their colleagues into affirming that they will abide by all health protocols at the airport. We also think same should be done by the Judiciary.
ENSURING that we tighten our grip on the health protocols at the airport should be unswerving and should involve all those that have the privilege to travel via air. By now, we all know the characteristics of the enemy that we face! Dealing with a virus that has crossed hundreds of international borders, ravaged powerful economies, and killed more than half a million people, and still does not have a definite cure, means we must work collectively void of the usual Liberian "big shot" syndrome. We cannot afford to allow any more case to slip through the cracks at the Robert International Airport.