Liberia: EU Relaxes Travel Restriction for Countries Reporting Low New COVID-19 Cases - Liberia Excluded

Monrovia — As countries begin reopening their international borders despite a new spike in coronavirus cases, the European Union has temporarily lifted restrictions on non-essential travel into EU countries but Liberia, which has just over 500 active COVID-19 cases, is excluded.

In a June 30 press release, the EU said the list will be reviewed and updated every two weeks.

Algeria (with 17,808 confirmed cases), Morocco (14,771), Tunisia (1,221) and Rwanda (1,191) are the four African countries that made the list.

They are joined by Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, New Zealand, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, and Uruguay as countries where none-EU citizens can travel from to the EU countries.

"The criteria to determine the third countries for which the current travel restriction should be lifted cover in particular the epidemiological situation and containment measures, including physical distancing, as well as economic and social considerations," the EU release stated.

It added that, "the epidemiological situation" for a country to make the list, it must meet several criteria particularly, number of new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days and per 100, 000 inhabitants close to or below the EU average as of June 15; stable or decreasing trend of new cases over this period in comparison to the previous 14 days and an overall response to COVID-19 taking into account available information."

The EU states that the overall response must include "aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting, as well as the reliability of the information and, if needed, the total average score for International Health Regulations (IHR)".

The EU Commission adopted measures for the gradual lifting of the restriction on non-essential travel into the EU as of 1 July 2020 after several months of complete restrictions for all countries, according to the release.

It added that "discussions have since then taken place between member states on the criteria and methodology to be applied" to relax the restrictions for countries that are flatten the curve of infections.

With Liberia excluded from the list, only EU citizens and their family members, long-term EU residents and their family members, travelers with essential function or need and Schengen associated countries.

Liberia has recorded a total of 957 confirmed cases with 517 of these being active cases - as of July 8, according to Liberia's Public Health Institute (NPHIL). Forty-two people have died from the virus while 398 persons have recovered.

Experts say the country's coronavirus stats are significantly low as compare to many other African countries including the four included on the EU list.

But there has been a sharp surge in the number of confirmed cases in recent weeks. Between July 1 and July 8, NPHIL stats show that the country has recorded 172 cases.

Data recorded between March 16, when Liberia recorded its first confirmed case, and June 23, show that the country recorded a total confirmed case of 366. Comparing this figure (366) with the ones recorded in the last one week (172), shows that there is over 40% increment in the number of confirmed cases in one week.

Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Director General of NPHIL, justifies that the surge in cases is because more tests are being done - which, public health experts suggest it is the first step to tackling the spread of the respiratory infection.

The World Health Organization suggests that testing must be accompanied with meticulous isolation and treatment of patients while also calling on people to continue following other basic preventive health measures like frequent hand washing, wearing face covering and practicing social distancing.

In Liberia, there are growing apprehensions that the country's' response mechanism is not robust enough to withstand more than 2,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases - a situation that might be compounded by already lingering concerns that the government restrictions and health protocols are not being followed.

Take Rwanda for example, one of four African countries on the list, it is being hailed for an effective and robust response against the pandemic.

According to the John Hopkins University, the East African nation has 1,194 confirmed cases as of July 9 - this is 237 cases more than Liberia's total confirmed cases although the West Africa nation recorded deaths (42) have dwarfed Rwanda's three deaths.

Despite recording more cases, Rwanda's inclusion on the EU list ahead of Liberia evinces the quality of its response efforts against the pandemic.

After the first positive COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 8 in Rwanda, the government formed and implemented a robust nationwide response.

The country's timely reaction is being aided by its previous success in combating Ebola from entering its borders in 2019. Rwanda's Ministry of Health established handwashing stations and temperature check for anyone entering the country, closed all its borders, health workers equipped with fever scanners were assigned in communities deemed as high risk area and hand washing stations were setup at public bus stations in Kigali.

Like Rwanda, Liberia has attempted replicating its Ebola approach but has fallen short of ensuring its effectiveness. There have been inklings about corruption, speculations of infight amongst top government health officials and limited community mobilization. These are factors that have undercut the country's response effort, observers say.

Considering the criteria set by the EU for country to be removed from its travel restriction, which place emphasis on a country's epidemiological situation and containment measures, Liberia stands a slim chance of reaching the milestone in the next two weeks when the next list will be released by the EU.

With the Roberts International Airport now reopen and cases predicted to increase, Liberians hoping to make trips to European countries will have to wait a little longer.

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