Since the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic, life has changed beyond recognition as we know it. But one thing that has not changed and will never change is the conspiracy theories it attracts and will continue to do so. In this day and age, a single megabyte and a smart phone is all you need to satisfy the person specification required for membership to a social media forum or group. Our country is no stranger to rumours or conspiracy theories. Our recent brush with the Ebola virus is a tangible reference point. Many of us can recall the rumours surrounding the regrettable trauma our country went through. There were missed opportunities, mistakes were made, but the hope is that lessons were learnt from it. At the time of writing, out of a population of about 7,990, 837 there has been 1,848 cases, 67 deaths and 1,375 recovered cases recorded (WHO- 03/08/2020). This is why many people feel relatively complacent that with our experience from the Ebola issue, Sierra Leone is well placed to handle the Covid pandemic; with cautious optimism.
But that has not stopped the conspiracy theorists and rumour merchants. Despite the worldwide devastation that this virus continues to wreak on the human, social and financial sectors, there are some who do not seem to take this threat with the seriousness it deserves. The government finds itself in the unenviable position of “damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t” in the fight against this pandemic. We can all have our opinions, but one thing is certain: COVID IS REAL. It is a national issue and requires a collective national approach for mass awareness and participation in this fight. It goes without saying that “Covid na all man bizness”.
The USA claims to be the most powerful and greatest country on earth. Day by day, we all witness how this “most powerful” country is humbled and decimated, not by a nuclear weapon but by the smallest of all microbes. It is so small that you can fit 500 million rhinoviruses on to the head of a pin. It is the same for most countries worldwide. It is no secret that many countries, and especially the USA are facing a dismal failure to deal with this pandemic principally because, its leaders have misused it to weaponise their politics. Instead of this common enemy being treated as a threat to the human race, some have sadly used it as a platform for political purposes; at the expense of lives. The attempt by powerful nations to nuclearize Covid is what has left the world tethering on the precipice of collapse today. This may sound very doomsday like, but that’s the reality we are facing today.
So, what are the chances for Sierra Leone in this kind of scenario? We don’t have the resources. We don’t have the finances, the infrastructure and even the socio-pharmacological support to handle such a catastrophe, should the worst happen (Astaqfulai). It therefore goes without saying that our best bet against the Covid pandemic is squarely down to the preventive measures every citizen should take. It is our collective responsibility as citizens from far and wide, to ensure that we join the government in mapping out and following procedures on how best we can prevent, if not reduce the prevalence of Covid 19. But in doing so, there are going to be a lot of disruptions, inconveniences and sometimes wholesale changes to our way of life.
If we are to collectively succeed, we’ll need the leadership from our government and the authorities. The government does not only have the mandate, but the ultimate responsibility to ensure the welfare and health of its citizens. But the government cannot do so in isolation; not on its own. As citizens, we are partners to ensure that the government fulfils its responsibility. Therefore, the relationship between the government and its people must be built on trust, transparency, fairness, justice and honesty; to name but a few. As citizens, we should be able to trust our leaders that they are seeking and protecting our best interests. As citizens, our government should be able to trust its citizens and count on them to seek and protect these common interests.
The reopening of our main gateway to the world, Lungi International Airport has coincided with a lot of hazard warnings and new ways of operational procedures. These would no doubt be inconvenient and irritating to the weary traveller at best. But we need to remind ourselves that these procedures are tailored to international requirements as well. For airlines to ferry passengers in and out our country, there is an expectation from other countries that we would be doing everything practically possible to reduce the risks of transmission. Like America, Canada, or any other country, it is expected that enough practical steps have been taken to prevent or reduce such risks as importing the virus from inbound flights. Thankfully, our country has not been designated as a hot spot, while places like Spain have been declared as only appropriate for essential travel by some of its European cousins.
A recent audio by a visiting Serra Leonean on social media catalogued some problems at the Lungi Airport. This has rightly or wrongly drawn a lot of criticisms across board; from long queues, delays, lack of adequate sanitisers to sometimes unprofessional attitude of staff. But equally, the majority of the passengers have been reportedly understanding of these bottlenecks. What has stood out among these criticisms is that passengers have been made to pay $ 80 for tests that were never conducted.
“Hundreds of arrivals who had already taken COVID-19 test in their country of departure at a cost of over $100 so as to comply with the requirement of the authorities in Sierra Leone, were also forced to pay another $80 for another COVID-19 test upon their arrival at the Lungi airport. Mr. Moses Tiffa Baio told reporters that “the COVID-19 RDT test kits are not available at the Airport due to delays in the procurement process,” for which he apologized. (The sierraleonetelegraph.com-03/08/2020). Despite the lack of testing kits, the swabs were taken anyway.
That is daylight robbery in any language. We are all familiar with the difficult logistics surrounding testing for covid. Even developed countries are struggling to cope. Testing for Covid has become the number one nemesis and political hot potato for President Trump in the USA. But why would one take a fee for a service that is not available? Where the passengers being charged for breathing atmosphere in Sierra Leonean airspace? Some people even object to the whole idea of paying for the test. That is debatable; considering our country’s financial situation. But when you consider the recent donations reportedly received from our donors, you will be forgiven to conclude that our begging bowl is sizeable enough to conduct these tests for free. Recently, the Sierra Leone Telegraph reported that the World Health Organization Country Office has secured a grant of €500,000 from the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ) through a strategic partnership to increase COVID-19 testing capacity from 500 up to 1000 tests per day in Sierra Leone.
There is an unspoken expectation that such an exercise would face logistical and other practical problems. But the fight against covid is a collective concern and we are all in this together. The government and its people need mutual trust to succeed in this fight. Many may see their visit to Sierra Leone at this time as a way to escape the bubble in which they have been cocooned for so long. It’s like a breather, but don’t charge them for breathing free atmosphere.
President Maada Bio campaigned on the ticket to fight corruption. The government does not need a reminder about Ebolagate, and how it combined to change the address of Ernest Koroma. This government has the luxury of using the lessons learnt from the experience of Ebola crisis. Unlike the Ebola, Covid is not regional but worldwide; and that should attract some favourable attention for our begging bowl. We hear about the donations. The fight against covid should not be monetarised.
This is not to accuse the government that it is doing so. However, perceptions can be damaging. Trump politicised and weaponised Covid. He called it a hoax, a sniffle, a common cold. Now he has lost the trust and confidence of the American public. With the exception of his base, the majority does not trust him to deal with Covid. That is the TRUST that our citizens need to have in President Maada Bio and his government; that he will do his utmost to protect us. Such a trust cannot be earned where honesty, fairness, transparency etc, are suspect. Charging people for a service that is not yet available is not one of them.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.
Covid na All man Bizness.