COVID: How the recent spread of COVID-19 in Liberia deepened Fear, weakened government, and exposed a lack of continuous preparedness and readiness

During the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liberia escaped relatively unscathed. But, in the past weeks of June 2021, as indicated by data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and NPHIL, Liberia is fast becoming a no-go zone. Data shows a sharp increase of 100% in the number of infected persons and death as of June 1, 2021. According to Reuters COVID-19 tracker, Liberia is now seeing its highest daily average reported, which stands at 97 new infections daily. Yesterday, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) raised Liberia’s travel alert to level 4, indicating that the country is highly unsafe for inbound travelers.

In a press briefing at the WHO, Head of the WHO Emergencies Program Mike Ryan said, “In the last week, we’ve seen over 100% increases” in many countries including in Liberia. “We’ve seen between 50-100% increase in cases” and that it is a “trajectory that is very, very concerning.”

He also stated, “The brutal reality is that in an era of multiple variants, with increased transmissibility, we have left vast swathes of the population, the vulnerable population of Africa, unprotected by vaccines.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 globally, Liberia has been one of the few countries freewheeling along almost ecstatically while other countries experienced major mandatory lockdowns, infection and death skyrocketing. Like many countries nearly free of COVID-19, Liberia had achieved somewhat “Covid normal status.” Everyday interactions like visiting families and socializing with friends on beaches, in restaurants and nightclubs or joining political crowds at presidential conferences, festivals, and county tours were still possible.

Drawing on its experience with the Ebola pandemic, the country moved swiftly with measures to prevent the spread of the deadly virus when the WHO on March 11, 2020 declared the novel coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak a global pandemic. Those measures included international air traffic closure, mandatory quarantine for anyone coming on special flights, screening at airports, masking, washing hands and social distancing, updated in line with the WHO’s February 4, 2020 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. The government of Liberia also moved into action through the organization of a Special Presidential Advisory Committee on Coronavirus (SPACOC) set up ahead of the first case recorded in the country on March 16, 2020.

When cases were reported, officials at the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and the Ministry of Health of Liberia acted quickly, locking down areas and chasing every infected contact.

Like other nearly COVID-19-free countries, Liberia’s economy and capital city escaped the scare and massive death toll, which allowed for the avoidance of regular circle of lockdowns and contact-tracing.

But, in recent weeks, due to widespread outcry and fear from Liberians for unity, swift action and a whole of government approach on prevention of the spread of the deadly virus or any new variant thereof, the opposition political leader Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) on June 22, 2021, signed a special statement on the Covid situation in the country. In the special statement, he addressed the Liberian people and made several recommendations to the George Weah administration, while taking into account the surge in infection from 2,149 cases a month ago to 3,146 cases and 14 deaths today.

In the statement, the opposition political leader stressed that “hospitals are running out of beds, life-saving drugs and life-saving medical oxygen which are in short supply, are being rationed among those in extreme needs” and that “doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners and support staff are scrambling” to get their hands on whatever is available, while they too are in fear for their lives because of lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Mr. Cummings has taken the opportunity to work along with the Government of Liberia and in doing so, has put together assessment teams that have been visiting and working with local medical centers, administrators, doctors, and staff.

The Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) have yet to clarify whether the sharp increase in transmissibility and deaths are a result of the Delta variant, which many in Liberia fear could have been brought into the country by those arriving from countries heavily impacted by the recent global increase of the variant. On June 18, the Ministry of Health announced a revised set of national COVID-19 guidelines under chapter 14 of the public health law of Liberia.

The Office of the President of the Republic of Liberia H.E. Dr. George Weah is yet to release an official statement or an updated strategic plan and set of implementable recommendations on how they intend to tackle this new wave of infection and death and being back “Covid normal status” to Liberia.

Many Liberians, home and in the diaspora, as well as critical international stakeholders, are now blaming the George Weah government for sleeping at the wheels and ignoring continuous best practices, monitoring, evaluation, and implementation. According to a renowned intellectual in the country, “the consequence of the Weah’s government slow-to-act behavior has led to Liberian families graving once again and fearful for the lives of their families and loved ones.”

As of this reporting, Liberia’s current Covid-19 numbers from January 3, 2020 to June 30, 2021 stand at 3,900 confirmed cases with 127 deaths, according to a WHO report. As of June 28, 2021, a total of 82,212 vaccine doses have been administered nationwide.