SEPTEMBER 10, 2014 By Mohamed Massaquoi
Officials of SN Brussels in Freetown are concerned over the three-day ‘lockdown’ announced by government last week as part of measures to stem the spread of the Ebola virus in the country, saying it would disturb their normal flight schedule to the country. The lockdown, dubbed by the government as ‘stay at home’, will commence on 19 and end on 21 September.
Abdul Sesay, an SN Brussels staff, yesterday engaged the Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Alpha Kanu, to negotiate an amicable way out to enable passengers who have already booked to fly on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – all of which dates coincide with the period of lockdown – access the international airport at Lungi.
“We are very concerned because it happened sometimes back when the president pronounced another seat at home. The ferry management assured us that they will take our passengers across to Lungi, we were only informed at the end of the day that they were not allowed to transport passengers. This is the reason we have come to engage relevant authorities,” Sesay said.
Minister Kanu, however, said government will not allow ferryboats to sail across the estuary to Lungi, en route to the airport, during the three-day ‘stay at home’ on the grounds that a good number of those who board ferries between Freetown and Lungi are residents of Port Loko district and that the national lockdown has been designed to target every Sierra Leonean. He added that the only way out for passengers of SN Brussels is to travel by road through Port Loko district.
“We are not going to allow ferries to operate from the 19th to the 21st because we want to reach out to every household in the country. We want to make the campaign very effective, but if we allow the ferry now people will come in and out of the city and this will not be good for the primary aims and objectives of this campaign,” he averred.
“Everybody is expected to stay indoors as 7,000 teams of health and community workers go door-to-door to sensitize and distribute hand washing soap to families and communities.”
Medical humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders, are opposed to the measure, referring to it as punitive, and that it would increase hardship on communities hit by the virus as well as diminish needed trust and cooperation between citizens and health authorities.
“It has been our experience that lockdowns and quarantines do not help control Ebola, as they end up driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers,” it said last Saturday, according to news agency reports.
However, a top United Nations official in the country said he was in support of the move.
“For three days we’ll go house-to-house to reach every household,” said Roeland Monasch, the UNICEF representative in the country. “The reality is that the fight against Ebola will not be won in the Ebola clinic. By the house-to-house campaign, you try to stop transmission at the family level.”
Sierra Leone has recorded 491 deaths and more than 1,200 cases since the outbreak in late May, although more than 200 have survived the deadly virus.