Coronavirus Pandemic and Liberian Dependency Syndrome

By Jimmy S. Shilue |

What started as a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019 is now a pandemic. The world is battling with an infectious disease (COVID-19) caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. According to experts, the COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so heath authorities warned that it is important to practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow, disposable tissue, etc.). In addition to measures advanced by global health authority, the Liberian health authorities have recently released a range of concrete emergency actions in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19 to keep the nation safe.

Schools and universities are closed. Places of worships, banks, entertainments places, and public and privates enterprises are to follow and observe stringent prevention measures. The Government of Liberia has granted all non-essential employees of a paid leave until further notice.

All these actions require us to stay home as much as possible and reduce visitors. Although this could sound as aculture, it is important to note that in times of crisis, cultural considerations should not and cannot take precedence over one’s survivor. In fact, culture is not stagnant but dynamic. Coronavirus is deadly, hence people should learn to respect and follow the emergency advice. There is no time to walk on family members and friends as was done before the current health crisis. Cultural and social norms should not be used to send your family members and love ones to their early graves. In others words, everybody should obey the current emergency advice.

Practicing social distancing, for example, by avoiding crowdedness, taking part in group activities like wedding ceremony, sporting, hanging out at jammed night clubs, video clubs, learning institutions and restaurants, entertainment centers etc are not allowed. Interestingly, prior to the March 21 Health Emergency warning issued by the Ministry of Health, I noticed that the video club within my community has been closed. I asked a young man why the video club is closed. He said all international soccer matches in Europe are postponed and therefore nothing to show in the video club. This shows that our society is heavily influenced by events out there and most of the young people do not take our local authorities seriously. The question is why if soccer matches were not cancelled in Europe would young people obey the current health emergency advice?  The decision by health authorities to close social venue, like video clubs, is not intended to undermine the loyalty of our youth to their respective European soccer teams but to save their lives during this period of Coronavirus, a virus that has entered our country with three confirmed cases. Young people, seek ye first your life before the love for Real Madrid, Chelsea, A.C Milan and PSJ. Father God please help our youth to understand that this is about life or death and we want our future leaders to live and ably take on the affairs of this country in the future.

Another advice is we should stay at least six feet away from others in public places. Don’t greet people with a handshake or hug. In fact, keep about six feet of space between yourself and others as often as possible. There is no time for the ‘’ Liberian hand shake’. Elbow shake is even not necessary when you are wearing short sleeve clothes.

Communication capacity is a critical lifeline of any major emergency situation. Compared to pre- war Liberia, today communication is enhanced and accessible due to the availability of internet technology. Just as we did during the Ebola scourge, we should refrain from visiting but call our friends and family members using various social media platforms. Most of us have mobile phones and this makes communication much easier. During the Ebola epidemic, most Liberians could afford to stay in touch with their families and love ones through affordable internet package. It was comparatively easier to even call and provide tips to hotline, if something strange was noticed in the community. First responders could easily be called, thanks to three days call facility provided by GSM companies. Unfortunately, the cost of living in Liberia today is quite high. Not many Liberians can afford to purchase internet data. No 3 days fee call. It is therefore important that mobile communication companies think on ways to help during this difficult period in Liberia. The demand for internet communication will even increase as virtually everything is shutdown. For example, people will be forced to work from home, children and students are to remain home and will need to keep learning and staying in touch with their teachers and friends. Elsewhere, for example in Europe, Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings said his company would reduce data rates for its video streams across Europe so that internet bandwidth could be used for more pressing needs. The shift, Netflix said, should reduce its traffic on European broadband networks by about 25%. So what Orange and Lone Star are doing for Liberia and Liberians during this health crisis?

We are also warned to avoiding people who appear sick. One reason why Coronavirus is so dangerous to humans is because it is “novel,”, in other words, it is new to humans, so we don’t have any way to fight it. Thus, the warning from health authority to avoid people who appear sick is not intended to make anybody appear not caring for his/her family member but a way of mitigating risk that could cause a potential rescuer to become infected. Asymptomatic transmission likely plays an important role in spreading this virus. The true is no one can say for sure that they haven’t been exposed to the virus. Some carriers of coronavirus don’t have any symptoms at all. But they can still pass on the virus without knowing it.

No time for fallacy. Liberia received tremendous support from the international community including UNMIL during the Ebola scourge but we are now on our own. During the Ebola epidemic, UNMIL provided humanitarian and logistical support, such as donating vehicles for use against Ebola and medical trainings, and coordinated with other actors such as WHO and UNICEF. UNMIL was also involved with disseminating lifesaving information on Ebola prevention via UNMIL radio and community outreach, which were critical in educating the public about the disease and quash myths and misconceptions. The presence of UNMIL even provided reassuring security presence.

Clearly, the world including Liberian Diaspora was very generous to Liberia during Ebola because Liberia’s health care facilities were not only weak and unable to cope with the Ebola epidemic but by not identifying with countries affected by Ebola scourge then, the threat of Ebola reaching the shores of North America, Europe and China was very high. In other words, international solidarity is not always based on altruism but a sort of prevention strategy  to avert a potential danger from becoming a crisis that could struck on the general public in the Global North (from which private, governmental, and intergovernmental funding overwhelmingly comes).

But Covid-19 presents an entirely different situation. Most western countries that have successfully minimized the potential for tropical dieses from further spreading, are now the epicenters of the outbreaks. It is safe to infer that Liberia and most African countries affected by the current Coronavirus cannot expect much assistance from the Global North and even China. The difference in reaction is particularly stark when compared to the Ebola virus crisis, which while more limited in geographical scope, ie, to mainly three West African countries, nonetheless it inspired a global response spearheaded by the U.S. under former President Barack Obama.

However, today the rich counties are currently fighting the new Coronavirus using resources and everything to safe their populations yet there is a general mindset in Liberia that ‘our international partners’ will help us. Nurturing such myopic expectation could have a devastating impact on Liberia, if concrete efforts are not made to address our already vulnerable healthcare systems and Coronavirus cases increases. There is no doubt that Liberia received support from external partners during the Ebola crisis. But, ongoing Coronavirus provides a vivid reminder of the cost of complacency, of the critical importance of strengthening Liberia’s health care and a tragic example of a nation that does not wisely use what it has to address its own problem but always counts on external support. Some are even formulating dubious plans to enrich themselves at the expense of the lives of their own people. Liberians are even selling the buckets used for chlorinated water three to four times the real price. We are on our own for this and for those who are hoping to be the next ‘Coronavirus millionaires’ similar to ‘Ebola millionaires’, please note that the European Union is even trying to limit exports of key medical supplies to nations beyond its borders while its own members are barely helping one another. All international flights have stopped flying to Liberia and oh yes our ‘Good way partners’ have also stopped flights and movements in and out of their countries.

As some of you entertain the myth of getting rich, it is important to realize that the United States, led by President Donald Trump and his America First vision, is focused more on the virus’ internal challenge than its global impact. Instead of rallying the world, as it has in the past on major challenges, the U.S. is brawling with other countries affected by the crisis. Some American citizens are even stranded in other countries due to the strong policy taken by the U.S Government banding and cutting down international flights. Therefore, Liberians please stop selling those masks and utensils that our doctors and health practitioners would need to save the lives of our people.

It is no secret that some Liberians shamelessly became rich from Ebola crisis but for COVID-19, we need to deploy and utilize those structures and experiences that we learned from the Ebola scourge and follow everything that our health authorities are telling us, including calling 4455 for help and information because nothing will come from anywhere.

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About Cholo Brooks 12528 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.