31.03.2020 Europe

No lockdown yet as Sierra Leone records first case of Covid-19

By Kelvin Lewis in Freetown - RFI
© REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
LISTEN MAR 31, 2020
© REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Sierra Leone which was the only West African country without a case of coronavirus has finally reported its first case.

In a nationwide broadcast on Tuesday, President Maada Bio announced that the index case is a 37 year old male who arrived in the country from France on an Air Brussels flight on the 16 March and was immediately put into quarantine.

The man reportedly finished the requisite 14 days isolation at a hotel on Sunday and was collected by his wife yesterday. Apparently the subject's wife, who is a medical doctor, noticed the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 and immediately drove her husband to the 34 Military Hospital where he tested positive for the virus

Emphasising that from now on “Every minute matters”, President Bio disclosed that “we have quickly isolated case number one. We have immediately and aggressively operationalised tracking and surveillance for all primary and secondary contacts (Ed.Note: that is every person Case# 1 may have come into contact with).

"Those persons will be placed into mandatory quarantine and tested immediately starting today. From now on, I direct that health teams proactively seek out and compulsorily test all suspected cases.”

Health minister confident enough test kits are available

When questioned by journalists about the level of testing, the Minister of Health Alpha Wurie revealed that health officials had been conducting tests only when patients are suspected with “signs and symptoms” and so far they have done 42 of those tests.

He added a further 12 people were tested, who are suspected of having contact with other who had been traveling and subsequently tested positive. However, he said that enough kits are around and can presently do 40 tests a day but they can quickly scale up to do 100 tests per day if the need arises.

The Minister promised that already the wife of the index case and all those who were in the quarantine facility with him will be tested today.

President Bio emphasised that “this is not a lockdown” adding, “but the government will respond rapidly to changes in the situation by announcing additional enhanced measures.”

Self discipline required
The national coordinator of the government's Covid-19 response, retired  Brigadier Kellie Conteh warned that the directives issued so far must be honoured by all citizens.

“It all boils down to our own self discipline” he said, adding “we hope we will not need to use force to enforce some of these measures, we hope it will be your own natural instinct to obey these measures, but if it comes to that … we have to use force for people to understand what we are talking about - believe you me we will do that in the name of Sierra Leone we will” he stressed.

Schools, Colleges and Universities have all been ordered close as from today until further notice. Land, sea movement on the riverine areas have all been banned, as also gatherings of over 100 people. Hand washing and social distancing have also been encouraged.

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