State House, Freetown, Thursday 19 March 2020 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has addressed the media and civil society groups at State House on the enhanced coronavirus preparedness, emphasising that the government sees no reason for panic or a lockdown at this time.
He, however, warned that things could change very fast and the government would respond to those rapid changes robustly, including to declare a State of Emergency to protect public health and safety under the law.
“We urge citizens to adopt a disciplined approach to our key prevention imperatives – hygiene, social distancing, and cough etiquette.
“We believe as a Government that the best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent a crisis. The best time to deal with a crisis is to plan well-ahead of that crisis. And that is what we are doing,” he said.
While he agreed with what he described as the grim reminder that the novel corona was a highly infectious and deadly disease with a clear and present danger Sierra Leone could not afford, he also noted that the life of every citizen mattered.
“I repeat, the life of every Sierra Leonean matters. As a Government, we are determined to protect, enhance, and enrich the lives of Sierra Leoneans. That is why my Government prepared three testing sites, an isolation unit, and working on equipping treatment centres. That is why my Government has activated the Emergency Operations Centre to Level 2 to coordinate initial preparedness and response and also a toll-free number 117 and a dedicated call centre,” he said.
President Bio further told the meeting that his government had issued travel advisories, consistent with threat levels, adding that notwithstanding resource constraints he acknowledged that they could have handled some situations better around quarantine administration.
“But we are a fast-learning Government and we will continue to implement forward-looking improvements to our processes and our management of everything around Corona. I have taken leadership of the fight against Corona and I intend to lead a lean, well-structured, and fully committed team of Sierra Leoneans and partners,” he said.
Minister of Health and Sanitation, Professor Alpha Tejan Wurie, said Sierra Leone was one of two countries in the region with fully equipped capacity to test for the virus and some locals had been trained to efficiently operate it. He disclosed that 3 Sierra Leonean medical doctors would soon return from Congo, Brazzaville where they were undergoing training in dealing with the coronavirus.
“We have tested 13 people in the country with zero cases. Of that number, some were among the 11 people who dropped off here but came in the same flight with the first case in Liberia. We have traced all of them and are being monitored,” he stated, adding that that was just one of many efforts they had made without publicising anything.
He said schools would remain in progress until the end of March, adding that in the event of any one case they could close all such institutions of learning.
Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, informed journalists that the threat of coronavirus was already costing the country with growth projections and gains made in revenue mobilisation being revised and reversed.
“My ministry, the National Revenue Authority and Central Bank are now looking at the numbers to be able to determine the exact nature of the effects on the economy. Growth projections have now been revised from 5.8 to 3.5 per cent and projected loss at 293 billion and might reach 800 billion as the situation persists,” he said, adding that government revenue had also dropped by 30 per cent between January and March.
Mr Saffa, therefore, announced that they had instituted some economic programmes to cushion the economy and maintain price stability, adding that tax breaks and deferment would be introduced to allow for more imports and lower interest rate for businesses to manage the potential massive job cuts. The country, he said, had a reserve to run for 100 days without any export earnings.
Chief Minister Professor David Francis, who is providing leadership for the ministerial and intragovernmental agency efforts at dealing with the coronavirus, gave the closing remarks by assuring civil society and the media of more engagements and more spot visits to get first-hand information. He also praised the leadership of the President.
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