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As we usher in the New Year and hurriedly see the back of 2020, it will be remembered for anything but the Pandemic. Covid-19 has become part of our daily lives, and its beginning to feel like it’s been around for ever. The ravages of this pandemic has been worldwide. Our country has not been spared from the loss of lives by this deadly virus. But as a nation, we should be grateful that the losses have been relatively low. This is not to minimise the loss; specially to loved ones, for one life lost is too many. But take a look at the virulence of this virus and its associated death toll. The Western World has the best health care systems available to mankind on earth. But even with the best health care, the systems are creaking and cracking under the weight of this “plague”.

 At the time of writing, the United Kingdom had registered 72, 548 deaths. The death toll from Covid stands at 1.82 million worldwide. The UK is widely in Tier 4 status, which is on the threshold of total national lockdown for the 3rd time. Even with the best in healthcare systems and treatments, the Western World relies heavily on the preventive measures of hands, space, face hygiene or restrictions; better than in my back yard. With this in mind, what hope does our country have with this virus; should the worst happen-Allah forbid.

 Looking at our healthcare system or the lack of it, it becomes compelling that our best chance, if not the only chance against this virus is a preventative approach. This means that maintaining social distance, using our masks and religiously observing hand hygiene should be imperative. No one needs a reminder of the devastating impact such a pandemic can have on our society; thanks to Ebola.

So, in the absence of the required treatment or adequate health infrastructure, can we as a nation honestly say that we are really observing the hands, face and space measures as it should be? Don’t answer that. With this in mind, it goes without saying that the adage “PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE” has never been so apt. In response to the pandemic outbreak, President Bio’s government has made and continues to make painful and sometimes controversial decisions; all aimed at stemming if not preventing the spread and treatment of the virus. From lockdown to mask enforcement and right down to travel bans and airports closures, the impact has been and continues to have devastating and long-lasting effects on our lives. Sadly, that is the price we all have to pay; to stay alive.

But as Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc across the globe, and especially with  a more virulent variant emerging, President Bio’s government has recently revised the screening of in bound passengers at Lungi Airport. “Effective January 1, 2021, passports of ALL inbound passengers SHALL be withheld at the Lungi International Airport by the Immigrations Department until a negative Covid-19 PCR certificate is issued”. According to the press release, this is because “ Sierra Leone has witnessed increased volumes of airline passengers particularly for the past three weeks, and disappointingly, some of them are deliberately providing false information on health  locator forms, which makes it practically difficult or impossible for Surveillance teams to track positive cases.”

There is a strong temptation for some people to condemn such a practice as an attack on our rights. To all intents and purposes, it seems like a very drastic measure. If we agree that drastic situations call for drastic measures, is this situation therefore drastic enough to require such response? Is it justified or proportionate? But before we look at the rights and wrongs of such a policy/practice, let us highlight the importance of the health locator forms.

 Having filled some on my recent visit back home, the form can be one of our best “weapons” in the fight against Covid-19. In simple terms, you are required to supply your details including but not limited to your address, phone number and alternative contacts in the country of arrival. As mentioned in the release, the aim is to ensure that people who may unfortunately test positive, following a PCR test on arrival at the airport can be easily traced, isolated or treated as required.

Considering that the virus does not exist in a vacuum, man is therefore the main carrier and vector. The risk of transmission or cross infection is particularly high among people who move from place to place; hence lockdowns are in vogue. The majority of passengers coming to our country are predominantly coming from Europe and the USA. Which countries are leading in the Covid-19 league table of infections and deaths worldwide? You get the picture?

Passengers arriving at our airport are required to have  proof of PCR negative test result within a 72 hour time frame. But that is no guarantee that the passenger may not have caught the virus since that test 72 hours ago. That is why, even with the negative test result, we are required to carry out a further test on arrival.

Let’s not forget that even the plane is potentially a flying breeding ground for the virus, and with passengers huddled together for no less than 6 hours, taking off their masks during meal or toilet break times, the potential for cross infection is eerily realistic. It is this risk, among others that makes it imperative for ALL PASSENGERS to supply ACCURATE health locator forms on arrival. Imagine how you would feel, if a fellow passenger was reportedly Covid-19 positive on arrival, knowing that you shared the same flight with that individual? To make matters worse, imagine if it turns out that you may have shared the same row with that individual; thanks to your seat number.

So, while some may see the health locator form as unnecessary or as an irritation, it stands to reason that it is in our collective interest to follow the procedures and supply accurate information. But what never ceases to amaze me is how some of us in the diaspora tend to turn our noses up at such requirements or try to flout the rules at our national airports. I recently observed how a fellow Sierra Leonean looked upset because he was asked to remove his belt and shoes at the x-ray department. When got to Brussels while in transit to UK, I couldn’t help but shake my head in despair when I saw how subserviently he placed his shoes, belt, wallet, phone and everything he had on his person for the x-ray. And that was even before anyone asked him to do so. But again, I looked around and noticed that all the people manning the zone were not black. Yes, you guessed right; “a prophet is honoured except in his home,”. In the western world, where the digital age is light years ahead of ours, the ability to trace passengers is relatively easy. Even if you give wrong details, you can bet that CCTV will trace you even to your toilet.

Sadly, our government has had to resort to such measures as one of the best ways available; thanks to our deceit, disrespect for the law and procedures, and downright recklessness. It is important to clarify that those who behave this way are in the minority. Unfortunately, the majority will be tarred with the same brush. But that does not mean that such a practice will be free from inherent risks. This is no attempt to accuse the Immigration or other officials, but there is no doubt that many passengers would be worried about their identities. The fear of having one’s identity being compromised will no doubt be of concern to many passengers. The scourge of identity theft is no stranger to us all. But let me make it clear again, that this is in no way a smear, allegation or doubts about the integrity of our officials. Whether it is at Heathrow, JFK, Charles DE Gaulle or Abuja, leaving one’s passport with immigration officials at the airport is never for safe keeping. There is every reason to trust that the government will ensure that these documents will be handled with the trust, security and integrity they require.

But that is where the irony is. We sometimes accuse our officials, and sometimes rightly so of corruption. Some people don’t have a high opinion of our baggage handlers. The man with the trolly can be a pest, offering to help you. Even the sim card seller will torment you to buy his sim card. The guy who wants you to travel in style and comfort in a yacht will make you feel like $40.00 is nothing to be stingy about. But in accusing some of these people of corruption, some of those passengers have demonstrated their own version of corruption; boomerang. How difficult can it be to give your correct details; in a place where everybody knows your name? That’s why we call it home. Oh dear.

Jokes aside, and as a nation, if we are to be spared from the unforgiving ravages of Covid-19, our main hope lies in the preventive measures. And that is exactly what Bio’s government is doing or forced to do. Thankfully, vaccines are now sprouting left, right and centre, as the world faces a race between Vaccine and Virus. I am sure that it won’t be long before our local herbalists also announce their very own, newly developed vaccine-no dosage required.

Did any good thing really happen in 2020? Well, you are reading this article; so be thankful to Allah. Sometimes, you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

Happy New Year to all.

Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

Abdulai Mansaray

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