By William Q. Harmon And Robin Dopoe
The situation surrounding the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus in the country is seemingly drifting away from how the virus can be contained into what would be considered as a war of words between the Executive Mansion and Nathaniel Blama, the person confirmed infected.
While announcing Liberia's first recorded case of the contagious and deadly Coronavirus COVID-19 early Monday morning, President George Weah Shockingly said in a nationwide broadcast that the virus was brought into the country by a top government official who happened to be the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Nathaniel Blama. The President in his statement accused Blama of violating preventive health protocols at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) for reasons not disclosed.
The EPA Executive Director entered Liberia last Friday from the Green Climate Fund Board Meeting in Switzerland, a country within Europe where the virus is reportedly overwhelming.
"The infected person is Mr. Nathaniel Blama, Executive Director of the EPA, who arrived in Liberia on Brussels Airlines on Friday night, the 13th of March. Along with several other officials of Government traveling on the same flight, Mr. Blama chose not to be quarantined in keeping with the health protocols that were in place at the airport," President Weah emphatically stated.
The President further said, "All other persons who traveled and by-passed the mandatory screening protocols are being made to report to the health authorities immediately and without any further delay. Any other person who attempts to by-pass screening at any post of entry will be arrested and taken into compulsory quarantine."
But after a few hours when the President addressed the nation, the EPA came out with a rebuttal, stating that its Executive Director never evaded any preventive health protocols at the Roberts International Airport.
The EPA through its Communication Director, Danise Love Dennis said the information was not true and that Mr. Blama submitted himself for screening procedures at the RIA and requested voluntarily for further tests that later proved him to be positive.
EPA boss, in a two-minute audio recording in which he appeared to be talking with friends, said he did not by-pass any health procedures but has been doing just as the doctors have been saying. He added that more damage has been done by the misinformation that he refused to be quarantined.
"I did not do anything out of protocols. I talked to the doctors and they advised that since I was okay I should not create panic and that I should drive myself to the hospital and the ambulance was going to be behind me. And we did just that. So why are you guys panicking? Talk to Dr. [Francis] Kateh, talk to Dr. [Mosoka] Fallah. That's what we agreed upon," said Blama.
"And when they brought the ambulance in the community, community members were running behind it even after the health workers escorted and I got in. Then now you guys have done enough damage by misinforming the public that I refused quarantine. That is not true and that is not fair," he added.
By then the EPA through its Media and Communication Specialist, Danise Dennis had earlier reacted swiftly that the President was misinformed by health authorities.
Ms. Dennis told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview that the President may have probably been misinformed as it was EPA boss who requested for additional testing after going through screening at the RIA.
"What is going out there is not actually the real information. The President was probably misinformed and it is our hope that the correct information will be put out there. Dr. Nathaniel T. Blama, Sr. went through the regular screening at the RIA along with other Government officials to be identified," she said.
She also clarified that afterward Director Blama only came in contact with his driver when he went through the initial protocols at the RIA. "The only person he came in contact with was his driver who is also under observation as we speak," she said, adding that he had no contact with his family members as they are not at his home.
"However, he voluntarily requested additional testing knowing he had come from Switzerland. The test came out positive and he went into self-quarantine and later drove himself to a government quarantine center." The information given to the President is incorrect. Director is law-abiding and if he had voluntarily not asked for additional testing, no one would have known he's positive. He also informed his entire staff about the result. It is important to note that he drove himself to the treatment center."
The clarity from the EPA was precipitated by President George Weah's pronouncement that Director Blama evaded health protocols at the RIA.
Ms. Dennis had initially posted on the EPA and her Facebook pages what she termed as clarity to the saga. So what appears to be an official clarity from the EPA now contrasts to the President initial address, which came in hours after reports emerged that the country had recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case.
President Weah amid these clarities has suspended Mr. Blama and appointed his deputy, Randall Doubayou, to act as Executive Director of the EPA for the time being. Communication Specialist, Danise Dennis, has also been suspended for time indefinite for what the EPA calls a unilateral decision to post on social media what contradicts the President's earlier remarks.
An expert in Psychology says the suspension of Blama would increase his trauma thus worsening his condition as he is already down with the contagious virus.
Though many had harbored the thought that it was just a matter of time for Liberia to record its first Coronavirus case, no one had the slightest clue that the virus would have been brought by a top government official--people who should have been more careful in ensuring that the nation remains safe.
The news about the country's first case, especially through a senior government official, sent shockwaves among Liberians on social media and in radio-land as they expressed their anger, grief and fear.
Though the President stated that there were some government officials who along with Mr. Blama evaded protocols at the RIA, no particular names were mentioned.
However, one person who traveled with the suspended EPA boss on the same flight was the head of the National Climate Change Secretariat at the EPA, Jeremiah Sokan.
It is reported that Sokan has also reported himself to health authorities and was taken to the quarantine center at the Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town, Bushrod Island.
Blama has since begun receiving huge criticisms. He is practically being hammered for allegedly refusing to adhere to safety measures by ignoring a request to be quarantined. Some are now calling for his immediate dismissal.
While some are bashing the suspended EPA Executive Director, others are calling for support to him in his difficult time.
"It seems we are not taking into consideration the psychological effects the situation is having on him right now. At this point he needs our prayers. Dismissal would further compound his predicament. We should rather be praying for the EPA Executive Director's recovery," a caller said on the radio Monday afternoon.