AD420: Liberians laud government’s COVID-19 response but claim unfair distribution of relief assistance

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Dispatches
2021
420
Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny and Oscar Bloh

Liberia has won international praise for its response to the coronavirus (Front Page Africa, 2021). Perhaps drawing on its experience with the Ebola pandemic, the government moved early with measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including screening at airports and a Special Presidential Advisory Committee on Coronavirus (SPACOC) set up months ahead of the first recorded case in the country.

A week after Liberia reported its first COVID-19 case in March 2020, the Ministry of Health declared a national health emergency and imposed a 21-day lockdown in Montserrado and Margibi counties (Goitom, 2020). On 8 April, President George Weah declared a three-week nationwide lockdown that included curfews, travel restrictions, and closure of non-essential businesses, government offices, schools, churches, mosques, bars, and beaches (Rouse, 2020). As the number of infections increased, lockdowns were extended – and at times enforced by police using force (Reuters, 2020).

As of 19 January 2021, Liberia had recorded 1,898 confirmed cases and 84 deaths (Ministry of Health, 2021). The pandemic delayed special senatorial elections and a national referendum (Koinyeneh, 2020) and has taken a toll on the economy, resulting in a projected gross domestic product (GDP) contraction of 2.6% (World Bank, 2020). The legislature approved a $25 million stimulus package to provide food for vulnerable communities in collaboration with the World Food Program, offset loans to vulnerable traders, and pay utility bills for some households, among other things (Parley, 2020). However, the COVID-19 National Steering Committee admitted doing a poor job of delivering relief packages, blaming bad roads and other factors (Karmo, 2020).

A new Afrobarometer survey in Liberia shows that even though majorities say the government is doing well in managing the response to the pandemic and keeping the public informed, the most vulnerable citizens were least likely to benefit from relief assistance, and a majority of citizens believe the relief assistance was distributed unfairly. While most Liberians support the lockdown as necessary, most also found it difficult to comply with the restrictions. Many citizens support the school closures but think the closures lasted too long.

Very few citizens trust their government to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, and only about a third say they are likely to try to get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available. Liberians also overwhelmingly believe prayer is more effective than a vaccine in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Going forward, a majority of citizens want the government to invest more in preparing to respond to health emergencies even if it means fewer resources are available for other health services.