COVID-19: Pressure Mounts on Gambian President to Address the Nation

EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, THE GAMBIA: Gambia’s President Adama Barrow is facing mounting pressure from civil society to address the nation as the country battles a health and economically-crippling coronavirus outbreak.

Several of the country’s doctors, nurses and other health workers have tested positive for coronavirus, creating a capacity gap for an effective response to the pandemic.

At least 32 doctors from the Association of Resident Doctors The Gambia – GARD have tested positive for the virus. GARD, whose members account for over 90% of the doctors providing care at COVID-19 treatment centres across the country, said on Sunday that 28 have been discharged, and six are on quarantine or self-isolating at home.

Economic activities have also been brought to a near halt as the government imposes restrictive measures that shutdown non-essential businesses and closed down markets just past mid-day.

Civil society groups said there was a need for “urgent action” and leadership in combating the spread of the coronavirus in The Gambia.

Barrow was last seen in public on July 22 when he presided over the funeral of legendary Gambian footballer Alhagie Momodou Njie (Biri Biri) – for which he was criticised for violating his own public gathering regulations meant to curb spread of the coronavirus.

Barrow addressed the nation only five times since March, when the first case of the virus was recorded in The Gambia, and hasn’t done so since June.

He began a two-week self-isolation on July 29 after the Vice President Dr. Isatou Touray tested positive for coronavirus, but he later tested negative for the virus only five days into self-isolation, according to State House. Touray is on her way to full recovery after repeated tests returned negative.

Eight civil society groups including The Gambia Bar, Restaurant and Nightclub Association have called on Barrow to address the nation and respond to a 10-point demand within seven days.

They have also threatened legal action should the government fail to heed their demands which include a full medical package for frontline workers.

“We are giving the Gambia government seven days, from the date of this letter to respond to our demands, failing which, we shall explore other legal and necessary means to have these demands met,” the group said in a letter to Barrow signed by the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists, and the Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in The Gambia, among others.

Barrow’s conspicuous public absence and his continued silence has been questioned by civil society and social media users as coronavirus cases rise by more than 70% in recent weeks. On July 31, he missed out on his usual address to the nation as Muslims mark the Eid prayers and holiday.

The civil society organisations wanted Barrow to address the nation within three days. However, a 72 hours deadline from August 8 for him to address the nation passed without a word from the president.

As of August 12, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country stood at 1477, with 33 deaths and 247 recoveries, according to data from the Ministry of Health. The Gambia has more than one thousand active cases as of Wednesday.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses including the less severe common cold, and the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and now Covid-19.

As of Wednesday, more than 20 million people contracted the coronavirus worldwide, from which, more than half a million people have died in 216 countries, areas or territories, according to the World Health Organisation.

By Mariama Cham

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