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Facing covid surge, Gambia will fine those who flaunt virus rules

Before this week, Gambians were lax about wearing facemasks and practicing social distancing. Now there are fines for people who fail to wear masks or socially distance. (Banna Sabally/YJI)

Kerr Serign, THE GAMBIA – Following a sudden increase in the number of coronavirus infection cases in the Gambia over the past few days, the government this week declared that the country is experiencing the third wave of the global covid-19 pandemic and reinstituted rules for facemasks and social distancing.

The nation’s situational statistics – issued frequently by the health ministry – show that 107 more people tested positive for the virus on Monday, bringing the total number of active cases to 371.

The health report, issued Tuesday, also showed three new deaths, bringing the toll to 188.

In June, the vaccine supply in The Gambia ran out.

In a phone interview, Director of Heath Dr. Mustapha Bittaye said the country is expected to receive new covid-19 vaccines on Monday, July 19, to continue vaccinating people.

The sudden surge of covid cases prompted the Gambian government to bring back neglected covid-19 guidelines to full force.

In a press release, government spokesman Ebrima G. Sankareh said the Gambia police force are tasked with fully enforcing social distancing and compulsory wearing of face masks.

“The police shall enforce the social distancing and compulsory wearing of face masks across all regions of the Gambia and those who violate this order are liable to pay a fine of 1,000 Gambian Dalasi,” Sankareh said in the prepared statement. In U.S. dollars, the fine is almost $20.

Exemptions from the rule, the government spokesman said, are for children under the age of two, those who cannot independently put on or remove a facemask; people with medical conditions that make it difficult to wear a mask and those who are hearing impaired or otherwise need visibility of the mouth for essential communication.

Landing Ceesay (Banna Sabally/YJI)

The aftermath of the information from the government created a huge debate among Gambians, with many agreeing to adhere to rules. A few kept resisting mainly because they don’t believe in the existence of the virus, while still others argued that the government was not taking the corona virus seriously.

Student Landing Ceesay of Brusubi is one of many who don’t like the way government is handling the coronavirus.

“Government is now implementing covid regulations to stop opposition parties from campaigning,  not because of the virus, since the president has been seen numerous times gathering [a] crowd to spread his political agenda,” said Ceesay, who studies at the Media Academy for Journalism and Communication.

Mariama Drammeh (Banna Sabally/YJI)

“I will not pay the 1,000 if [caught] not wearing face mask, because government officials including the president are responsible for this third wave,” Ceesay added, “Even they don’t wear face masks or respect covid guidelines.”

Radio journalist Mariama Drammeh of Kuloro welcomed the enforcement of the social distancing and face mask wearing regulation amid a third wave.

Gambians should adhere to the regulations for their safety, said Drammeh.

“People should wear the facemasks and social distance not for anyone else but for their own health, because it will save us from the virus and other diseases, especially now that we are in the raining season,” Drammeh said.

As for fining those who fail to adhere to the regulation, Drammeh said, “It is not a bad Idea, let’s just obey the rules even if you don’t believe in the existence of the coronavirus in the Gambia and avoid paying the thousand dalasi which could be used for other important purposes”   

The Gambia first registered a covid case in March 2020. Since then, 6,521 people have tested positive for the virus, according to a July 13 report issued by the health ministry. Of those, 5,962 people have recovered and 188 have died.

As of this week, the country has received 31,254 vaccines and has fully vaccinated 12,303 people with the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to the health ministry. 

Banna Sabally is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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