MONROVIA (AA) – Liberians are divided over a recent government warning against going to the beach on an upcoming national holiday on November 29.
The government will allow senatorial elections to be held, but insists that staying away from the beach on November 29 will help it contain the deadly Ebola virus.
November 29 is widely celebrated in Liberia, being the birthday of the country’s 18th president, Williams V.S. Tubman.
The warnings against going to the beach on November 29 are aimed at containing the spread of Ebola, according to the Liberian Information Ministry.
Some Liberians support the warning, while others have been angered by it.
This is particularly so given the fact that the government had allowed political rallies to be held across capital Monrovia for 25 days for the senatorial elections.
A number of Liberians said they did not see a difference between gathering at political rallies and going to the beach.
“For me, I do not see any difference,” Cecelia Karrow, 37, told The Anadolu Agency. “It will not make any difference in the fight against Ebola.”
She noted what she called “a discrepancy” between the government decision to allow the public to rub shoulders at political rallies while denying them the right to do the same at the beach, even for one day.
Karrow had wanted to support one of the candidates in the senatorial elections, but was afraid to jeopardize her life by attending the candidate’s rallies.
“I am very disappointed,” Karrow said. “Going to the beach for one day is hardly like attending political rallies for 25 days.”
She expressed hope that the government would allow Liberians to have the chance to socialize on November 29 after months of Ebola-induced “trauma.”
She said political rallies and electoral campaigns were still going on, even as Ebola continued to pose a danger to the lives of Liberians.
Tubman ruled Liberia for 27 years. His birthday is marked by celebrations, during which Liberians generally visit amusement parks, nightclubs and public beaches.
Prince Williyan, a Monrovia money exchanger, said he felt the government was not working in the interests of the citizenry.
Williyan, 28, added that election campaigning was currently at its height, even as Liberia continued to fight Ebola, with local health authorities and the World Health Organization saying the virus can be contracted through physical contact.
“The government doesn’t seek our interest,” Williyan said. “It must be joking. What it is afraid of will happen after the election.”
Macus Zarway, a worker, disagrees, asserting that the beach restrictions were based on the “current situation.”
Nevertheless, Zarway believes there is equal risk in going to the beach on November 29 and attending election rallies.
“On the beach, anything can happen,” Zarway said. “There is no leader. But with an election campaign, there is a candidate who can tell his supporters to stay away and beware of Ebola.”
He lamented the fact, however, that jubilant crowds had turned out for tours by candidates, noting that physical contact during these tours was not safe either – if the government was serious about eradicating the disease.
“Liberians are quick to forget,” Zarway said. “When there is joy, they forget about Ebola.”
In any event, he said the government’s warning against going to the beach should be observed.
“Government is government,” Zarway said.
Prince Yelebo thinks that holiday beach-going and the elections will undermine the national fight against Ebola.
“I just don’t see either as necessary,” he said. “Going to the beach and holding election campaigns bring crowds of people together.”
-The legal dimension-
A legal expert, meanwhile, said the government did not have the right to prevent the public from going to the beach or restrict their freedom of movement – especially after lifting the state of emergency.
“The state of emergency, which could have suspended certain citizens’ rights, has been lifted,” attorney Lamii Kpargoi, who is also program director at the Liberia Media Center, told AA.
“What will the government charge people with when they are found on the beach?” he asked.
He said the government could only ban beach-going on the holiday by invoking the country’s Public Health Law.
Kpargoi said, however, that the government itself had already violated the law by allowing debates and political rallies ahead of next month’s senatorial elections.
Section 14/2 of the Public Health Law reads: “Whenever any part of the republic appears to be threatened by any epidemic or communicable disease, the minister shall declare such part an ‘infected area’ and make rules with regard to any of the following matters: for the speedy interment of the dead, for house-to-house visitations, for the provision of medical aid and accommodation, for the promotion of cleansing, ventilation, disinfection and disinfestation, and guard the public against the spread of disease.”
Kpargoi, for his part, said: “What I even expected the government to do was to limit political campaigns to media, radio and television, including fliers – but not bring people together like we see now.”
“I hope there isn’t a worse Ebola outbreak after this election. While the government prevents people from going to beaches for just one day, which is also bad, 25 days of campaigning could also be a potential risk,” he added.
The Information Ministry has warned that specific mandates had been given to police for November 29 and 30.
Police Director Col. Chris Massaquoi also warned against law-breaking on these two days.
“I call for adhering to regulations because we want to keep the peace during these elections and the holiday,” Massaquoi said.
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