By Mustapha Jallow & Makutu Manneh
People are calling on the Gambia Government to provide them with free facemasks to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Government recently came up with a regulation requiring people to wear facemasks in public areas, and come Friday, 24th July 2020, the police will begin arresting people who do not wear facemasks.
Health experts advise people to wear facemasks to prevent the transmission of the virus by covering their noses and mouths. The Gambia currently has 107 active cases and since the outbreak in March 2020, the country has so far recorded 170 cases of which 5 died.
Mrs. Fatou Mbye, a household and breakfast seller residing at Coastal Road, embraced the decision for people to wear facemask to ensure they prevent the spread of the virus – but she appealed to the government to make masks available to the people especially poor families.
She said: “Providing free masks will help us (the poor people), not everyone can afford to buy a standard facemask for self-protection because many people have been affected by the economic hardship caused by COVID-19.’’
Mrs. Mbye lamented that it would be difficult for her to buy facemasks – because she is a mother of six children and her petty trading has not been good. She called on the government to explore all means and provide free facemasks to needy families.
Malang Jatta, a passer-by said the Government should provide facemasks before making the announcement that people must wear facemasks. He said: “How could low-income earners afford the cost of mask, especially those who come from poor families?”
He added: “It is important for people to wear masks for their safety since the virus is deadly, but the Government has to take ownership and protect its citizens by providing each a mask.’’
Cherno Mballow, the market-master of Latrikunda Sabiji Market told this medium that his vendors were briefed on the new measure on facemasks and most of them have embraced the decision.
He said, “It’s a law, we have to respect it.’’
Mballow explained that they have been supplied with facemasks by officials of Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) few months ago and people are still using them. He urged all the market vendors to wear their masks to curb the spread of the novel virus.
Musa Baldeh, a second-hand clothes seller at the Serrekunda Market said the use of facemasks should have been made compulsory by the Government long ago. But he was quick to say Government should have provided people with facemasks before coming up with a regulation. He said there are people in the Gambia who are living in abject poverty and may not be in a position to afford the cost of face masks.
“Since this announcement was made, the price of face masks has increased in the market which will make it difficult for some people to afford it, ” he said.
Mr. Bah said the government should have communicated the message about the compulsory wearing of masks a month ago so that people could have enough time to make savings and buy face mask.
Fatou Sanneh, a market vendor said their businesses are struggling, adding this new law would add misery to their worries.
“The government should provide some of us with masks because some people are grappling with economic hardship. Some of us are thinking everyday about how to feed our families,” she said.
Attempts were made to speak to government officials about the concerns raised by citizens over the enforcement of the regulation on compulsory wearing of face-masks. Government Spokesperson Ebrima G. Sankareh said he was off work for two weeks and referred the reporter to the Health Ministry.
Modou Njai, the Director of Health Protection and Education said they are not going to provide free facemasks to people. He added they want citizens to learn how to safe themselves from the disease.
“We are not providing free face masks, we want people to buy it for themselves,’’ he said.
Police Spokesperson Superintendent Lamin Njie promised to get back to the reporter after he receives a copy of the operational order.
GAF spokesperson Major Lamin K. Sanyang said: “Our personnel are there to support the Police.’’
Major K. Sanyang said their personnel will wear face masks, adding no soldier will be allowed to enter any of their barracks without wearing a facemask
“Each soldier will wear one, including their families living in the barracks. We will supply all our members with facemasks,’’ he said.