There is growing concern that the number of confirmed COVID-19 casesin The Gambia has increased to ten. This is more than double the number since my last address to the nation. Globally, as at today, 26th April 2020, there have been over 2.7 million confirmed cases and over a hundred and ninety thousand recorded deaths, and we are still counting.
Despite this concern, I am encouraged by the support our communities continue to receive from the public, the private sector, individuals, civil society groups, municipalities, politicians and friends of The Gambia.
Besides these contributions, there are individuals, groups and National Assembly Members who have committed themselves to sensitising the public.
Balancing health and socio-economic responses to the coronavirus pandemic is most certainly a daunting challenge. Nevertheless, we must weather the storm and, in the process, make tough decisions, such as the declaration of the state of emergency.
I thank the National Assembly Members for their cooperation in this venture. All these interventions demonstrate our depth of understanding, compassion and unity in times of adversity.
I express gratitude to every one for the solidarity and for upkeeping the spirit of “One Gambia, One People and One Nation” in these most unusual and trying times.
Although my government recognises the urgency to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are mindful of the need for professional responses to both the growing health and economic crisis arising from it.
Thus, in full gear is the continuing and relentless effort to guide the management, containment and prevention of the spread of the virus.
Noteworthy among the measures in progress are the upgrading of our health care services, provision of social support, security reinforcement and abiding by the rule of law.
Advocacy through social mobilisation and the media to raise consciousness amongst the population continues to take centrestage in our strategic responses. Also key is the objective of mitigating the negative impact of the pandemic on the people.
I am pleased to disclose that, together with the World Bank, we have acquired Twelve Million Dollars (US$12 Million) worth of equipment for the Ministry of Health. The items, which include Personnel Protective Equipment, digital x-rays and ventilators, are being transported to The Gambia from the Republic of Turkey.
Meanwhile, an assessment of COVID-19 Holding Centres in different parts of the country has been completed. As at now, an initial one thousand (1000) hospital beds are being prepared in case of any mass escalation of Coronavirus infections.
In addition to these, a good number of medical items including Personal Protective Equipments, test kits and some ventilators are now available to the health sector.
Other measures, such as random testing in various communities and mass fumigation exercises, will be employed if need be.
Concurrent with measures to strengthen the health sector, emphasis has been put on strategic support to households in order to minimise the impact of the slowdown of economic activities. This is being undertaken through effective coordination and planning.
In particular, we have planned for rapid regional responses to control infection through local transmission in the country.
Within the restrictive parameters of the state of emergency, the search for livelihood and ensuring food security are realities that must be safeguarded, while we continue to observe the social distancing guidelines and use facial masks in public.
Conscious of the difficulties that confront many households, the Government has devised strict measures to ensure that our food stock is secure. I am informed by the Ministry of Trade that supplies of rice, sugar, flour and other food items are available.
Let me emphasise that under the emergency powers, strict regulations are in place to make sure that people hiking prices, hoarding or attempting to smuggle food items outside the country are brought to book.
We are aware that about two hundred thousand (200,000) people are engaged in the retail and service sectors. To support this important business community, the tax returns for 2019 have been deferred from the first quarter of 2020 to the second quarter. In addition, there are ongoing reviews to tease out possibilities to further support Small and Medium Scale Enterprises.
Another critical measure to control COVID-19 is the restriction on the movement of people through the stay-at-home policy. Notwithstanding this policy, however, Government continues to pay salaries to public servants.
My government has decided to de-congest the prisons and allow for social distancing. To this end, I have pardoned 121 prisoners with effect from 23rd April, 2020.
My government recognises that Gambians deserve an urgent national response to both the health and socio-economic crises resulting from losses in productivity and remittances to Gambian households.
Accordingly, we will ensure that support provided to all citizens, especially the vulnerable, is real in value. In this respect, following a thorough review exercise, over seven hundred and thirty-four million (GMD734,254,864) is now available to support 84% deserving households countrywide.
Such support will include rice, oil and sugar to each of the vulnerable households identified.
I must stress that this amount is different from the Five Hundred Million Dalasis (D500 Million) already earmarked for the Ministry of Health to upgrade and sufficiently strengthen our health system to address the COVID-19 challenges and beyond.
Transparency and accountability form the cornerstone of our governance system. To uphold these principles and guarantee financial discipline and management of the resources available for the pandemic, a single government account has been opened to cater for rapid one-stop financial transactions.
Also, distributions and monitoring mechanisms have been put in place involving the relevant institutions and local government authorities. Distribution Points have been identified and vouchers will be used to reach the household beneficiaries with the government Food Support.
A Donation Committee has already been set up to coordinate all donations regarding COVID-19, and a National Response Coordinator has been identified. This decision is meant to expedite efficient and effective processes in the management and provision of socio-economic support, while keeping the public informed and updated on such processes.
In partnership with the security agents, health response teams and communities along our borders have stepped up surveillance at both official and unofficial entry points, and along the coastal areas. This partnership has resulted to apprehension of some people who sneaked into the country.
Aside from the immediate COVID-19 emergency programme, Government continues to pursue its development agenda. In line with the pledges made during my nationwide tour last year, thirty-three (33) ambulances have been procured. The move is indeed timely, as the vehicles will support the health facilities across the nation, especially if the COVID-19 cases escalate here.
In a global pandemic, such as what we are witnessing, every country must look inward to protect and provide for its people. Therefore, it is equally timely that two thousand (2000) tonnes of fertilizer are available to support farmers in the upcoming rainy season and further strengthen our drive for food security.
I urge all able-bodied persons, particularly the youth, to redirect their energies into agriculture: be it to cultivate our staple foods or horticulture production. Together, let us make agribusiness a reality.
Before I conclude, allow me to thank our religious leaders for observing and supporting the government’s emergency measures. Both Muslim and Christian leaders have demonstrated leadership, despite the difficulty to congregate in their places of worship.
As the holy month of Ramadan begins, I entreat all Muslims to pray that Allah provides humanity with the knowledge and means to overcome COVID-19 soonest and prevent its spread any further.
I thank all citizens and non-Gambians in the country for complying with the emergency measures to ascertain that everyone in the country is protected and safe. I urge you to continue observing the prevention measures advised by the WHO and the Ministry of Health.
With gratitude, I continue to appreciate and acknowledge the contribution of our frontline workers in the health sector, specifically the health specialists, ancillary staff, cleaners, cooks, drivers and the administrators behind the scenes trying to keep our country safe.
Non-health frontline service providers in the security sector, public and private sectors, social services and community providers are all playing their part in the fight against the new Coronavirus. Your noble roles in these challenging times are very much appreciated. Thank you.
In conclusion, I assure every Gambian and resident of The Gambia that my government will continue to review its policies and programmes and strive to provide the best possible services during the COVID-19 era and beyond.
I thank you for your attention.