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FALSE: Americans not warned to shun Sierra Leone in their travel plans

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News reports say the “US State Department has Warned its Citizens to Avoid Visiting Sierra Leone” because its police officials lack the resources and capacity to fight crime.

The US State Department did caution its citizens to reconsider but did not warn them to avoid visiting Sierra Leone because of crime as presented by the Awareness Times Newspaper.

Full Text

On the 10th of August 2020, the Awareness Times Newspaper in one of its news items claimed that the US State Department has published a statement warning its citizens to avoid visiting Sierra Leone because of the “lack of training, resources and equipment” of the Sierra Leone Police Force to effectively respond to serious criminal incidents.

Verification

When contacted to ascertain the source the story in question was based on, we were directed by the newspaper to the State Department website.

Our search led us to the most recent statement which was issued by the US State Department in the first week of August 2020 cautioning its citizens to reconsider travelling to Sierra Leone owing to the spread of the COVID-19. The statement appeared on the United States embassy website in Sierra Leone.  

It said in part that: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for Sierra Leone due to COVID-19.  Sierra Leone has lifted restrictions on inter-district travel, shortened curfew hours, and resumed some transportation options and business operations.” 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), according to its mission statement, “works to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S.” It has been monitoring the COVID-19 situation and making recommendations to its citizens wishing to travel to different places around the world.

Level Three travel notices are part of the advisory system assessing health and security risks of certain areas and countries. Level 3 particularly requires citizens to reconsider travel plans, as it provides information on crime, whereas Level 4 explicitly warns travelers not to travel to these areas. 

The headline of the said claim in the Awareness Times Newspaper titled “US State Department Warns Citizens to Avoid… and not come to visit Sierra Leone” is associated with the highest advisory stage (Level 4) and is, to that effect, misleading. 

Citizens of the United States have been warned by the State Department to “reconsider” travelling to Sierra Leone due to COVID-19 but not to “avoid” visiting because of security issues  as the newspaper has reported.

Was the notice exclusively based on security consideration as reported by the paper?  

The rationale behind the statement, we found, was mainly a travel advisory as the state department and the CDC continue to monitor Covid-19 legislations and interventions around the world, according to one State Department official who gave his name as Kelly in a telephone interview with DUBAWA

Though there was a security tag on the advisory, when compared with similar notices on the US embassy websites of countries like Nigeria, Guinea,  Ghana, and Liberia, DUBAWA found that all of these embassy websites have their health travel advisory notices determined by the CDC that is based on each country’s health safety monitoring index.  

Conclusion

The Awareness Times Publication did not address the primary reason for the notice – the health safety concern-  which is a standard travel advisory procedure found on the embassy, which is charasterically not limited to Sierra Leone.  Most importantly, the absence of context in the story of the Awareness Times is capable of leading readers to a wrong conclusion.  We, therefore, find the headline to be misleading.

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