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Rwanda’s rapid response stalls march of coronavirus

COVID-19 in Africa

Rwanda’s rapid response stalls march of coronavirus

A queue of people waiting for a bus in Kigali, Rwanda

Early and decisive action to close its borders and impose a lockdown has so far paid off for Rwanda in terms of few infections and only two deaths from coronavirus. But the economy is hurting.

Rwanda has so far reported only two deaths from coronavirus.

It was the first African country to impose a ban on all commercial air traffic, from 19 March, making it among the earliest in the world to do so. Two days later, on 21 March, it followed this up by shutting down its borders with its neighbours Burundi, Uganda, DRC and Tanzania, except for goods and cargo – a vital lifeline for this land-locked East African country.

It also imposed a nationwide lockdown on the same day and closed its three national parks, home to world-famous communities of gorillas and chimpanzees. Rwanda’s economy depends heavily on tourism and international conferences but according to the authorities, the dangers posed to its wildlife from the virus made it imperative for them to close down the parks.

At any rate, it also applied a travel ban on all except returning Rwandans, who were subject to 14 days of quarantine.

The wearing of face masks is mandatory and a programme of mass screening and testing is going on.

President Paul Kagame, who has won the reputation of being a man of measured action, said: “We are not taking any chances. We are doing what we can to rein in this pandemic.”

During the lockdown, the government put into action a social protection programme to deliver free food to at least 20,000 households in the capital, Kigali.

Kagame told the nation: “We know that this is not an easy period for most Rwandans, whose livelihoods have been interrupted across the country. But we ask you to be patient. Although we are making good progress, we cannot afford to relax yet.”

Reports suggest that the President himself was with some of the teams delivering food to households under lockdown.

Rwanda’s approach has contrasted sharply with incidents in Kenya when free food, donated by individuals and companies, was trucked to slum areas and people invited to come for it. This resulted in pandemonium as a scramble ensued and police resorted to using force to establish some sort of law and order.

Partial easing of lockdown

The government announced a partial easing of the lockdown from 4 May. “Public and private businesses will resume work with essential staff while other employees continue working from home. The manufacturing and construction sectors will open with essential workers,” said a communiqué issued by Prime Minister Édouard Ngirente after a cabinet meeting.

“Markets will open for essential vendors not exceeding 50% of registered traders. Hotels and restaurants will open and close by 7pm, but meetings in public spaces and mass gatherings are prohibited,” it said.

Under the new guidelines, a curfew was introduced, preventing movement from 8pm to 5am, and funeral gatherings were restricted to not more than 30 people, although using public or private transport between different provinces and the city of Kigali is not permitted.

Schools, the government said, will remain closed until September. This would also apply to places of worship, bars and recreation centres.

Speaking to The Financial Times, President Kagame said African countries need at least $100bn this year alone to recover from the shock of the pandemic and its effects on their economies. He said the amount was “a fraction of what wealthy countries are already injecting into their economies with the stroke of a pen.” 

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