The chances of Rwanda fully lifting a lockdown will depend on how well Rwandans observe public health measures to avoid the spread of the coronavirus in the next two weeks, a minister said.
Anadolu Agency website reported that the government had eased on Monday the COVID-19 lockdown first announced in March. Public, private businesses, manufacturing, and construction sectors reopened with essential workers.
However, public and private transport between different provinces and the capital Kigali is restricted, and a night curfew is in place from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. local time (1800-0300GMT).
Borders also remain closed except for cargo and returning Rwandans who will be subject to mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The measures will be reviewed after 15 days.
“The public should observe strict measures such as mandatory face masks, regular hand washing, as well as appropriate physical distancing that have helped contain the virus,” Tharcisse Mpunga, Rwanda’s minister of state in charge of primary healthcare, told Anadolu Agency.
“This is the only way to avoid the risk of contamination and that will save people from going back into lockdown again, and life return to normality,” Mpunga added.
According to the Health Ministry, the decision partially lifting the lockdown was made after a countrywide health survey, covering about 30% of health facilities in the country.
In the survey, tests were carried out on several employees who continued to work during the lockdown and others who had turned up at health facilities with COVID-19-like symptoms.
The ministry said none of the tests performed on 4,500 people came in positive.
This helped persuade health authorities that there was no community transmission of the virus in the country.
“In epidemiological perspective, it is the right time to partially lift the lockdown,” Mpunga said.
Rwanda has so far reported 273 cases of the coronavirus, including 136 recoveries. The country has not reported any death from the virus.
Cases projected to rise
A spot check around the capital Kigali on Monday and Tuesday showed that many people were reluctant to wear face masks as well as respect social distancing rules at bus parks.
“We project some increase in number of cases because we know that the compliance with public prevention measures will not be 100%; if there is one positive case somewhere the disease could spread quickly,” Mpunga said.
“We are in a testing mode to see what will happen in the next two weeks then our measures would be adjusted accordingly,” he added.
The minister appealed to employers to make the wearing of face masks mandatory and to also check employees for fever and to ensure only essential staff work from office to avoid big gatherings at workplaces.
“The lockdown will be eased progressively. We can monitor on daily basis how things are moving on to determine new measures. Our medical team is following up, testing people, making surveillance, monitoring active cases, and recoveries to make sure everything is balanced,” he said.
Teddy Kaberuka, a Kigali-based economist, underlined the economy is one of the major reasons for easing the lockdown.
“It is very costly for the government economically to lockdown people for two months. There has been so much loss because people have not been productive,” Kaberuka told Anadolu Agency.
Rwanda’s central bank said in April the global economic disruptions caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic are weighing in on country’s economy.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-March 2020 led to significant slowdown of the economy, mainly in the services and industrial sectors, the central bank said.
The government is projecting economic growth for this year at roughly 3.5% from an annual average of 8%.
Kaberuka predicted there would be limited cash flow in the economy and slow business in this period due to the effects of the lockdown.
“I believe people don’t have the same liquidity they used to have before the lockdown; people spent their savings, so we will have a cash flow issue,” he said.
Scaling up tests
According to Mpunga, a medical team was set up for mass screening in the country.
More than 1,000 samples are collected from different hospitals and entry points across the country and tested for COVID-19 every day, according to the Health Ministry.
“This will continue on a large scale. In some public places, people will also be screened for COVID-19 symptoms including high temperature,” the ministry added.
Truck drivers coming from neighboring countries are believed to be responsible for recent spike in confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the country, but Mpunga said the government has taken measures to contain it.
The minister cited shortage of testing kits among the challenges.
“We would be able to test as many people as possible in a day but there are some limitations because of an issue of supply of test kits from outside the country,” he said.
“But we believe as long as countries begin easing lockdown progressively we will be able to procure more equipment to scale up our surveillance system.”
The Health Ministry plans to employ HIV testing labs in different health facilities across the country to test COVID-19 in order to further scale up testing, Sabin Nsanzimana, the director-general of the Rwanda Biomedical Center, told Rwanda Television.