The Rwandan government took a decision to relax measures against the spread of New Coronavirus, lifting the full lockdown and embarking on a curfew, where sections of the economy will reopen, as people go back to work. All businesses will be closing by 8pm.
Churches, bars, schools, nightclubs will not be among places that will reopen this Monday while employers have been encouraged to ensure that only essential staff, not exceeding 50 percent of the entire staff, reports to work.
Globally, partially lifting the lockdown has proved to lead to an initial surge in COVID-19 infections, even the most organized societies like China, Germany and Singapore struggling to contain the spread upon opening up, though eventually, these countries seem to control the cases as days go by.
Ahead of the new measures taking effect, the Minister of Health, Dr Daniel Ngamije said that a countrywide assessment had been done to ascertain if there is a possibility of new infections cropping up when the restrictions on movement are eased and found that the risk is minimal, hence the decision to relax the measures.
“We tested samples from 4, 573 people who were among those in essential services who were still working even during the lockdown including in banks, hospitals, markets and more, and found that none had COVID-19, which showed us that the virus is not in the citizens,” Dr Ngamije said.
He said also tests in hospitals countrywide showed that there were no new cases of COVID-19 popping up, which gave the government the confidence to move towards easing up for an initial two weeks to see how the situation evolves.
However, experts like Dr S.VN Vijayendra from India, warn that the lifting of lockdown measures can horribly go wrong if people fail to take necessary precautions, such as avoiding moving in groups post-lockdown, maintaining social distancing or observing safety measures.
Dr. Vijayendra says that it is a must for commercial establishments to adhere to the measures that are put in place, including closing at the stipulated time, ensuring high standards of hygiene and social distancing, instead of trying to dodge or beat the measures as is the case when economies reopen.
He also says that if it is not necessary, avoid it, whether it is movement, trips outside home or meeting people. Do it only if it is ‘top priority’. He also warns that businesses are tempted to violate ‘shifts’ timings, which must be avoided at all costs while public means, though permitted, should be avoided where necessary.
“People may be discouraged from using public transport to avoid crowding at bus terminals and railway stations. If the government feels that people are not following these guidelines if needed, lockdown may be reimposed,” he warns.
Below are some things you need to know as you plan to step out for the first time after 50 days of the lockdown.
The Ministry of Health has made it compulsory to wear a face mask in public places and at home. Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) has issued proper instructions on how to properly wear a mask.
Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Director General of RBC says that masks must be worn properly for them to be effective. Avoiding touching the mask at all costs and keep it on at all times, even when you feel uncomfortable or hot.
You have to wash your hands all the time or use alcohol-based sanitizers at all times after touching surfaces or getting in contact with places you are not sure of.
You may also look out for sensitization materials on different government websites and World Health Organisation platforms to know how best to wear a mask.
Social distancing is a must. Health experts like Dr Aflodis Kagaba of Health Development Initiative (HDI), one of the civil society organizations engaged in sensitization against COVID-19, says that Rwandans need to adapt to a new normal of self-distancing which he says even now people don’t seem to understand well.
“When you go in supermarkets or banks, you realize people are yet to grasp the concept of social and physical distancing well,” Dr Kagaba says.
Naturally, Rwandans are known to be ‘touchy’ when it comes to greeting or relating with each other, through hugs, handshakes or other forms of body contact which experts say must be done away with if the country must keep the virus at bay.
Avoid congested restos, hotels
Though you have not eaten out in recent days, don’t be tempted by the urge to hit restaurants or hotels to have your first outside meal. Experts say the same way you think to go to your favourite restaurant, another person is also thinking the same. Before you know it, you will be many people in the same place.
Hotels and restaurants will reopen but will be required to ensure that there is at least 1 metre between clients. Do not overwhelm them when they reopen. Social distancing is up to you and nobody else. Watch the distance between you and the next person. Experts warn that this is no time for social gatherings yet.
Wash, sanitize, repeat
When Rwandans go out in their numbers, they will be required to keep washing their hands properly or using the sanitizer. Experts say that people tend to be lax when they wash their hands or sanitize many times during the day. As the Minister of Health warned, the virus is still around. Wash and sanitize at any given opportunity, don’t tire, even at home.
Don’t be tempted to visit each other
With the relaxed measures, some people might be tempted to check out relatives or friends they have missed for the last 50 days. You probably know a friend who was diagnosed with the virus. Be warned! As the Minister of Local Government Prof. Anastase Shyaka said, it is no time to start visiting each other.
Remember there is no vaccine or treatment yet. Attempting to take advantage of the relaxed measures to engage in unwarranted acts like visits can only expose you and others.
Thinking of a vacation? Excursion? Not yet
The temptation to visit places you have missed will be very high when relaxed measures take effect. You probably want to visit Rebero or Mont Kigali and have a spectacular view. For some, the plans to escape for a vacation at the earliest opportunity when skies reopen are underway.
Experts say travel and holidays will be off the cards for the rest of the year, perhaps through 2021. Even when the situation stabilizes, local tourism will be your best bet. WHO maintains that airplanes and airports are high-risk zones for exposure. So, it is better to forget about all the vacation plans for now.
Don’t get comfortable yet
Relaxed measures are no reason to get comfortable yet. The enemy is still around the corner. Take care of your surroundings, play by the rules and always remember your safety means safety for others. Avoid unnecessary movements until it is all clear.
Read, inform yourself
Times for pandemics call for a proper understanding of the situation. Make time to read, follow developments around the globe, keep tabs on the news to know how the situation evolves. Ignorance is never an excuse for what might happen to you. Sift through the news, avoid fake news or misinformation and share what you think is important for others.