As Rwanda moves to implement new relaxed measures to fight the New Coronavirus issued by the Prime Minister Dr Edouard Ngirente on Thursday following a cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame, details have been issued on how they will work and why some businesses will not reopen.
The Minister of Health Dr Daniel Ngamije on Friday said that the new measures, which take effect on Monday, May 4, were arrived at after an assessment which was conducted to see if there can be new COVID-19 infections before lifting the full lockdown which had last 46 days.
Despite increased new cases of Coronavirus being recorded in recent days, Dr Ngamije said that the assessment showed that internally, there are no new cases being recorded, apart from those whose source is known and can be controlled, which informed the decision to relax measures.
“The decision by the government to relax the measures and allow people in some sectors to go back to work normally was informed by a survey we did across the country, where we assessed over 30 percent of the hospitals and we found that all patients who came to these hospitals, especially those who had flu like signs, were not positive of COVID-19,”
“Specifically we also 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,” the Minister of Health said.
Dr. Ngamije said that the assessment showed that moving fast to implement the measures when the first case was detected helped to curb the spread and affirmed that he is confident that if the new measures are well implemented, the country will not register new infections with the relaxed measures.
Commenting on the recent cases mainly attributed to cross-border truck drivers and their assistants, Dr. Ngamije allayed any fears that they can lead to new infections with the relaxed measures saying that it would be a problem if there were no measures in place to ensure that they don’t interact with people.
He said that testing more than 4, 000 people and recording no new case is a sign that the virus has been tamed and people can go back to work safely without any fears that they will be infected. He said even in countries that have made progress in fighting the pandemic, it is impossible to test such a number of people and find no new infections.
The Minister of Health however said that people have to observe the new measures, including social distancing, wearing a protective mask, handwashing and other practices that minimise the possibility of infection in order to ensure that the country does not relapse.
“We know the source of the new infections. We took note of this since April 20 and we have been following up on the situation. We know where they are from and we have come up with measures to tame these new cases,” he said.
He said the country has enough resources to continue carrying out tests to ensure that there are no new cases but ruled out the possibility of mass testing.
Dr Ngamije said the tracing continues to be done where necessary, especially for contacts to ensure that there is no new case out there, pointing out that more than 95 percent of possible contacts of confirmed cases are all traced.
He warned however that despite the relaxed measures, COVID-19 is still around and everyone is encouraged to be vigilant, pointing out that even though the situation could be stabilized, they are still watching the situation, including in the region where new cases continue to come up.
“We are not easing up the measures because the virus is gone, we are not saying that we are going to celebrate, no. We are only relaxing the measures so that people can go back to work but we have to continue with the measures to control the spread,” Dr. Ngamije said.
He explained that the measures remain tightened because majority of the cases appeared in Kigali, even though some of the cases were detected upcountry. People in the City of Kigali will still not be allowed to travel out of Kigali to another province and vice versa.
No weddings, meetings yet
The Minister of Local Government Prof. Anastase Shyaka emphasized that even though measures were relaxed, unnecessary movements and gatherings must be avoided where necessary while weddings, meetings, conferences, workshops and religious gatherings remain banned.
“We are going to issue more detailed directives of how the new measures will be implemented but the bottom line is if it is a movement you can avoid, please avoid it. The virus is still active, here with us and can take advantage of the situation. Let us cooperate until we get to a point where we can all go out,” Prof. Shyaka said.
The new directives which will accompany the cabinet resolutions will indicate how public transport will operate in line with social distancing requirements. He said in places where many people meet like markets, measures must be put in place to ensure safety.
“We want to encourage Rwandans to put on hold weddings and other social gatherings which are not necessary. Let us be patient, you will have your social events when the situation is clear to enjoy fully with your families and friends,” Prof. Shyaka said.
He said a wedding can easily turn into a funeral if strict measures are not taken. Local government leaders are not allowed to carry out civil weddings. He said funerals were given an exception because they are unavoidable. Only 30 people are allowed at a funeral.
Regarding work, Prof. Shyaka said work will resume but employees and businesses must strictly adhere to measures, allowing only essential staff and not exceeding 50% of the staff while those who can work from home will continue to work from home until new measures are introduced.
Prof. Shyaka said motos were not given a green light to resume work as public transport means because it is difficult to observe social distancing measures on a motorbike. He however said that the two-wheeled automobiles will continue to transport goods and make deliveries.
Business to resume cautiously
The Minister of Trade and Industry Soraya Hakuziyaremye said businesses, hotels, restaurants, industries and construction activities will resume normally but must adhere strictly to the measures, including all clients and staff wearing masks, proper hygiene measures and social distancing.
Beginning Monday, businesses will reopen but it will not be business as usual according to Minister Hakuziyaremye, pointing out that markets will be operating in shifts, where only 50% of the traders’ work in shifts to allow the other 50% to come in later and all business must close by 7pm.
“We will work with business leaders and local leaders to ensure that these measures are observed, ensure social distancing and proper hygiene, to avoid overcrowding and exposure,” she said, adding that more guidelines will be issued on how the measures will be implemented.
“What we want is that responsibility for traders to protect not only themselves but also their clients. We need to do so with the understanding that the virus is still around and can be easily spread. I am sure most of our traders understand this responsibility as we have seen in the past days,”
“They need to understand that things cannot go back to normal as it was before but if we follow these measures and be patient, eventually things will normalize,” Hakuziyaremye said, adding that crowds and many people being in business premises at the same time must be avoided at all costs.
Minister Hakuziyaremye said that reopening does not mean setting back the gains that have been made in the fight against New Coronavirus, pointing out that hair salons and beauty spas are among businesses that will reopen but must observe strict measures.
She explained that the reasons hotels and restaurants will reopen but no bars and night clubs is because the latter encourages people to get closer when they get together to socialize while hotels can easily ensure social distancing.
Prof. Shyaka said people are encouraged to move between their workplaces or business places and home until 8pm to ensure that there is minimal contact. He said the new measures will be revisited in 15 days depending on how the situation evolves.
He said movement between provinces remain banned while social visits are also not permitted since they are not considered essential.
Schools will remain closed till September, with government exams this year expected to be skipped. Rwanda has so far registered 243 cases of New Coronavirus and no death but experts have predicted that the outbreak could last up to the end of the year.