The lockdown imposed on the City of Kigali two weeks ago to contain the spread of the New Coronavirus would be lifted if all people played their role by adhering to all directives put in place, senior government officials say.
Following the decision by a cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame on Tuesday, to extend existing measures, including the lockdown on Kigali for one more week before the new measures take effect, the Ministers of Health and Local Government as well as Rwanda National Police (RNP), which are the key enforcement institutions, have called on all people to behave accordingly.
The Minister of Health Dr. Daniel Ngamije said that the past two weeks since the lockdown was imposed on Kigali have proved to be effective and the additional one week would make a huge difference and ensure that the lockdown is lifted for people to go back to their economic activities.
“We are seeing a big difference. Before the lockdown was imposed, the City of Kigali had more COVID-19 cases than all the other provinces combined. Over the past one week, we have seen a reduction in cases in the city,”
“The number of cases is now much lower compared to the cases in other provinces and we believe this was possible because of the measures taken, including the lockdown. We have also seen the number of COVID-19 recoveries exceed the number of new cases during the lockdown, which was not the case before the measures were taken,” Dr. Ngamije said.
Explaining the rationale of the lockdown, Dr. Ngamije said that when people are urged to stay home, those infected would not expose as many people as they would when they are allowed to move around. A lockdown combined with testing helps identify the cases quickly and immediately take action.
Dr. Ngamije however said that following an assessment done to ascertain the current status of the virus, it was necessary to extend the lockdown in Kigali for another week to fully contain the situation and lower the positivity rate.
“One more week would allow us enough time to observe the situation and consider the next course of action but now it would be very early to lift lockdown measures,” Dr. Ngamije said.
“We want people to look at this one week as a good opportunity for us to take control of the situation and then we can consider adjusting the measures but we cannot do it at the risk of infecting more people,” the Minister of Health said.
Following recent mass tests conducted in Kigali, Dr Ngamije said COVID-19 cases were identified nearly in all cells of Kigali and one extra week would be vital in terms of containing the spread. He said that at least a person at home would infect less people and it becomes easy to trace and contain.
“As we do this, we are also working to ensure that the vaccine is available and we start administering it,” Dr. Ngamije said, adding that more measures, including reducing the validity of a PCR negative test to 72hrs, for all incoming travellers, are all aimed at curbing the spread.
“We noticed that 5 days, or 120 hours for a negative test were too many, people can easily get infected during that time and come here, then because they are newly infected, we wouldn’t detect the virus and they would end up going about their activities and infect people in the process,”
“We believe 72hrs is a safe window because we have realised that some people who travel here are infected and we cannot be able to tell in those 7 days. The assessment we did shows that these people got infected during those 120 hours before they could travel,” Dr. Ngamije explained.
He said that the new timeframe together with testing and isolation measures will allow them to control possible infections by inbound travellers or tourists. He said inbound travellers are also followed up for 7 days post self-isolation, to ensure that they are tested again, for free, to confirm that indeed they are negative. The confirmatory test is free.
The Minister of Local Government Prof. Anastase Shyaka said that the government is aware that the lockdown has unpleasant effects on the people but it is the only viable option to save lives and contain the spread of the virus.
“Lockdown is not a wish of the government but it was the only solution to the challenge of the increasing infections we were seeing. We want people to understand that it is the only option we had and as the Minister of Health explained, it has paid off because adherence is around 70 percent,”
“Our hope is that this extra one week can be an opportunity for the other 30 percent to play their part. We will get there. We are aware that the lockdown is a tough option and affects many but if it is what it takes to save lives, we can sacrifice our freedom for sometime in order for us to defeat the pandemic,” Prof. Shyaka said.
He said that many people do understand their responsibility and are playing their part but they are those who want to engage in running battles with police, which is not necessary. Prof. Shyaka said that if there was ownership of the measures but all people, the virus could subside and tougher restrictions would be lifted.
“We request those who are not adhering to the measures to do their best and act accordingly because not adhering to the directives affects all of us collectively,” Prof. Shyaka said, adding that the government will continue to provide relief support to vulnerable households in the city of Kigali.
“Last week over 70, 000 households received support, this week we are looking at giving over 79, 000 households. Most of them have received the relief support, the remaining few will receive the supplies by tomorrow,”
“The lines are open, if you have challenges, reach out to your local leaders. The Government of Rwanda has committed itself to support vulnerable households because we know many people were affected by the lockdown. It is our duty to support our citizens to remain resilient until they can be self-sustaining,” Prof. Shyaka said, adding that nobody should starve because food is available.
The Spokesperson of RNP, CP John Bosco Kabera said that over the past weeks, a total of 117,630 people were caught violating government directives on COVID-19 -mainly walking around, failing to observe curfew time, not wearing a face mask and other acts.
A total of 2,066 were closed for operating illegally and clandestinely while many others were arrested drunk on the roads or engaging in drunk driving. Some 2,218 vehicles were caught in violation of the directives while 912 motos and 612 bicycles were also apprehended for the same over the past two weeks.
“We have cases where people ask for permission to go for essential services but they end up misusing this time they are given to engage in unnecessary movements, including visiting friends and relatives. This is not allowed,”
“In other cases, we have people who claim to be going to hospital but they are actually not going there at all. Instead, they go around the city using the granted permission. In one case, a child exposed the parent by saying that they actually didn’t go to hospital, they were driving around town,” CP Kabera said.
He warned that Police are aware of the tricks people are using to go against government directives and they will not tolerate any attempts to violate COVID-19 guidelines and put others at risk.
Vaccine on the way
The Minister of Health said that Rwanda will be receiving the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines by mid-February, pointing out that Rwanda is among the 4 African countries which have fulfilled requirements to receive the vaccines. Others are Tunisia, Cape Verde and South Africa.
He said the country will receive the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine, about 102, 000 doses by February 15 and before the month ends an additional 996,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive in the country, to bring it to 1 million doses in the first round.
“We will immediately use these doses to vaccinate health workers, the elderly and people with chronic conditions as well as all frontline workers, including security organs. All these categories are at risk and are given first priority,” Dr. Ngamije said