26.05.2020 Feature Article

Enforcing COVID-19 Safety Protocols – If all Africa were Rwanda

Aerial view of Kigali, capital of Rwanda
LISTEN MAY 26, 2020
Aerial view of Kigali, capital of Rwanda

One of the countries in Africa which is noted for its remarkable enforcement of rules and regulations is Rwanda. Every citizen is a vigilante. Every citizen!!! In other words, they are each other’s keeper. And cleanliness is in their blood. Anytime I visit this case study of an African country, their impressive landscape (Rwanda is a hilly country) and clean environment strike me with awe. Beyond that is the discipline imbibed in the citizenry. You cannot ride a motorbike without a helmet. Polythene products are not allowed into the country. Hotels do not allow third-parties who are not officially booked to enter rooms.

In this era of COVID-19, one will wonder how Rwanda is handling the pandemic. As of 25th May, over 5.5 million people had been infected globally out of which almost 350,000 had died. The global recovery rate was 2.3 million, representing 41.9% of recorded cases. Having conducted over 52,000 tests, Rwanda has had 327 infected cases, no deaths and 237 recoveries. One needs no rocket science to know how Rwanda is establishing itself as the continental case study in the COVID-19 fight. First, their Ministry of ICT and Innovation, in collaboration with the United National Development Programme (UNDP) have developed 5 anti-epidemic robots which have been deployed to screen about 50 to 150 people per minute for COVID-related assignments. They will administer temperature checks as well as monitor and keep patients medical records among other tasks.

Right from the onset of the disease, before it was declared a pandemic, Rwanda’s public health response had been rapid and robust. As early as January 2020, medical teams were at all international borders screening for high temperatures. Health protocols were established in early March and all public establishments were, by regulation, observing social distancing, and placing handwashing and sanitizing equipment in front of their buildings. After a 40-day lockdown, an 8pm – 5am curfew has been imposed but there is free movement within each province during the day. Just like the borders to the country, schools and places of worship remain closed but hotels and restaurants are opened daily till 7pm. It is mandatory for every citizen to wear a mask while outside.

In many African countries, institutions are too weak to enforce strict compliances to the safety protocols. During periods of the total or partial lockdowns, only critical and essential staff were allowed movement. All of a sudden, everyone was a critical and essential staff. People even stepped into town to ascertain what was happening in town. There were various reports in countries where people were walking and loitering about in their communities with careless abandon. The lifting of the lockdowns have come with attendant problems – physical and social distancing, and mask-wearing.

In a country like Ghana, only 1 out of 10 persons has a nose mask on. And out of those with nose masks, about 80% are products sewn by local seamstresses and tailors who must be applauded for their ingenuity. That is, the local entrepreneurial spirit. However, one wonders if these local products follow the guidelines established by the Ghana Standards Authority.

What is quite worrying to this writer is the fact that, many of those who are seen with nose masks on only hang the masks around their chin and thereby expose their mouths and noses which the masks are supposed to cover. Then come these small groups of vulnerable young beggars, mostly born here to foreign nationals, harassing motorists for money, with exposed faces and breathing onto people stuck in traffic jams and into car windows, etc. The traffic jams also see all sorts of hawkers, including water sellers, who are potential agents of COVID-19 transmission because of their daily exposure to the public. The main hotspots of COVID-19 infections are the various markets and supermarkets where virtually everyone is a flouter of social distancing protocols.

With such state of lawlessness, we should be prepared to live with COVID-19 for a long time to come. The lack of enforcement of the safety protocols will come at a heavy cost, and we should all be prepared to bear it, collectively, because we have not been each other’s keeper. We rather shield lawbreakers.

Laws are made to be obeyed and in the United States of America, there is a fine of as high as 500 dollars if one is caught not wearing nose mask in public.

Let the law of our land work. As citizens and not spectators, we should not even buy stuff from anyone who does not wear a nose mask, or does not wear it properly. The law may seem harsh but we want it enforced to save our current and future generations.

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