People across Botswana were on Wednesday evening glued to their small screens with bated breath as they awaited the latest COVID-19 update from the country’s health authorities. Panic ensued when the scheduled time for the broadcast came and went, with many speculating the reason for the delay was likely yet another extension. Understandably, the nation was on tenterhooks following the government’s u-turn last week after the COVID-19 Task Team announced the lockdown would be lifted.
When the COVID-19 Task Force team Coordinator, Dr Kereng Masupu and his deputy, Professor Mosepele Mosepele did eventually show up over an hour late, the nation heaved a huge sigh of relief when Dr Masupu revealed phase three of the lockdown would end at midnight. The lifting of the lockdown allows all businesses and schools to reopen under strict conditions as Botswana tries to restart an economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has been gradually easing restrictions for the past two weeks, with only selected economic sectors such as mines allowed to operate.
“All lockdown restrictions will be lifted effective midnight, with only those moving across the designated zones requiring permits to travel,” Dr Masupu said.
“Depending on the coronavirus disease pattern, a return to lockdown will remain an option.”
Stringent conditions have been set for businesses and schools wishing to reopen including the checking of body temperatures, social distancing, regular disinfection and wearing of masks. Returning citizens and residents will still be required to undergo mandatory quarantine. The ban of foreign visitors remains in place as borders are closed until further notice. Botswana has a relatively low number of COVID-19 infections, with 29 cases recorded and only one death.
The economy has been severely impacted by the outbreak with real GDP estimated to contract by 13% in 2020 while the budget deficit is expected to more than double. Botswana has been unable to sell its diamonds for the past three months as buyers from diamond cutting and polishing centres, who visit the country as often as 10 times annually, have been unable to enter the country to do business due to global restrictions on travel.
The government has set aside a 5 billion pula ($413.00 million) fiscal stimulus to cushion the impact of the outbreak while the central bank has cut interest rates and halved the primary Reserve Requirements (PRR) for commercial banks in a bid to improve liquidity in the banking system. ($1 = 12.1065 pula)
Meantime, two members of the Presidential Task Force Team on COVID-19, Professor Mosepele Mosepele and Dr Malaki Tshipayagae paid a visit to Kazungula Ferry Border and Kasane Primary Hospital testing centre early on Wednesday. The duo was briefed on the challenges faced by the district in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the team was updated on the new COVID-19 PCR test that has a turn-around time of six hours.
They also took the time to find out about the district’s preparedness in the fight against COVID-19 with regards to truck drivers. The government recently upped the testing of truck drivers delivering goods from neighbouring countries after some tested positive for COVID-19. It is also in the process of increasing testing sites in key areas around the country that border neighbouring countries.
The sale of alcohol remains banned until further notice
The nation’s hopes that the lifting of the 48-day lockdown would bring with it the resumption of the sale of alcohol were dashed in yesterday’s update. To the excitement of parched booze lovers, following Drs Masupu and Kereng’s national broadcast, there were erroneous reports claiming bottle stores would be allowed to start selling alcohol. However, the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry moved swiftly to set the record straight, to the dismay of many. Curiously, the ministry remained shtum on cigarettes, the sale of which has also been banned “until further notice”.
The ministry stated in a press release;
The Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry would like to clarify misinformation regarding the Industrial Development Act and Industrial Development Regulations, 2020 and Trade Act and Trade Regulations, 2020 which appeared in the Government Gazette Extraordinary Vol. LVIII, No. 49 of the 20th May 2020, both of which will commence on the 1st June 2020.
The Acts are subject to the ongoing State of Emergency, therefore, the Emergency Powers Regulations regulating the prohibition of the sale of alcohol still apply. Hence, there shall be no sale of alcohol in all liquor outlets until further notice.
For further clarification kindly contact the MITI Public Relations Office 3601330/318 during working hours or email to MITIPRU@gov.bw or Ministry Facebook page.
References: Btv, The Daily News, BOPA, Reuters