With vigilance, coronavirus can be tamed in Rwanda

By Apollo Higiro
On 18 March 2020 at 01:34

Much is changing in our health domain on a daily basis in the past two weeks and in the days to come. Words and phrases used intermittently in recent days began coming at Rwandans in a dizzying fusillade: Canceled. Postponed. Scrapped. Stay home. Don’t come in. Don’t embrace. Don’t shake hands. Social distancing. Unprecedented. Crisis. Coronavirus has brought it all.

Coronavirus came as an exogenous bolt from the blue, coming with it a cascade of default actions and inactions. It has disrupted and altered our routines, culture, businesses, incomes, and welfare in just two weeks.

It is one of the most feared cataclysms in modern history with the possibility of zipping up, going into hibernation even more terrifying.

It’s a crisis playing out in microdecisions; how we go to the market, how our children school, intensified hygienic practices-tiny decisions with far reaching effects depending on how well each is done.

Many world powers at first took it for a triviality, with president David Trump saying in his usual tart dry statements: "It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear. Maybe [it could] go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows."

In Rwanda, we are lucky to have a president who inspires confidence in normal and times of crisis. During this year’s Umwiherero [leadership Retreat] the former minister of health tried dilly-dallying with instructions of testing participants. She was fired.

When the first case of coronavirus was identified in the country, President Paul Kagame was the first to demonstrate an end to time-long practices of handshakes and hugs; issued a statement on avoiding panic but focus on recommended practices and discipline; and joined WHO in Safe Hands campaign-a handwashing promotion practice.

Since then, a number of drastic actions have been taken; students sent home, entertainment and conferences postponed, big gatherings banned, among others.

Controls and screening had earlier been established at the airport and border posts.

Good enough Rwandans have been compliant and vigilant. In Kigali, handwashing cans with liquid soap have been placed at every restaurant, bar, market and big malls.

For those that have the capacity to work online, are doing so, giving social distancing a meaning, reducing contact and attendant risks.

This has played well to demonstrate that in any developing crisis, it’s best not to panic but to be smart and prudent.

The vigilance, especially, has to be strengthened because much as coronavirus is not as lethal as Ebola, its danger lies more in its contagiousness i.e. the ability of the virus to spread from one sick person to others. Again, scientists say, coronavirus is not the most contagious disease there is, but it can spread quickly and, more alarmingly, an infected person can be contagious before symptoms appear, and thus unknowingly infect those around him or her.

So when you hear people say that schools in Rwanda have closed because the infected are in latent thousands, you know they do not understand the disease and the leadership of Rwanda. Rwandan leadership is not accustomed to consuming, and reacting to, “moments.” They prepare for the worst and work for the best. Simple.

So the important thing Rwanda has done is to communicate, to inform, to sort out who is really infected. Direct, transparent communications like it is being done by the Ministry of Health is crucial. More, though, needs to be communicated on; keeping distance, motor-taxi travels, saunas, gyms, salons, and beauty parlors.

As a country that is inching out of many shadows, including out of poverty, the leadership cannot afford the luxury of waiting for stern action only when everywhere the “system is blinking red.” No.

Getting overwhelmed by numbers should be kept at bay by doing the right preventive practices. Now.

Beyond the direct health realms, managing resource allocation, daily press briefings, identifying false information and formulating stop-gap measures to address deficits in the economic performance as a result of coronavirus is of great importance in relieving families and businesses that have been immensely affected by the pandemic.

Rwanda has already decided to consult with banks on the possibility of adjusting loan repayment regimes for borrowers whose businesses have been hit by the coronavirus and promised to lax tax returning and payment procedures and timing.

What will become of us as citizens of the world? That page is blank. For now.

With vigilance, coronavirus can be tamed in Rwanda