The question many people usually ask during such times is whether the lockdown was necessary in the first place. From a highly reliable source in Government, relevant expert organs having evaluated the situation, a lockdown was the only option available if the rapid spread of the pandemic the country has been experiencing lately was to be checked. There are two ways a lockdown is envisaged to deliver expected results.
Firstly, health data based on scientific research shows that when movement of people is restricted, in the process movement of the virus from one person to another is curbed as well. Avoidance, or at the least minimization of meetings, public gatherings, family visitations, workplace mingling, and other forms of social interactivity slows down transmission of the virus significantly.
Secondly, there are quite a number of people who have the virus in their bodies without knowing. They show no symptoms at all but still infect others on coming into close physical contact. Again proven health information about the virus shows that when such people are confined for eight to ten days in one place without moving, the virus will not survive beyond that period.
Ultimately a lockdown greatly incapacitates the virus, slows transmission, thus allowing time to the Government to further sensitize the masses against the pandemic. By the time people get back into usual life, a lot of things have changed for the better, including sufficient availability of health infrastructure such as space and equipment for patients in need of intensive care.
Those of you who have been keenly observant have noticed that on Saturday and Sunday (17th and 18th July), mass tests were conducted particularly in the said eight districts and the City of Kigali. For example, while RBC had carried out 6,677 (772) 11.5% tests on 12th July, 8,435 (792) 9.4% tests on 13th July, 5,324 (934) 17.5% tests on 14th July, 10,449 (883)8.4% on 15th July, and 8,127 (927)11.4% on 16th July, on 17th July the number of tests countrywide dramatically rose to 50,880 (1,997) 3.9%, then even higher to 73,608 (2,773) 3.7% the following day on 18th July.
The figures above tell an interesting story about the country’s COVID-19 situation. As you can see from the RBC statistics, the more people tested, the lower the percentage of infection. On the day, 18th July, when the highest number of tests was carried out, RBC obtained the lowest ratio of positivity, 3.7%, per the total number of tests done that day! I put this puzzle to a senior official at RBC and got the explanation below.
“The logic behind a decreasing positivity percentage against an increasing number of tests lies in the fact that a big number of samples were collected. If we collected samples from all 12 million Rwandans, the positivity rate would actually fall way below 1%. But the fact that our usual daily report is mainly based on samples collected from health facilities, this understandably hikes the positivity rate to a level disproportionately higher than the actual national outlook”.
What the RBC official is saying here is that samples from health facilities naturally will have been taken from people who came for treatment and were therefore most likely already infected.
Still with the above accurate interpretation of figures by health experts, there are all the reasons to remain very concerned, according to Ministry of Health and RBC officials, that the pandemic is very much rampant. The situation could be worse if the Government wasn’t quite vigilant.
And so from here what can we expect? Further concerted action by Government to try and keep the spread under control will depend on another massive sample collection planned towards the end of the ongoing lockdown. We can hope for the better, but that is only if each one of us strictly observes the instructions to stay home and not move unnecessarily. Let us be our own police.
Ignatius R. Kabagambe, is the Head of Corporate Communications at the University of Rwanda (UR).