Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, whose country has one of the world’s highest COVID-19 infection rates per capita, has announced new COVID-19 restrictions, including extension of a night-time curfew and postponement of the reopening of schools.
In a televised address Friday, President Masisi said the country was seeing an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases.
“The disease burden is weighing heavily on us, with infections continuing to increase across the country, and precious lives being lost on a daily basis here at home and across the continent,” President Masisi said. “Our nation has attained the highest prevalence ever.”
By Friday, 1,973 people had died of COVID-19, with the death toll rising from about 300 in February.
President Masisi announced restrictions Friday meant to blunt the spread of the virus, including a ban on public gatherings.
“Inter-zonal movement continues to be restricted to essential travel only,” he said. “Reopening of schools (will) be delayed for a further three weeks, except for those students preparing for their final examinations. The ban on sale of alcohol remains. Curfew will now start earlier at 8pm and end at 4am for the next three weeks, after which there will be a review.”
Masisi said the country would accelerate its vaccination program in the next three weeks. About five percent of the population, or 146,299 people, are fully vaccinated.
The president blamed the slow delivery of vaccine for the frustrating pace of inoculation.
“Of course, it saddens me that many have not received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and they are obviously exasperated,” he said. “It may look like government is not trying hard, but I can assure you the opposite is true.”
Education unions welcomed the government’s decision to postpone the reopening of schools.
The unions had urged their members not to return to class until they were vaccinated.
Tabokani Rari, secretary-general of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions, said the government should use the three-week break to vaccinate teachers.
Rari called it “a progressive step” that the president, because of union pressure, had postponed the reopening of schools. “We have not heard anything from the president as to whether during the three weeks that schools will be closed, there will be any plan where teachers will be vaccinated in a fast-tracked manner.”
Meanwhile, the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) has announced the shipment of 108,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccines to Botswana.
This is part of a total of 6.4 million vaccine doses to be shipped to African Union member states in August 2021. Member states that have ordered vaccines through AVAT will receive shipments over coming months via the facility that is run in collaboration with the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) and Unicef.
These deliveries are part of the COVID-19 vaccine advance procurement agreement signed on March 28, 2021 by AVAT for the purchase of 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses.
The agreement and the start of deliveries marked the first time that AU members have collectively purchased vaccines. In total, the 400 million vaccines acquired by AVAT are sufficient to immunise a third of Africa’s population.
Botswana’s Vice-President Slumber Tsogwane expressed gratitude to the AVAT partners an urged Batswana to get vaccinated.
The country’s Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe, commended the AVAT partners for the momentous occasion stating that “the arrival of these AVAT vaccines fills us with great pride as Africans, to see that our efforts to save the lives of our people are bearing fruits. His Excellency the President of the Republic of Botswana, Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe has consistently stated that the number one priority of this Government reset agenda is to save the lives of Botswana from the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Mr Strive Masiyiwa, African Union Special Envoy for vaccine acquisition, said: “Delivering our first doses to African Union member states is an unprecedented milestone. We are deploying relentless efforts to help each Member State to reach its goal of immunising 60 per cent of Africans, as recommended by the Africa CDC. Johnson & Johnson AVAT-purchased single-shot vaccines will enable us to considerably improve our vaccination level across the continent.”
Dr Lul Riek, Southern Africa Regional Collaborator-Africa Union/Africa CDC, welcomed the vaccine consignment and said: “This historic moment when we are welcoming the AVAT vaccines, is in line with the African CDC Strategy to leave no single country behind and to support all member states to vaccinate at least 60 percent of 1.2 billion people in the African continent.
“The arrival of this vaccine is a result of the unfailing commitment of the African Union Commission, under the leadership of the Chairperson of African Union Commission HE Mussa Faki Mohammed, and the Director of Africa CDC, Dr John Nkengasong.”AVAT was established by the African COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, set up in November 2020 as part of the AU’s COVID-19 Vaccine Development and Access Strategy, and its goal of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the African population with safe and efficacious vaccines against COVID-19. – Agencies