Eswatini, formerly Swaziland closes borders and locks down the kingdom
Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini of Eswatini, formerly Swaziland addresses his nation in implementing restrictions, including the closure of borders after 9 cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the kingdom. No one died in Eswatini so far.
Today the Kingdom of Eswatini joined the rest of the world and more than 2.5 billion people globally to observe a partial lockdown and, for others, a full lockdown – to combat a common enemy, the coronavirus. This is unchartered territory for the Kingdom and the world, a time when our resolve and collective effort to control the spread of a virus that has gained unsavoury reputation is put to the test.
The partial lockdown that has been affected across the country today is a necessary step towards containing the spread of this evidently stubborn coronavirus. Clearly, it brings to the fore a lot of inconveniences never experienced before, hurts business and our economy, deters the free movement of people and in extension spreads a lot of anxiety and panic among the populace.
However, we can learn from the experiences of other countries which have felt the brunt of this pandemic over the past months. We can also draw advice from medical experts who insist that limiting the movement of people and staying at home, presents us with the best chance of saving lives and stopping an uncontrollable spread which can quickly reach all corners of the Kingdom.
The measures announced on Monday are now in full force and we expect all EmaSwati and residents of this country to fully comply and abide by them without exception. The irresponsible actions of a few can put all of us in danger. The cost to our economy is high but the health and safety of citizens is paramount.
Currently, Eswatini has eight confirmed coronavirus cases and more tests are still pending. The rising number of positive cases is a cause for concern and an indication that we have no option but to be more attentive, tolerant and receptive to all the control and prevention measures that have been put in place.
May I remind EmaSwati that the measures being implemented for the next 20 days include suspending all unnecessary travel within cities, towns, communities and beyond, except for instances of providing or acquiring essential services such as healthcare, food, or banking services. All gatherings of more than 20 people are prohibited. Gatherings that meet this requirement are expected to observe proper hygiene standards and social distancing of 1-2 meters is followed, among others.
Borders are closed for nonessential travel. Only goods and cargo, as well as returning citizens and legal residents, are allowed movement through the borders. The government will ensure that all essential goods and services continue to be available in the country over the partial lockdown period. Returning citizens and residents are reminded that they will be subjected to mandatory 14 days quarantine at designated locations except for those who are able to self-isolate. More specifically, may I strongly advise citizens returning from South Africa and other high-risk countries to immediately self-quarantine for 14 days without exception. During the self quarantine, they should avoid physical contact with family members and stay alone in well-ventilated rooms.
The government has instructed employers to allow as many as possible employees to work from home. Over the week, several Ministers offered guidelines of what is expected from both employers and employees for the duration of this partial lockdown period. Essential businesses should continue operating at full strength with proper adherence to hygiene standards and all the relevant measures of social distancing that will protect employees from the pandemic. A list of essential services has already been published by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade and includes health, banking, security, energy, water services, media, and others. The full list is available on the Government website or you can call the free toll number 8001002.
Businesses that are not included in the list of essential services are expected to scale down their operations and, most importantly, meet the appropriate health and hygiene standards, failing which they risk closure. We continue to engage business to cushion the effects of this partial lockdown on their businesses, and more especially, to ensure full compliance with the partial lockdown measures.
The government continues to engage all other relevant sectors as we implement the response strategies to this pandemic. This also includes Parliament.
I am happy to report that Parliament has passed Coronavirus regulations that will enforce adherence to both the National Emergency declaration actions and the partial lockdown measures. Security forces are already on the ground ensuring compliance with the regulations and have the powers to disperse gatherings of more than 20 people and enforce processes that will lead to litigation of defaulters. Chiefs, traditional authorities and community police will lead the way in ensuring total compliance in communities.
The government has completed setting up the necessary structures to fast track implementation of the National Response to the outbreak of the COVID 19. These structures which include the Inter-Ministerial Emergency Management Committee, National Emergency Task Force and the Technical working group have already started intervening on behalf of the government. Regional Administration Offices have also activated regional disaster management teams to the lowest level of administration to raise awareness on coronavirus and improve preparedness and prevention of the scourge. Together with the security forces, these committees have made a network across the country that is well coordinated.
Regional Administrators are working with Chiefs and traditional authorities to raise awareness at the community level as well as to protect families from contracting the virus. The Resource mobilization Committee has started receiving donations for the National Response. These resources are being put into good use. Handwashing facilities have been provided to most municipalities and to key government institutions.
Delivery of important health equipment and material is continuing and more orders have been placed to meet the need.
The government through the Ministry of Health continues to respond to the COVID 19 outbreak through the implementation of a Health response plan.
Surveillance of the condition has been boosted by the recruitment of more officers in the environmental health sector who shall continue manning ports of entry including working together with the security forces. Thermal scanners have been added and more are still awaited to ensure adequate coverage.
The Ministry of Health is intensifying contact tracing to provide information on the cases to be followed and monitor the development of symptoms to inform the need for testing. Training of health care workers who are on the frontline is ongoing. This partial lockdown is very essential to break the transmission of the virus. Disruption of the spread of the virus will go a long way into defeating this global pandemic.
It is, therefore, crucial to re-emphasize the need to adhere to restrictions of the partial lockdown particularly with reference to limiting movement to only essential travel. Every citizen and resident is urged to abide by the measures to ensure that the country contains the spread of the virus. We must acknowledge the thousands of citizens who have taken these restrictions in their stride.
May I also take this opportunity to emphasize that His Majesty King Mswati III has declared tomorrow, Saturday 28 March 2020, a fasting day and Sunday, a National Prayer day. We expect all EmaSwati across all faiths to join in the fasting and prayer as we seek the guidance of the Almighty God to help us sail through this challenge faced by the nation and the world. It is through prayer that God protects us from all challenges. The Book of Philippians 4:6-7 tells that, “Be anxious for nothing, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need with a thankful heart: and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” May I thank Their Majesties for leading the charge to come closer to God.
This pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to act in common purpose in order to protect each other as EmaSwati, but not to panic. It is not the time to spread false information on social media. We have no reason to panic if we are responsible and follow all the guidelines provided by Government and the World Health Organisation.
As we observe the partial lockdown and restrict unnecessary movement and stay at home, let us remember to follow the precautionary guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation. These include:
- Our home environment should be kept clean and safe and all high touch surfaces must be disinfected regularly.
- Wash hands with running water and soap or use alcohol based sanitizers.
- Stop shaking hands and use other non-touch methods of greeting.
- Maintain a distance of at least 1 meter from each other.
- Avoid touching your face (mouth, nose, eyes) and cover coughs and sneezes.
- Take care of the vulnerable, especially senior citizens and those with underlying respiratory conditions who are more susceptible to the coronavirus infection.
- If you experience flu-like symptoms (fever, difficulty breathing, cough, high temperature) visit your nearest health centre facility or call the Emergency Medical Services Toll free line 977.
Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini
The Kingdom of Eswatini is a member of the African Tourism Board.