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Botswana Parliament Votes to Extend COVID Emergency to March

FILE - Customers wear masks to protect against the coronavirus while queuing at a supermarket in Gaborone, Botswana, March 31, 2020, during the early weeks of the country's COVID-19 restrictions.

Botswana’s parliament voted Monday to extend by a further six months a state of emergency imposed to fight the coronavirus. The move comes despite objections from opposition parties. The extension means President Mokgweetsi Masisi will continue to rule by decree until March 2021, a full year since the pandemic hit Africa.

Masisi, in his address to a special session of parliament, said it was necessary to extend the state of emergency, which came into effect in March.

“The disease burden has made it clear and imperative for us to extend the state of public emergency in the interest of the public. In this context, I will request parliament to extend the state of public emergency by a period of six months,” Masisi said.

Botswana has seen a steady rise in cases since registering its first in March. The country currently has more than 3,170 cases, with 16 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic.

Masisi added the state of emergency will be used solely for the purpose of fighting the spread of the COVID-19.

“It is my considered view that the extension of the state of emergency provides a better option to safeguard the lives of Botswana, while containing and controlling the disease.”

Among others, Masisi said the state of emergency would ensure workers are protected against retrenchment and maintain the restrictions on the movement of people in and out of the country.

He said the country’s Public Health Act was inadequate to fully equip his government to fight the pandemic.

Opposition parties said they were not convinced an extension of the state of emergency was necessary.

David Tshere of the opposition coalition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) argued against the move.

“This is not acceptable. We are restricting movement of people in and out of the country. South Africa has opened up the borders, Namibia has opened up and we have a treaty with these countries. You are saying we should continue to close when your neighbors have opened,” Tshere said.

The leader of the opposition in parliament, Dumelang Saleshando, warned the economy will suffer as a result of the extended restrictions.

“We are locking down the economy. They (people) need certainty. Households are not going to survive this,” Saleshando said.

Despite the opposition members’ objections, the ruling party holding a majority in the National Assembly meant the extension was approved.

The country’s economy is expected to contract by around 9% this year. Its backbone, the diamond industry, suffered significantly after international buyers were shut out due to travel restrictions.