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Botswana Lifts Lockdown in Capital Despite Worrying Rise in COVID-19 Cases

It was a quiet start to night life in Gaborone, Botswana, following the lifting of lockdown restrictions Aug. 14, 2020. (Mqondisi Dube/VOA)
It was a quiet start to night life in Gaborone, Botswana, following the lifting of lockdown restrictions Aug. 14, 2020. (Mqondisi Dube/VOA)

The two-week coronavirus lockdown in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, ended Friday, following an announcement from the nation’s health minister, Dr. Lemogang Kwape,

The decision was made despite a rise in local transmissions since August 1.

“Since then, the number of cases has been increasing despite the lockdown,” Kwape said. “Of special importance is for all of us to note that we are registering a lot of high numbers, [more] than our country can cope with. Moreover, there is a clear indication of local transmission.”

Kwape said there were 203 new coronavirus cases registered in the last two weeks. One death was recorded, bringing the number of COVID-19-related deaths to three since the outbreak.

Kwape acknowledged there were economic considerations in lifting the lockdown.

“To come out of this lockdown while cases continue to escalate is a precarious situation,” Kwape said. “This development has the potential to be dangerous if we do not have the appropriate controls and measures in place. At the same time the government recognizes our lives must continue and we have to live with the disease. But that said we must continue to put our health ahead of other considerations.”

Economic analyst Lawrence Ookeditse argues there is a need to balance the health of the nation against economic considerations.

“There were health considerations, yes,” he said. “That is paramount. But we know that people need to make a living and they cannot be kept at homes forever. We need to find ways to survive in the midst of this pandemic. It is a Catch-22 situation, but the economy has to be taken into consideration as well.”

Street hawker Bakang Marumo welcomed the lifting of the lockdown. He said without government food parcels, they were starving.

“We appreciate that the lockdown has been lifted,” he said. “At the same time, while there is fear that we might contract the virus, there is little option but to co-exist with the virus. Our livelihoods are at risk. We have to find a way of making a living during this time.”

In lifting the lockdown, authorities maintained some restrictions. Gatherings of more than two people remain illegal, while Gaborone schools will open in a phased manner starting Tuesday.

Schools remain open elsewhere in Botswana.

Meanwhile, travel between zones within the country requires a permit. Authorities might require a COVID-19 test for those who travel through what are considered red zones.