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 nighttime curfew and postponement of the reopening of schools.
In a televised address, 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," 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.
Masisi announced restrictions Friday meant to blunt the spread of the virus, including a ban on public gatherings.
"Interzonal 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 8 p.m. and end at 4 a.m. 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 5 percent of the population, or 146,299 people, are fully vaccinated.
Vaccine slow to arrive
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."
This week, Botswana took its first delivery from Johnson & Johnson, with 108,000 COVID vaccine doses arriving. The country also received 38,400 doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine on August 8.