As South Africa went into its coronavirus lockdown on Friday 26 March, in neighbouring Botswana, President Mokgweetsi Masisi took to Facebook to tell his people to “please prepare yourselves” for something similar.
“Our experts, led by Dr Masupu and Professor Alexandra, advise us to restrict the movement of people so we are better able to trace and treat any case that occurs,” said Masisi.
Meanwhile, after an approach to the High Court in Lobatse by a family who had been quarantined at a Botswana border post, some hotels in the country have made rooms available, free of charge, to those required to self-isolate.
News of South Africa’s action initially led to scenes of confusion at centres where people entering Botswana were being kept in quarantine in less-than-desirable conditions.
On 24 March the Ministry of Health and Wellness ordered the mandatory quarantine of all travellers.
People entering Botswana from South Africa through the Martin’s Drift, Ramatlabama, Pioneer Gate and Tlokweng border posts, as well as those arriving at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, were ordered to be held for 14 days in quarantine.
The statement said only Batswana and Botswana residents would be allowed into the country and that “anyone refusing mandatory quarantine would be liable for a fine”.
Reports began to emerge of less-than-satisfactory conditions at the “detention” centres, which were short of protective gear and other supplies.
The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (Hurisa) jointly called on the Botswana government “to take immediate measures to protect the rights of people, including children, in places of detention”.
One family approached the courts and on 25 March and Justice T Tau ordered that the Botswana government “without undue delay, is to provide segregated, sanitary and hygienic conditions with proper infection control and protection to [name withheld] and also others in quarantine during the period that they are required to be under quarantine”.
Government was also ordered to provide “means and sustenance” to all those quarantined “according to reasonable dietary requirements under the circumstances”.
Soon thereafter, an official with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr Lebabotswe Tlale, began talks with hotel owners to request assistance during the quarantine. So far, he said, businesses had been willing to volunteer services free of charge while others had requested assistance.
Daily Maverick has seen a letter from Masa Square Hotel to a patient in quarantine: “Welcome to the Masa Square Hotel, your home for the period of your quarantine. We are here to assist and serve you whilst you are here working within the guidelines that have been given to us by the minister of health. We will do our level best to ensure that your stay is as comfortable as we can make it.”
A WhatsApp message from a family member whose brother was placed in quarantine reported he had been placed “in an individual room and provided with WiFi. Apparently everything is spotless clean and the staff who have interacted with him today have been very friendly.”
Civil society groups in Botswana issued a statement applauding the government for “its actions and intervention measures” to date.
Earlier, Minister of Health and Wellness Lemogang Kwape ordered the closure of schools by 20 March.
Civil society groups have also called for the closure of all colleges and universities and for the rollout of a free flu vaccination programme — an option that is being considered. The groups called for “continued proactive testing of our frontline officials, namely healthcare workers, law enforcement officials and other essential service providers”.
To cut through fake news that is being circulated, the government should delegate a “National Spokesperson” on all issues related to Covid-19, said the groups. Other requests included a halt to the cutting of water supplies to debt-burdened households and “measures to protect the economy during this period”.
In his message, President Masisi urged: “Take heed of and follow health professionals’ advice and instructions. Wash your hands with soap and water. Do not argue and be difficult because that does not help prevent Covid-19. Protect yourself and everyone else. Look after the old and young. God bless Botswana!” DM