Gaborone, a small city of roughly 231,000 people within 169 km² of land mass, has been in and out of the news lately for an unusual turn of coronavirus-led events. The Botswana capital has had an unlikely mix of not just one but two coronavirus-controlled lockdowns amidst an economy that could be in a better place.
Africa remains the least coronavirus-affected region in the world in terms of cases, but most of the continent’s countries have instituted partial or nationwide lockdowns to curb the spread of the contagion. While South Africa’s is known to be one of the most severe around the globe, countries like Malawi, Ethiopia and Tanzania have managed to evade the restriction of movements.
The city with the world’s ninth-lowest cost of living for new residents from other countries has made yet another history: instituting two separate lockdowns in a space of two months. Gaborone went on a 48-day lockdown for its first attempt flatten the Covid-19 curve. It was on May 21 (2020) that the government of Botswana eased the restrictions, allowing schools and businesses to resume operations.
On Friday (June 12th, 2020) the city became the first in Africa to institute a second lockdown. The government of the diamond-rich country reinstated the strict movement controls in the greater Gaborone region after health officials reported 8 new cases of Covid-19 in one hospital.
Botswana’s director of health services, Dr Malaki Tshipayagae, said: “We are concerned because we did not know if it is a communal infection or a hospital-acquired infection, or [it] indicates significant local transmission, or whether there is some form of contamination at the facility. As a result, because of those factors, or unknowns, we have decided to shut down or lock down Greater Gaborone.”
In other places in Africa, the virus cases have been on the increase, but governments have been able to stay their hand in order to not take the economies back to the dark place they were when lockdowns were more commonplace. South Africa, which has the highest Covid-19 tally in Africa, is trying to ease its lockdown to reduce the impact on businesses.
In a matter of 3 days, the lockdown in Botswana’s capital city was lifted. Yesterday (Monday 15th June, 2020), Gaborone and its surrounding areas were eased of the restriction as most of the cases reported initially turn out negative upon retesting. Hence, the reason for a second attempt to curb the spread of the virus was defeated.
In a televised announcement on local media, Botswana’s Tshipayagae said: “We ended up having a total of 16 new suspected local cases on Friday but from those, 10 have been confirmed to be negative whilst the results on the six remaining are still pending,” director of health services Malaki Tshipayagae said in a televised announcement.
Botswana currently has 60 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 24 recoveries and 1 fatality. But the 8-case deficit means the Southern African nation’s tally now stands at 52, making it one of the least-affected in its sub-region.
South africa remains the most affected country in Africa, having
73,533 cases at present. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the pandemic in accelerating in Africa, even though it has been less badly hit in comparison with countries from Europe, Asia and the Americas.
A return to lockdown in Gaborone had always been the cards. The restrictions have been gradually eased up in the past two weeks, allowing only selected economic sector to operate—mines, for instance. However, clear-cut criteria have been set for businesses and academic institutions that wish to resume, including body temperature checks, consistent disinfection and mask wearing.
Botswana’s economy has been severely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, no different from other African countries and those from other continents. The government expects that the country’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to drop by 13 percent this year. Nevertheless, Moody—a leading credit ratings agency—forecast that the economy will contract by 7 percent. Either ways, an impact is an impact.
While Botswana’s budget deficit has been climbing up the hill, the country has had a hard time selling its diamonds for the last 3 months wherein Covid-19 quite struck. Buyers from diamond cutting polishing centers—a good number of whom visit the country about 19 times annually—have been unable to make entry as a result of the global travel ban.
Apart from putting lives at risk, the novel coronavirus pandemic shocked African economies, the results of which are lower trade and investment from China, a slump in demand and an commodity-driven, all of which creates an avenue for the country to take advantage of the ongoing African Freed Trade Agreement. Covid-19 threatens Africa’a commodity-driven growth models, a good number of which have failed to create more jobs or maintain wellbeing.
“Lower mineral, particularly diamond, and non-mineral revenue and fiscal measures to contain the effect of the pandemic will contribute to the fiscal deficit widening to close to 10 percent of the GDP in fiscal 2020 from an estimated 4 percent in fiscal 2019 and remaining close to six percent of GDP in fiscal 2021 as the impact of lower Southern African Customs Union revenue materialized with a one-year lag,” Moody said.
Botswana is Africa’s best safari country, but the global downturn of the tourism industry means patience must be a little more exercised as things are set to go back to normal.
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