Botswana borders should remain locked to manage Covid-19

SHARE   |   Monday, 25 May 2020   |   By Adam Phetlhe
Botswana borders should remain locked to manage Covid-19

It doesn’t require rocket science see that all the Covid-19 cases were imported resulting in local contacts spreading the virus throughout the country. It could suggest that had Botswana locked her borders earlier than is the case, and that those who arrived from the red zones were quarantined as soon as they reached points of entry, we could possibly still be at zero Covid-19 cases. But whatever stringent preventative measures are put in place, human beings being human beings still manage to beat those measures to cross the borders to import the virus. That said, preventative measures put in place by the Covid-19 Task Team have by and large prevented bigger numbers of imported cases and consequently, reduced local transmissions notwithstanding the numbers we currently have.

If my memory serves me well, Botswana is one of those countries with fewer numbers of Covid-19 cases compared to her other immediate neighbours whether with active, recovered and fatalities. The biggest threat to our borderline is South Africa whose confirmed Covid-19 numbers and fatalities are growing exponentially. News 24, a South African news platform, reports that “it is projected that 40,000 people are expected to die from Coronavirus in South Africa by November, 1 million people will be infected and the country is unlikely to have enough ICU beds at the peak of the pandemic….this according to a presentation by a group of scientists advising the government on projections and modelling to inform policy and regulations.” By any account, this is a chilling piece of information any Motswana wouldn’t want to hear because it has a direct socio-economic bearing on the country and her citizens in many respects. Gauteng province, which is the economic hub from which formal and informal trade between itself and Botswana is very high in terms of individual small businesses, big businesses and government, is the second to the Western Cape in terms of the latest confirmed Covid-19 numbers. This means the amount of human and vehicular traffic that crosses the border into and out of the Gauteng province daily on a normal day is by any account huge. By the sheer amounts of these movements, it goes without saying that the number of Covid-19 cases from the province in particular and South Africa in general would be overwhelming on Botswana in almost all respects. And this is how.

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These numbers will without doubt and on a daily basis bring untold strain on the frontline health workers at the busiest border post like Tlokweng in terms of fatigue and psychological considerations given that health workers are reportedly thin in numbers. The current stand-off between these workers particularly the nursing fraternity represented by Botswana Nursing Union (BONU) with respect to Personal Protective Equipment and other related issues is bound to exacerbate the situation. This could lead to poor and/or slow screening and testing of those entering the country. The current congestion at this border and probably other busy borders with the border closed to normal human and vehicular traffic services should give an indication of how a fully opened border will look like. From the border, those who test positive provided there are testing kits which provide results in a shorter period like an hour or two, would have to be quarantined. This would as well put untold strain on quarantine facilities in more ways than one. Currently, cargo trucks that have been cleared to deliver have to be escorted by the police together with those in transit. As good as not saying it, this will put a huge strain on police resources which have already been stretched before the advent of Covid-19. Imagine the foregoing being the order of the day when the borders are fully operational and the potential risk of increased and imported Covid-19 cases from South Africa in particular and anywhere else in general. Those who are currently on the ground and providing border services can better explain the scenario better for us.

With the above said, the wheels of economic activity should turn as well in order to inject life into the economy because such is imperative to support and finance the fight against Covid-19. This, inevitably, brings the complex question of whether to keep the borders closed (save for the essential cargo) as long as the Covid-19 graph in South Africa keeps increasing in the interests of saving lives or, take the fatal risk of opening them to inject life into the economy. It is not in dispute that the continued lockdown of Botswana’s border is bringing untold suffering to the economy at all levels. Livelihoods of those Batswana who heavily rely on intra trade with the South African market for their businesses to thrive and prosper have been severely hit and cannot be understated. This is the sad reality brought about by Covid-19.

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While the question of continued border lockdown is a compelling argument to make and that economically speaking, such will have a disastrous effect on Botswana’s economy, tough choices have to be made. It is either we swim or sink and I think given the precarious situation brought by the daily and rising Covid-19 numbers in South Africa which I have already stated that they have a direct socio-economic bearing in more ways than one on Botswana, it is in our interests to keep the borders locked down to contain and manage Covid-19 pandemic for a better tomorrow. Those who have the privilege of watching international news channels can attest to the traumatic scenes of how developed countries like the US, UK, Italy are overwhelmed by their medical facilities failure to treat Covid-19 patients who would have reached chronic stages let alone patients themselves hanging on a thin thread to dear life. No one would wish those scenes on any human being or country. But if we open the borders, we will, wittingly or unwittingly, be inviting the scenes I have just described. Projections made by the South African scientists and referred to above should be uppermost in our minds.

With the palpable overhanging danger posed by the imported cases of Covid-19 and by no means not downplaying the internal threat, it will be tragic, treasonous, unpardonable and unforgiveable if the Covi-19 Task Team together with government opened our borders for economic activity to resume for all the scientific evidence is there for all to see. Like I have already said, we have to make a choice of whether we swim or sink. I would rather swim than sink. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

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