Botswana has recently experienced a dramatic surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. Government communicated through the Presidential Task Force Team that there were new positive cases that were recorded in Mogoditshane, Oodi and Gaborone respectively.
On Wednesday evening, Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Lemogang Kwape said the country recorded 30 new cases. It also emerged that a patient tested positive for COVID-19 at Bokamoso private hospital, and during contact tracing eleven people tested positive for the virus in Mogoditshane. According to an official communique from government, ten of these people were students.
Further, a Motswana who is an essential service provider tested positive for the deadly virus following a failure to quarantine upon arrival in the country. The country also recorded a new case caused by illegal border crossing by a citizen in Good Hope.
In respect of cases in Gaborone, a Motswana adult male with no travel history tested positive for the virus at Gaborone Private Hospital. Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force team, Dr Kereng Masupu said in a statement that these positive results mean that the country is likely to experience a surge in local COVID-19 cases.
Following extensive contact tracing to investigate COVID-19 cases that were recorded early this week, the task force team indicated that four educational institutions in Gaborone were exposed to Coronavirus. In a statement, the team designated that the Botswana Open University, Masa primary school, Bonnington Secondary School as well as Terrence private school had traces of the COVID-19 virus.
However, the health experts shared that officials have been deployed to carry out extensive assessments and course of action on the alleged cases at the four institutions. The group also advised parents, guardians and employees of these institutions to self-quarantine until they are cleared.
When addressing the nation on Wednesday, Deputy Coordinator of the task force team Professor Mosepele Mosepele said they have realized a worrying trend of a big surge in local spread of the virus, something that never happened before.
‘’We are experiencing a double increase in the number of cases in the country. Exactly two weeks ago, our COVID-19 cases were at seventy and double to one hundred and forty. This is a great concern, as the number of deaths have now reached two. In our statement released yesterday (Tuesday), we indicated that Mogoditshane has become a high risk zone as students and a teacher were infected in one school.
It is an extreme distress because these children live with parents, siblings and most of them use public transport, so chances that they have spread the virus are very high.’’ His team is investigating the source of the recently recorded cases that include 22 children from one school in the capital Gaborone, he said. Mosepele stressed that it is a trial to contact trace these cases as registration in public transport is not done efficiently.
‘’Batswana has now diverted to disregarding some of the health protocols. It is difficult to do contact tracing as people who use public transport do not keep a register of the passengers. We have since observed that some people gather together in private and public places in large numbers, and to a certain extent, some host parties and social sessions. We do not put up with these occurrences and events, as the virus is now rapidly spreading.’’
There was a holiday in the country two weeks back and prior to that local cases were reported to be at seventy. According to Director of health Services Dr Malaki Tshipayagae, the holiday might have contributed to the surge in positive cases as many cases of illegal gatherings were reported.
Botswana had been doing relatively well in managing the spread of the virus since the first case was recorded in March. The country has to date recorded two deaths from the virus and over 80 percent of cases had been those of foreign national who were on transit or truck drivers delivering essential goods.
Tshipayagae further expressed concerns about the dangers posed by people who cross borders at illegal points, especially to neighboring South Africa which has recorded over 400,000 cases and over 6,000 deaths. Botswana borders remain closed, except for essential travel that has to be authorized.
He said if the situation gets worse than it is, they will be forced to undertake other measures to prevent further spread of the virus, including a lockdown. The country was on lockdown for almost two months between April and May, but was slowly opened up to allow the economy to run.
Minister of Health and Wellness on Wednesday evening placed Gaborone under total lockdown for a period of two weeks following an “unexpected turn” in the number of new COVID-19 cases. He made the announcement in a televised public address via a national television, Botswana Television, saying the city will go under lockdown from midnight. This follows an announcement of 30 new cases in the last 24 hours in a city of an estimated 231, 000 people, he said.
“During the course of this week, the disease has taken an unexpected turn. This now requires us to place the greater Gaborone COVID-19 zone under lockdown for a minimum period of two weeks,” said Kwape. Kwape said that a period of two weeks is enough to enable health authorities to contain the disease.
The third edition of lockdown in the Greater Gaborone zone sent anxious people racing for essentials as an unprecedented 14-day lockdown across the zone. Many shelves in the malls of Gaborone were stripped bare of staples as the country’s mostly affected zone lurched into a shutdown aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.
Some people were blocked at the Dibete checkpoint, trying to make way into another zone that is somehow free from the COVID-19 crisis. The law enforcement officers were called upon to settle the dust, and permit only essential service providers.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.