Sunday, March 15, 2020

Calls for ban on public gatherings and border closure as Swaziland hit by coronavirus

Calls are growing in Swaziland (eSwatini) for the borders to be shut, mass gatherings banned and schools to be closed as the coronavirus spreads in the kingdom.

Swaziland had one confirmed case as of Sunday (15 March 2020).

Submissions made by the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) stakeholders said people travelled into neighbouring South Africa daily and this might encourage the spread of the virus.

Sicelile Zwane, of the National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA), said the Ministry of Health should to issue a statement on public gatherings. 

The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) a vocal critic of the government stepped up its calls for action. It had previously called for a temporary closure of all schools, colleges and universities and now wants to see all public gatherings such as community meetings, nightclubs, gyms, church services such as the national Easter services, and celebrations such as the upcoming King’s birthday, stopped indefinitely. 

In a statement widely circulated on social media it also called for all borders and points of entry such as the King Mswati III Airport closed down.

It added, ‘The Government must engage in a vigorous activity of distributing masks, sanitisers and other protective gear to Swazi citizens, particularly in public places such as towns, cities, malls and churches. This will enhance both adaptation and mitigation strategies.

‘All our health centres should be capacitated to a level at which they would be able to admit and deal with coronavirus cases.’

It added, ‘Our health practitioners must be adequately capacitated as well to handle such novel cases.’

Meanwhile the Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini at a press conference urged people not to hold large gatherings but he did not issue a ban on them. Sports events and the Bushfire Festival in Swaziland have already been postponed.

He announced an external travel ban for politicians and government officials for ‘the next couple of weeks’.

Swaziland registered its first coronavirus case on Friday (13 March 2020.) It was a 33-year old woman who was said to have returned from the United States at the end of February and then went to Lesotho. She returned to Swaziland on 7 March.

She was admitted to Lubombo Referral Hospital where she was said to be in a stable condition.

Lubombo is one of only two facilities in Swaziland that have been identified to quarantine patients. Health workers at the hospital protested that they had not been equipped to deal with coronavirus patients.

Bheki Mamba, president of the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU), said the hospital itself was not ready to receive the patient and the room that was identified as the place where patients would be quarantined did not even have a bed. Nurses had no protective clothing. 

He told the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland, ‘Everything is now being done hurriedly. The room is just not proper to accommodate someone who is being quarantined because it doesn’t have its own toilet yet the patient should do everything in isolation to avoid him getting into contact with other people.’

The Times reported,  ‘Mamba stated that it would be difficult for health care workers to respond to this case because of the lack of equipment and medical supplies.’

Mamba said, ‘We’ve spoken many times about the issue of equipment and staff shortage but government is failing to cooperate with us to address the challenges of staff, equipment and staff.’ He added his union met with government for the first on Friday.

See also

Swaziland teachers’ union calls for all schools, colleges and universities to close in wake of coronavirus

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