Swaziland (eSwatini) has created a new offence of spreading rumours or ‘unauthentic information’ about the coronavirus (COVID-19) which carries a fine of E20,000 or up to five years imprisonment.
The Swazi Minister of Justice Pholile Shakantu made the announcement on Friday (27 March 2020) as the kingdom ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III started a 20-day partial lockdown.
Shakantu announced at a press conference the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Regulations 2020 issued under S43 of the Disaster Management Act of 2006 and approved by Parliament.
Shakantu also said, ‘The business sector is also cautioned against unfair practices including the hiking of prices especially on items considered essential at this time. Such person or business may face a fine not exceeding E500,000 (US$28,000).’
At the same press conference the Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Dr Simon Zwane said there were now nine confirmed cases of coronavirus cases in Swaziland. There had been no deaths.
Dr Zwane also said, ‘Government has been working with partners to conduct massive training for health workers in the area of COVID-19 response and case management. In total, 1,007 nurses have been trained on COVID-19. A total of 3,022 Rural Health Motivators (RHM) have been trained.’
He said there would be restrictions placed on patients at hospital. ‘Accompanying of patients seeking out-patient services will be limited to one person per patient. Hospital visiting hours for in-patients have now been reduced to twice per day and limited to only two visitors per patient.’
Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini said, ‘The rising number of positive cases is a cause for concern and an indication that we have no option but to be more attentive, tolerant and receptive to all the control and prevention measures that have been put in place.’
He also said the government would ensure that all essential goods and services continued to be available during the partial lockdown.
He ‘strongly advised’ people returning to Swaziland from South Africa and other high risk countries to immediately self-quarantine for 14 days ‘without exception.’
Dlamini added, ‘The measures being implemented for the next 20 days include suspending all unnecessary travel within cities, towns, communities and beyond, except for instances of providing or acquiring essential services such as healthcare, food, or banking services.’
He said, ‘The measures are now in full force and we expect all EmaSwati [Swazi people] to fully comply and abide by them without exception. The irresponsible actions of a few can put all of us in danger. The cost to our economy is high but the health and safety of citizens is paramount.’
He added, ‘Government has instructed employers to allow as many as possible employees to work from home.’
He said, ‘Essential businesses should continue operating at full strength with proper adherence to measures that will protect employees while those not included in the list are expected to scale down their operations and meet the appropriate standards, failing which they risk closure.’
Elsewhere, public transport would now only run in the early morning and the late afternoon, Chairman of the National Road Transportation Council Sihlangu Nhlabatsi announced on Thursday.
He said vehicles would have to observe the government’s directive involving the social distance of one metre between passengers; disinfection of vehicles and sanitisation of passengers at all times.
On Friday, Sports, Culture and Youth Minister Harries Bulunga announced the suspension of all forms of sport in the kingdom, including social sport.
The Eswatini Stock Exchange announced it would be closed from Friday until 15 April.
Foreign nationals, mainly South Africans, who entered Swaziland through border gates were given only 24 hours to conduct their business and leave the kingdom.
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