The Swaziland (eSwatini) Government says it will feed 300,000 people – nearly a quarter of the entire population – over the next two weeks during the present coronavirus crisis. Reports from across the kingdom say people are close to death.
Ambrose Dlamini, the Swazi Prime Minister, made the announcement at a press briefing on Wednesday (22 April 2020). He did not say where the food would come from or who would pay for it.
Swaziland is broke and even before the coronavirus outbreak hunger was widespread across the kingdom which is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. About 232,000 people (25 percent of the rural population) were expected to experience severe acute food insecurity this year, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).
The number of cases of coronavirus in Swaziland stands at 31. One person has died. Only 1,051 COVID-19 tests – from a population of 1.3 million – have been made in Swaziland. The Prime Minister said more than 62,000 people had been screened for the virus.
He said that the relaxation of a partial lockdown of Swaziland that he announced a week ago would be overturned. The partial lockdown had been in force since 27 March 2020.
He said, ‘Over the week of the extended partial lockdown, we have observed with concern that complacency among the populace is creeping in and an increasing number of people around the country are now casual and lack vigilance in preventing the transmission of the virus. The level of compliance to the measures which are aimed at curtailing the rapid spread of COVID-19 has dramatically dropped.
‘The number of people leaving their homes and places of residence for non-essential services has spiked up, potentially exposing themselves and others to COVID-19. It has almost become business as usual in our cities, towns and communities yet the partial lockdown measures are still in force.
‘Our health system cannot withstand an upsurge of infections in this Kingdom and neither are our resources adequate to manage an uncontrollable transmission of the virus.’
On 15 April 2020, announcing a relaxation of the lockdown he had said, ‘Projections from health professionals indicate that the partial lockdown measures may have delayed the onset of the infection peak by one to six months, and likely to have reduced the cumulative number of infections in eSwatini.’
Instead, the number of positive cases had nearly doubled in the past week.
The Prime Minister said Government had taken the decision to remove the relaxed measures of the partial lockdown with effect from Friday 24 April 2020. He said the kingdom’s security forces ‘will be vigilant in enforcing compliance’.
He said the following would apply.
1. In line with the COVID-19 Regulations, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade will issue revised guidelines regarding certain business operations.
2. Guidelines of the relaxed operation of public transport are removed. A new set of transport guidelines will be announced by the Minister of Public Works and Transport.
3. All the measures effected at the start of the partial lockdown on 27 March continue to be in full force. These include that:
• Non-essential travel between communities, towns, cities and regions is strictly prohibited for all citizens.
• All public and private gatherings exceeding 20 or more people are prohibited.
• Citizens and residents returning home from abroad will be quarantined for 14 days
• Visitation to hospitals is restricted
• Workers in non-essential services should work from home.
The Prime Minister said, ‘We are all learning on the go and as a result, now and again, Government will review these measures to adjust to the situation on the ground at any particular time.’
The Government had been criticised by the Swazi House of Assembly for not doing enough for the poor and not providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors, nurses and other health workers.
The Prime Minister made a number of pledges that would be fulfilled over the coming two weeks. He did not give details of how these would be achieved.
1. Provide food assistance to the most vulnerable of our society that have been adversely affected by the COVID 19 pandemic. The food assistance will benefit over 300,000 individuals from 63,000 households across all four regions of the Kingdom.
2. Government will ensure availability of face masks to minimize the spread of the virus.
3. We will increase the number of ventilators available in the Kingdom to assist COVID-19 positive cases.
4. Over a thousand scanners will be made available to help upscale the screening process.
5. Government will intensify screening and testing for COVID-19 symptoms.
6. Intensify contact tracing as an important element of identifying potential cases in order to curb the spread of the virus.
7. Increase provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers. We are cognizant of the shortage of PPEs due to limited international supply. Government is intensifying the processes of sourcing PPEs and has encouraged local suppliers to produce some of this equipment.
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