Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Cash-strapped MoHW stops hotel quarantines with ‘immediate effect’

The only source of income there has been for cash-strapped hospitality establishments has also dried up because beginning last Thursday, hotels and lodges no longer accommodate Covid-19 restrictees.

A savingram to all District Health Management Teams that was signed by Dr. Tshepo Machacha on behalf of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, communicates a message which could result in some establishments closing down altogether.

“You are advised to stop isolation of Covid-19 patients in private facilities with immediate effect,” reads the July 22, 2021 savingram in which “stop” is written in capital letters and underlined. “We should do home isolation, where not possible isolate in public facilities.”

“Private facilities” refers to hospitality establishments in hotels and lodges that the Ministry has, since the start of the pandemic last year, been using to quarantine and isolate Covid-19 restrictees – being patients themselves and their parents or guardians in the case of minors. “Public facilities” refers to any government-owned building, including schools which were initially used for quarantines before a Gaborone resident and lawyer filed an urgent court application in March last year to essentially free his daughter from a quarantine facility of sub-standard sanitary conditions. When the application succeeded, many more people in a similar situation at public facilities across the country were moved into hotels and lodges.

The result was that for more than a year now, the government has been putting up restrictees at hospitality establishments. However, last month, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Wilfred Mandlebe, told the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that MoHW had exhausted its funds for the 2021/22 financial year – which ends in March 2022.

As Sunday Standard reported last month, payment for the services these establishments were providing took way too long and was woefully inadequate. The Ministry paid only P500 per guest-restrictee per day for accommodation, meals as well as standard housekeeping supplies and amenities. One hotel manager complained that P500 typically covers food only and that “to all intents and purposes, the accommodation and convenience amenities are provided free of charge.”

Considering the circumstances, this deal was almost a shakedown. The hospitality industry is one of the worst Covid-affected and operating on the half-a-loaf-is-better-than-nothing rationale, some establishments were forced to accept what was without doubt a very raw deal. Another hotel manager said that business was so slow that one felt almost grateful when the District Health Management Teams, which administered Covid quarantines, called to book guests.

With the July 22 savingram, the half a loaf has vanished. Worse still, accommodating Covid-guests also brought reputational risk for hotels and lodges. Some normal-paying guests are said to be very uncomfortable about staying in a hotel room that not too long ago accommodated people infected with a deadly disease.

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