At a time that it is a legal requirement to wear a face mask, no less a place than the hallowed grounds of the Office of the President has become an epicentre for flagrant and televised violation of this very important infection-control protocol.
On an almost daily basis, there is a businessperson or organisation donating money to the COVID-19 Relief Fund. Vice President Slumber Tsogwane and the the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Kabo Morwaeng, are always on hand to feature at mock-cheque presentation ceremonies that are held on OP grounds. On the basis of what has been observed so far, infection-control protocols that have been codified into public health law following two special session of parliament are being willfully flouted and no action is being taken against the culprits. This is happening at the highest office in the land and with the second citizen, himself a custodian of COVID-19 law on account of being a legislator, standing only a few centimetres away.
This past Tuesday was an unusually busy day at OP in as far as donating to the Fund goes. However, this good deed was also marred by flouting extreme social distancing and face-mask protocols. When the Ghanaian Community of Botswana donated P100 000 and posed for pictures with the over-sized mock cheque, only Tsogwane wore a mask – the three Ghanaian men representing the Community didn’t. This contravened Section 2 (3) (ii) (aa) of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020 which says that a person in public shall wear a face mask or home-made item or appropriate item that covers the nose and mouth. Even children are required to wear masks in public places; the only people who are exempted from this legal requirement are those with disabilities and only on written say-so of a medical practitioner.
On the same day, COVID-19 infection-control protocols were also flouted during mock-cheque ceremonies featuring officials from the Botswana Tribal Administration Service Association, the Botswana Democratic Party Women’s Wing, Mazars, AWIL College, The Old Apostolic Church, the Association of Former Members of Botswana Parliament and Kerala Samajam Botswana.
By ill-starred twist of events, giving has become a spectator sport and what decades ago would have been given quietly in private, now has to attract a crowd. This practice has been taken up even by religious organisations who, across the board, are uniformly required by religious texts they use, to be discreet in their charity. From a common-sense perspective, it would make a lot of sense to suspend this public show of philanthropy in aid of extreme social distancing but that is not happening. If extreme social distancing is strictly observed, only two people (the recipient and the donor) should be able to hold a mock cheque, one on each end. However, some donors show up at OP in groups of three or four and each is eager to appear in the picture. The result is that donors jostle for a prime spot along the length of the cheque, forming a knot that flouts the extreme social-distancing protocol.
It has been established that while face masks protect the mouth and nose, COVID-19 can spread through the eyes. Flouting infection-control protocols in as blatant a manner as currently happens at OP’s mock-cheque presentation ceremonies means that even where social extreme social distancing would have had mitigatory effect, the people forming a knot to pose for pictures expose their eyes to the risk of infection.
It is probably difficult to tell someone who is going to give the nation money at a time of great financial need to comply with public health law but the implications of non-compliance can be far-reaching and fatally devastating. To some people watching this on Btv or seeing pictures afterwards, this non-compliance sends the wrong message.