Thursday, June 4, 2020

Nation waiting with bated breath as contact tracing intensifies

Botswana remains under a cloud of uncertainty as the nation steps into the second phase of government imposed COVID-19 lockdown. The following few days are expected to determine the intensity of the next seven day phase of the ‘Extreme Distancing’ which President Mokgweetsi Masisi said will be revised.

While the announcement of the first five recoveries of COVID-19 brought some glimmer of hope, the number of confirmed cases is expected to rise as the government intensifies contact tracing.

Some of the most affected countries around the world are already working to flatten the curve of the pandemic. Botswana is not quite there yet with the situation expected to get relatively worse before it gets better.

Botswana has so far recorded some of the lowest infections in the world.  The local health system has not yet felt the full brunt of the pandemic, which has overwhelmed healthcare systems across the world including those of superpowers such as the US which has recorded at least one million infections and over 60,000 deaths.

South Africa continues to record a surge in confirmed cases, most recently registering has high as over 300 cases a day.

Botswana’s confirmed cases have been, in contrast, few and far in between. There were 23 confirmed cases including one fatality and five recoveries at the time of gong to press.

However, the nation will have to wait for the conclusion of the contact tracing to determine the trajectory of the pandemic. At the commencement of the national lockdown early April, Botswana had only reported imported cases of COVID-19. The occurrence of locally transmitted COVID-19 cases has since grown. As at 25th April, 2020 Botswana had tested  6, 210 samples for testing, out of which 6188 tested negative with 23 positive cases including one fatality

“I am happy to report that the twenty one (21) cases that have tested positive are all asymptomatic and on the way to full recovery. Therefore, it is my ardent hope that in the fullness of time they will join their families,” President Masisi told the nation this week. The government is now racing against time to trace contacts of those infected.

With seven confirmed cases Metsimotlhabe village has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 infections.

“As Government, our strategic focus as advised by the COVID19 Presidential Task Force is the containment of the spread and transmission of the pandemic in the country,” Masisi has said. The discovery of locally transmitted cases has prompted the government to ramp up testing through contact tracing. A new cluster of COVID-19 outbreak was being actively investigated in Metsimotlhabe where a total of seven Batswana have tested positive for COVID-19. 

“These seven cases from the Metsimotlhabe outbreak were exposed to COVID-19 prior to the national lockdown and several Batswana who were not aware of their exposure, travelled to their home villages across the country. Active contact tracing and assessment for possible COVID-19 infection for all persons known to have been exposed in Metsimotlhabe is ongoing across the country with support from several local and international partners,” the President said.

Several public and private areas around Metsimotlhabe have since been treated as potentially infectious and fumigated. Medical teams have since been deployed to affected areas such as Ramotswa, Molepolole, Mahalapye, Bobonong, and Siviya to conduct active case finding following exposure to COVID-19. The results from the contact tracing, it seems, will determine the government’s next step in easing the lockdown regulations to allow return to normal business.

“It is on the basis of these findings that the COVID-19 Presidential Task Force advised that the national lockdown period as is be extended by one week starting from 1st May to 7th May 2020 and a further two weeks during which the lockdown would be sequentially eased,” Masisi.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Cabinet caught up in a web of P240 million Covid-19 Tender

The fast-tracked procurement processes adopted by Covid-19 Presidential Task Force will come under renewed scrutiny when Botswana Government this week receives a...