It took a long time coming but the police are finally doing something that they should have done minutes after President Mokgweetsi Masisi assented to the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020 – aggressively going after people who wilfully go maskless in public.
By the time you read this, thousands of mask-law breakers would (thankfully) have been charged at police stations across the country. The order to more rigorously enforce mask-wearing law was cascaded from the Commissioner of Police, Keabetswe Makgophe as COVID-19 cases doubled last Tuesday. The order cascaded from Makgophe to Officers Commanding to station commanders to officers who patrol the streets. Towards that end, an “urgent” savingram from the Divisional Commander North, Israel Tuelo, titled “Intensification of Enforcement of COVID-19 Protocols by Members of the Botswana Police Service” was issued last Wednesday. The savingram says that a decision has been taken to suspend all leave-taking by police officers with immediate effect. All officers currently on leave are therefore instructed to immediately report at their duty stations.”
It has always been evident that Botswana was regressing in the fight against COVID-19 because wearing a mask or not wearing it properly was becoming a norm – even at the Office of the President (OP). During the lockdown, some donors to the COVID-19 Relief Fund violated this law right under the nose of Vice President Slumber Tsogwane. The latter denied that mask-wearing law was being violated at OP when Sunday Standard published an article to that effect but found himself defenceless when a follow-up article published photographic evidence. Police officers were themselves part of the problem because enforcement was very weak.
Until a vaccine is found, mask-wearing is the only way to contain the spread of COVID-19 but for a very strange reason, some people are actively resisting this very simple health measure. While some don’t wear it altogether, others hang it around the neck or cover the mouth only. However, Section 2 (3) (a) (ii) (aa) of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020 is very clear on the fact that a face mask or home-made item should cover one’s nose and mouth. The situation is even worse in small villages that don’t have police presence. During the President’s Day holidays, Sunday Standard visited Ditshukudu, a small village west of Lentsweletau, and didn’t encounter a single person wearing a mask.
Oddly, some of the people who are willfully disobeying health advice rely on a hugely deficient public health care system which they would have to turn to if they contract COVID-19. Masks are themselves very cheap – some cost as little as P2 at Chinese shops. It is highly likely that in choosing to go maskless or not wear a mask properly, one can infect a whole community and occasion a public health emergency that will rack up hundreds of millions of pula in medical care costs.
The people who are resisting mask law are also putting the lives of infants in danger and Childline Botswana has expressed grave concern about the potentially infanticidal misconduct of pro-coronavirus adults who continue to flout the mandatory mask law. In the process, these adults endanger the lives of infants who can’t wear face masks themselves because it is not medically safe for them to do so.
Another provision of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020 that the police have started enforcing more rigorously is that relating to social distancing.
Interestingly, rigorous enforcement of these regulations would obviate the need for the government to periodically lock down Greater Gaborone, which includes Gaborone proper, the country’s industrial and commercial nerve centre. It is tragic that it is only now that the government, the police especially, is waking up to the reality that more aggressive enforcement of the mask-wearing and social distancing mandates would contain the spread.