As the deadly COVID – 19 coronavirus continues to spread its pernicious tentacles across the globe including at neighbouring countries, largely in South Africa, Batswana are slowly being forced into a new way of having to go about their daily lives.
While early indications are that for the wealthy Batswana, self-quarantining and social distancing has been their first option as advised by health authorities, the large majority in the capital Gaborone have no option but to continue appearing in public spaces. This include daily use of public transport such as long-distance buses and shared taxis as their livelihoods depend on being present at their places of employment or final destinations.
Following a series of cautions from the global media and government enclave, members of the public have however now becoming hyperconscious about physical contact. This leaves the public transport operators in limbo as their greatest fear is that should the members of public find alternative ways to get to work, their businesses will go down the drain.
The Public transport operator’s immediate worry is however lack of adequate information on the deadly virus from the government enclave. To date, the operators still rely on both the private and public media for developments of coronavirus and have not had contact with authorities at the government enclave to be briefed on possible mitigations.
This week, the director of Job and Inno transport – Innocent Motabuka said that, “No one from the government has come to us to discuss the way forward with Corona virus, either from the transport ministry or health ministry. The information we get about COVID 19 is from social media, newspapers but either way no one has come to us to discuss preventive measures or raise awareness and we are now going to South Africa at our own risk.”
Motabuka operate public transport which runs between Gaborone and Johannesburg. He shared that the only reason they continue to go to South Africa is that most of them have bills to pay such as loans, school fees.
“We cannot really cease operations without a deep understanding of this virus. If we halt our business operations without any support the banks will come to repossess some of our vehicles as repayment for the credit, we got from them”, Motabuka expressed fears.
Still in the capital Gaborone some of the bus conductors who spoke on condition of anonymity shared similar fears and confusion as Motabuka.
They also highlighted that bus or travel fare in Botswana is collected hand to hand. It moves from the hands of customers to theirs as bus conductors, however there is nothing they can do except to take it as they cannot discriminate against customers. Bus conductors revealed that they do not have the expertise to assess who has Corona virus and who does not the only option they have is to hope for the best.
While some bus fares may be collected en route to the destination, another area that presents another channel for possible transmission of Corona Virus is booking stations for bus operators who want to conduct their operations in more upmarket way. Officers station there revealed that some of their bosses prefer clients pay in cash, so the mobile payment or digital payment methods are not preferred by a lot of transport operators and business owners.
By the end of this week, the Health and Wellness Director – Dr Malaki Tshipayagae revealed that the government is yet to begin stakeholder engagements. He said they are currently developing a strategy as the issue is a multi stakeholder type.
Meanwhile in the air transportation, the government has since closed almost all the aerodromes across the country except four major ones – Maun, Kasane, SSKIA and Francistown. The Civil Aviation Authority Botswana said that this was to combat the spread of COVID 19. The closed Aerodromes will only be restricted to operate as domestic airports only.