President Mokgweetsi Masisi has criticised the international ban imposed on Southern African countries due to the Omicron coronavirus variant. Some of the countries that have imposed travel bans include the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.
Addressing the nation on Wednesday evening, Masisi said the action defeats the spirit of multilateral cooperation in dealing with the global pandemic. Botswana has confirmed 19 cases of Omicron variant.
“The decision to ban our citizens from travelling to certain countries was hastily made and is not only unfair but is also unjustified while remaining confident that reason and logic will prevail, the harshness of the decision has the effect of shaking our belief in the sincerity of declared friendship and commitment of equality and economic prosperity for us,” he said.
Masisi also said local COVID-19 genomic surveillance, which actively monitors COVID-19 variants in Botswana, picked four samples that were concerning and discovered a completely new variant. He indicated that scientists are still studying the new variant to amongst others establish; how quickly it can spread, how it might make people sick and the efficacy of various COVID-19 vaccines against it.
The President said government and experts made such decisions in accordance with international obligations, as a responsible member State under the International Health Regulations of 2005, they submitted the suspected new variant for the entire global scientific community to respond to this early finding. And shortly after submission, the South Africa also submitted a similar concerning variant.
“We are carefully monitoring all our key COVID-19 pandemic indicators as prescribed in our national response plans such as flu clinic visits, COVID-19 hospitalisation rate, laboratory positivity rate, disease burden per 100,000 persons, and isolation bed occupancy,” he added.
Still on the issue of COVID-19, the President said there are some people who flagrantly disregard the health protocols particularly at social gatherings and entertainment events, which have a great potential to be super-spreaders of the virus.
He emphasised that such a behavioural attitude is unacceptable as it can only work to reverse the gains that we have made so far as a country.
“As of November 26, 2021, a total of 195,068 COVID-19 cases and 2,418 deaths had been reported. We have been steadily witnessing a decrease in the number of new cases and deaths in the last three months. We are currently reporting an average of fewer than 10 infections per 100,000 people compared to 648 cases per 100,000 people at the peak of the third wave,” he said.
“We have also observed a gradual decline in hospitalisations across the country with an average of less than 10 patients at a time at Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH) and our other health facilities countrywide.”
He said the situation is comforting although it still does not warrant any complacency in terms of behaviour and other attitudinal patterns towards this dreadful disease.
The President said as government, they recommit themselves to intensifying their COVID-19 genomic surveillance and engaging each other on enhancing all the other non-pharmaceutical measures that have proved effective in containing the spread and transmission of the virus.
On the development regarding vaccination, the President said as of November 29, 2021, an estimated 1,053 ,361 people have been vaccinated, which translates to 75.7% of the target Batswana citizens and residents over the age of 18 years who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“A total of 950,973 people translating to 68.4% have been fully vaccinated. This number exceeds the 64% target we had set for ourselves to achieve by end of December 2021. I want to inform you that initially, our targeted population eligible for vaccination was 1.5 million people. However, Statistics Botswana has revised the target to be 1.3 million and these figures are based on the number. This is a remarkable achievement in view of the vaccine delivery challenges that we continue to face, not only as Botswana but also in most parts of the continent,” he said.
Masisi said as much as the cases have been consistently low, government through the different ministries leading the different sectors, has been working tirelessly to prepare for potential outbreaks and a fourth wave.
He stated that some of the initiatives that have been implemented or are ongoing include installation of oxygen generating plants and increasing skilled human capacity amongst others.
Masisi said currently there are 2,363 isolation beds in public health facilities that are available for those who may need to be cared for in health facilities. “As of 29th November 2021, 57 isolation beds were occupied bringing our bed occupancy to 2%. Those who do not need hospitalisation may be isolated at home,” he said.