New COVID-19 variant casts a shadow on the Christmas season

  • Entertainment industry in a state of panic
  • MYSC says entertainment industry cannot aff ord closure
  • But President recently threatened a hard lockdown


Just like in the past year, Batswana could find themselves spending Christmas under a hard lockdown following confirmation of cases of a new Coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.529 in the country last week.

Hardly two months after the re-opening of the performance industry alongside the rest of the economy, the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoH) has confirmed that the new variant that is showing up at a party like an unwelcome gate crusher is the most infectious ever. Local scientists had initially reported four cases of the variant in foreign nationals who had entered Botswana on a diplomatic mission.

“Although the four cases have since left the country, contact tracing is ongoing and all contacts who have so far been identified in the country have no COVID-19 symptoms and have tested negative,” said the Permanent Secretary at MoH, Christopher Nyanga, in a press statement last week.

“More intimate and complex analysis of these new COVID-19 positive cases are being conducted to search for any trace of this new virus. Since this is a new development, information on the virus is still (being gathered) and no major conclusions can be drawn as yet.”

News of the new variant sent shockwaves throughout the country, filling show organizers with consternation for implications on their calendar of events for the festive season and money spent on pre-planning. Batswana were understandably delighted when vaccines cleared the way for artists to return to the stage but the new variant is likely to get in the way of the jolly good time of gigs and family gatherings.

“We knew we were living in unprecedented times but when the reality struck that we could back to a total shutdown, we got worried because events don’t come cheap,” promoter Lecco Kenosi told Time Out. “This also means that most of us will accumulate more debt without any source of income to pay for cancelled shows.”

But Gilbert “PP” Seagile of Gilbert Promotions is one bit optimistic and says it is important to be levelheaded and not to panic yet. “This is a 50/50 situation,” he said in an interview. “While some may naturally panic because we can’t tell the future, some promoters are really not troubled.”

Meanwhile, somewhat in line with Seagile’s thinking, the latest weekly COVID-19 report by the government has shown that the new variant has not sparked a spike in new cases of COVID-19 in the country as the numbers remain low. A month ago, President Mokgweetsi Masisi warned that he may be forced to shut down the entertainment industry and impose a heavy lockdown if the infection rate spikes because of carelessness at festivals and other mass events.

A weekend statement from the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture (MYSC) also warned event organizers and revellers of the repercussions of disregarding COVID-19 protocols, especially in the face of the new B.1.1.529 rapidly transmissible variant.

“A disregard of protocols at music festivals may leave government with no option but to review the current statutory instruments, including an entertainment ban,” the statement said. “The entertainment industry cannot afford closure. The ministry therefore appeals to both promoters and revellers to ensure COVID-19 prevention measures are complied with.”