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B-FAR Calls For Prudence In Extended State of Emergency

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While we acknowledge that the outbreak of COVID-19 has been a huge disruptor and massive threat to human lives and livelihoods across the world, it is the last thing anyone can use to justify neglect of obligations, brazen acts of corruption and dictatorial tendencies and that have festered during this crisis here at home. Our eyes have to get back on the ball and to those election promises.

The Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR) notes with apprehension government’s recent extension of the State of Public Emergency (SOPE) by a further six months in an attempt to curtail the spread and transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic. The extension has been made despite the difficulty government had in justifying and accounting for the initial SOPE. Instead we note disturbing reports of corruption in the awarding of tenders and profit gouging in the government procurement processes during the just ended SOPE and shudder to imagine continued manipulation of this crisis.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has been considered as the most crucial global health calamity of the century and the greatest challenge that humankind has faced since the 2nd World War. While it is foremost a human tragedy affecting hundreds of thousands of people, it is also having a devastating impact on the global economy and it is a travesty to see government use this human tragedy as a gimmick for political expediency.

From the onset, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended extreme social distancing and lockdowns to break the chain of transmission and allow governments the space and time to adequately resource their health care systems. Available data indicates that Botswana has not reached its peak of COVID-19 infections and that following the initial lockdown, government has not bolstered the capacity of the health care system to handle the anticipated surge in COVID-19 infections and cases that will require critical care.

The WHO global epidemiological update presents data-driven analyses that reflect predictable trends for the disease. The data collected indicates that the number of the positive cases in a population ranges between 1 – 2% and that the typical COVID-19 critical cases in a population always remains around 1%. Botswana has a population of 2.2 million people and currently has 3000 COVID-19 positive cases.

Using the mathematical models in this scenario to determine global COVID-19 trends, we can deduce that statistically between 1 and 2% Batswana have the potential to become infected with the disease. This translates into 22 000 to 44 000 people and the exponential growth remains possible whether lockdowns or a state of emergency are imposed. Regarding the scenario of COVID-19 critical cases and the global epidemiological trend of only 1% of the population, this translates to an estimate of between 200 and 400 critical cases for Botswana. We do not wish to predict doom upon ourselves, but we wish to point out dangers ahead so that government can do the best to protect us as a nation.

Given the foregoing, the emerging global trend has seen countries building the capacity of their national health care systems and easing travel restrictions and lockdowns even among countries that have not yet passed peaks in infections. On account of experiences already gained from dealing with the pandemic, a journal called The Lancet published an article in September 2020 titled “Lessons Learnt From Easing COVID-19 Restrictions.” This article describes a framework that is useful to follow in determining whether a country enters, stays in or exits any form of restriction. The five key points of this framework are: 1) Knowledge of Infectious Status (studying patterns from the testing exercises and continuously mapping possible outcomes), 2) Health System Capacity (improving it so that it can handle anticipated pressure), 3) Public Health Capacity (improving it so that it can help contain spread), 4) Community Engagement (being transparent, engaging the community and trusting the community to engage responsibly), and 5) Measures for Border Control (to arrest external impact).

As a nation, we have so far witnessed rampant abuse of the SOPE and government continuing to place pressure on an already fragile and compressed economy by extending the SOPE in the absence of lessons learnt and without a clear justification. Given the emerging global trends around the pandemic, the future for Batswana – both healthwise and socio-economically – can be very bad; it requires absolute prudence and foresighted commitment. We need an immediate change of attitude, away from myopic self-enrichment and political expediency, and towards a committed and transparent plan by the government for the nation to effectively deal with, survive and live with the pandemic. Such a plan should consciously consider that we are far from being over the hill.

We note that the ruling party won the 2019 elections on a 15 point manifesto that promised to improve service delivery, fight corruption, nurture an inclusive government, guarantee free media, and initiate a comprehensive constitution and policy review, among others. However, what we observed instead was poor consultation in the constitution of the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force. Poor consultation continued to hamper the orderly procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and smooth distribution of food during the national lockdown. This not only scuttled government’s promise of improved service delivery but also created another cesspit of corruption.

As if this is not enough, we are also aware of the arrest of media practitioners and the blatant silencing of political and non-political voices of dissent during the past SOPE. While we acknowledge that the outbreak of COVID-19 has been a huge disruptor and massive threat to human lives and livelihoods across the world, it is the last thing anyone can use to justify neglect of obligations, brazen acts of corruption and dictatorial tendencies and that have festered during this crisis here at home. This has to stop. Our eyes have to get back on the ball and to those election promises.

In light of the forgoing, B-FAR states its displeasure with the performance of government over the ended SOPE and requests government to redeem itself. The five-step framework presented by The Lancet is recommended, and must begin with an audit of the COVID-19 Fund, together with the food and PPE procurement during the nationwide lockdown. Such a move is not only critical in fighting the pandemic and surviving it but is also in the interests of a clean and transparent governance and will go a long way in restoring public confidence in government’s handling of the COVID-19 and similar epidemics.

Continue to observe COVID-19 precautions to the letter and stay safe.
FATSHE LENO LA RONA!

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