The first case of the novel coronavirus in Rwanda landed on March 8 from India. He didn’t show any symptoms upon arrival. On March 13, while exhibiting mild symptoms, he reported to the nearest health center. One day later, his worst fears were confirmed.
Fighting the pandemic of this scale is a tall order but the Commander-in-Chief sounded assuring. "As always, we will overcome these difficult times through solidarity and working together. This will require the discipline Rwandans have always shown in confronting challenges and getting good results." He twitted. An anonymous person shared that tweet and highlighted its three key words: solidarity, together and discipline.
As Rwandans across the country were coming to terms with the fact that the highly contagious disease was finally in their small, densely populated country, four more cases were confirmed, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to five, barely twenty-four hours after the confirmation of the first case. Three days later, the number had risen to eleven.
The invasion of the lethal virus changed our lives drastically. For the first time in our history, we got rid of the social habits that define us. Our affectionate hugs and seemingly unbreakable physical ties became history all of a sudden. In addition, we closed schools and churches. We started drifting away from one another. We adapted weird routines and strange vocabulary.
On March 20, I mentioned that I was breathing a little easier because it had been almost two days without a new case. I wrote that day’s piece while drinking coffee at Blackstone Lounge found on the second floor of KBC building. When I came back home, immediately after publishing the post, six new cases had been recorded. The total number of confirmed cases had reached seventeen. That was the last time I left the house.
Following the lockdown announced by the Office of the Prime Minister, non-essential service providers started observing what is now considered a civic duty — staying at home. The government is currently distributing free supplies to the most affected people, particularly those who live from hand to mouth.
Today, the number of cases is seventy and counting but observers have noticed an encouraging sign. According to the figures obtained from the Ministry of Health, thirty-four out of seventy cases were isolated upon arrival in designated facilities prior to their diagnosis. That means they didn’t spread the virus in the country. Thirteen are contacts of previously confirmed cases identified through tracing. Mandatory isolation in designated facilities, speeding up tracing and instituting a lockdown when planes are grounded and borders are closed will undoubtedly slow down the spread of the virus and enable us to cover ground.
On March 22, the number of cases almost doubled, causing a fresh wave of fear among the people. Speaking to the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA), the Minister of Health, Dr. Daniel Ngamije linked the sharp rise to the testing of the last entrants who had traveled from or transited through severely affected countries.
Passenger flights were halted on March 20 and borders were closed a day later. Returning nationals and foreign residents are subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine in designated facilities. With the vast majority of Rwandans complying with the government’s directives and refraining from unnecessary movements, the curve will be flattened and the disease will eventually be contained. We have a long way to go in this uphill struggle but numbers are showing a promising trajectory.
Winning this war is not an easy feat but losing it is not an option. The aftermath of this historic battle will present new challenges but the three words highlighted by the anonymous sharer of the Commander-in-Chief’s tweet sound assuring.
The author is a travel enthusiast whose mission to discover Rwanda’s tourist attractions is suspended until further notice. He is currently staying home for obvious reasons.