It’s May 3 and until yesterday, I hadn’t left the house since March 20. This is the last day of the total lockdown. A lot of people are excited and that’s understandable. However, the fight against COVID- 19 is far from over. We still have a long way to go.
The partial lifting of the lockdown won’t entertain unnecessary movement. Those who are in a position to work from home should keep doing so in order to decongest public places. It is everyone’s responsibility to adhere to the guidelines put in place for the successful implementation of the first phase of reopening the economy. Measures are being relaxed to allow us to go back to work but it is the trajectory of the infections that determines how much of our lost freedom is regained.
During the lockdown, I developed a habit of buying things online and using mobile money services. Lockdown or not, going to the bank shouldn’t necessarily be part of our regular errands anymore. Avoiding the banking halls’ long lines saves us time and money while keeping us safe.
Banks started introducing us to online and mobile banking services long before the acronym COVID- 19 was coined. We were slow to adapt to the new way of doing business until circumstances impelled us to embrace change.
Opening accounts and usual transactions like deposits, withdrawals and transfers can be done online. Similarly, bills can be paid and statements can be obtained online. Having fully integrated mobile solutions, the ease of transferring money from our bank accounts to our phones propels us a step closer to the cashless economy. In a near future, digital banking will be embedded in the rest of our daily activities.
The importance of avoiding unnecessary movement during the current global pandemic can’t be stressed enough. However, our digital banking infrastructure is still under construction. Some instances require us to visit branches.
Yesterday, a friend of mine who lives abroad, sent money to his aunt through me. I was supposed to collect the money wired via Western Union and deliver it to the final recipient because it’s not easy for her to access international money transfer services. After towing with the idea of waiting until Monday, I decided to put on a mask and walk to the bank. My decision to do so yesterday instead of Monday was influenced by the possibility of an urgency and the expected spike in the number of people going to the bank on the first day of eased restrictions.
While walking to the nearest branch, it looked like I was one of only a handful of people in Kigali defying stay-at-home orders and that made me feel guilty. Regardless of the necessity of your errand, leaving the house during the lockdown felt like committing a serious crime.
There were very few customers at the bank and only three tellers were on duty. Every nose and mouth was covered by a mask. I didn’t recognize someone I know very well because he was dressed like a ninja. When he revealed his identity, we treated each other like suspected cases.
Before I entered the bank, the security guard reminded me to sanitize my hands. Outside the door, numbered circles are drawn on the pavement about one meter apart. This is done in order to ensure long lines don’t violate social distancing guidelines.
While walking to and fro the bank, I saw a few masked pedestrians like me. Every now and then, I would see a vehicle or two cruising by. Traffic police offices were stopping cars and inspecting clearances. Obviously, essential service providers, medicare seekers and shoppers of essential goods have been moving around but the streets of Kigali looked like nothing I had ever seen before.
I commend the government for acting swiftly and making difficult decisions. I applaud the people for making enormous sacrifices to comply with the directives. Had we not endured all these days of confinement, the situation would be out of hand by now. Moving forward, striking the balance between keeping businesses afloat and containing the virus will require even a higher level of discipline and responsible behavior.