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Before the lockdown in the Land of Thousand Hills

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A staff of the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) screens passengers at a bus station after the government suspended all unnecessary movements for two weeks to curb the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 22, 2020. (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

As the infamous August visitor Corona Virus travels around the world, and as it arrived in countries (via airports, land borders and seaports without any visa); I have read, observed, analysed, viewed (as many infographics as I can) ruminated and watched how several countries handled the first weeks of this pandemic.

The first coronavirus case in Rwanda was reported on Saturday, 14th of March 2020. I remember I was with some Nigerian friends; as we assisted a Nigerian American packing the individual’s luggage. The individual’s time in Rwanda had come to an end and this sociable personality was flying back to the United States of America the following Sunday morning.

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It was at this individual’s home that I heard and read about the first case in Rwanda. Before the evening came; the previous measures were amended to include no public gathering (this meant religious gatherings were not going to hold). You have to realise that before the first case was reported, the coronavirus awareness had been ongoing since February 2020 way before the first reported case.

In the month of February 2020; Sunday, the 16th of February to be precise; the church service had just concluded and as it was becoming a Sunday feature, some of the Nigerians usually chatted before dispersing.

On this particular day, I remember I heard when one of the church officials informed (probably the official in charge of sanitation in the church) that the institution had received an official letter from the relevant authority and those hand sanitisers had to be in the premises by the following day.

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By the following Sunday, hand sanitisers and a wash hand basin were already in place. As you walked into the auditorium, you were informed by the usher to make use of the hand sanitisers. Some congregants even made use of the sanitisers anytime they shook hands with the first timers during the service.

Hand sanitisers and wash and basins became ubiquitous to a large extent; places began to install the essential handwash basins, hand sanitisers etc. But everything was stepped up when on that fateful Saturday, March 16, 2020; the first case was announced. That evening, the new measures included public gatherings etc.

This singular act which was taken the same day the first case was reported and which meant it took effect the following day would show that it went a long way in mitigating the home grown spread of coronavirus.

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The transport system made some drastic changes; the big buses whose terminal is in Kigali Downtown stopped people standing in the buses. Motor bikes better known as motos in Rwanda removed the protective shields of their passengers’ helmets; more bars and restaurants had either or both hand sanitisers and hand washbasins. Some public places which already had measures in place went a step further by using handheld thermometers before access was granted (I witnessed this; for a place I gained access to on a particular day, less than five days later, the procedure had changed).

So, when the complete lockdown was announced; compliance was not a challenge and was not complicated. Why so? The awareness and enlightenment had been going on and already set in motion since the second week in February.

It is glaring with pristine immaculacy that post-coronavirus and its attendant analysis and deliberations; the response time and measures implemented and not implemented during the reported and initial first batch of cases by countries would be one of the deciding factors in the scorecard of how countries handled the coronavirus spread in their countries. In the following weeks and months, it would all become crystal clear.

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