Coronavirus: Commonwealth meeting to go on as Kigali bans public gatherings

Tuesday March 10 2020

An aerial view of Kigali.

Rwanda's capital Kigali. The Rwandan Cabinet approved waiver of visa fees for a broad category of visitors entering the east African country. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

IVAN R. MUGISHA
By IVAN R. MUGISHA
More by this Author

The 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will go on as planned in Kigali despite a suspension of social gatherings and meetings in the capital.

The meeting is scheduled to take place from June 22 to 27.

Despite not reporting any case of coronavirus (Covid-19) infection in the country, Rwanda has put in place stringent measures, including cancelling events that would attract crowds, as a precaution.

On Sunday, the city of Kigali announced a widespread suspension of entertainment events, gatherings and exhibitions from March 8 as a measure against the spread of the coronavirus.

“In order to protect people’s lives, we remind those in charge of activities that gather many people such as churches, hotels, nightclubs, bars and restaurants to put in place strong hygiene measures and sanitisers in order to protect people against the coronavirus.”

The announcement has already caused disruptions in the capital, with a number of events being cancelled or suspended.

Advertisement

The Great Lakes Investment and Trade Conference 2020, which was scheduled for March 18, was suspended until further notice, while two music concerts were also cancelled over the weekend.

However, preparations for CHOGM 2020 are still in high gear.

The Rwandan government has increased spending on road construction and infrastructure repair, as well as the expansion of hotels and conference facilities across the country in preparation for the event.

The High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Rwanda, Jo Lomas, on Monday afternoon met with Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta to discuss the progress of preparations to host CHOGM and the threat paused by Covid-19.

“The Commonwealth Secretariat and the Government of Rwanda are monitoring developments regarding the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) very closely.

Our first priority is the health and wellbeing of Commonwealth delegates attending CHOGM.

We will apply the guidance provided by the World Health Organization and expect delegates to follow the advice of their national governments,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

More than 10,000 delegates are expected for the meetings, including several heads of state. Prince Charles of Wales and Prime Minster Boris Johnson are expected to attend.

Tourism sector affected

Meanwhile, the Rwanda Development Board on Monday announced that tourists have up to two years to postpone their bookings at no extra cost if they are affected by flight cancellations, travel bans or if they are infected with Covid-19.

The government also waived a 30-day requirement prior to visit date for tour operators to have submitted the final payment for reserved tourist permits.

The Ministry of Health rolled out screening of Covid-19 at all border posts and at the airport. All individuals presenting symptoms of Covid-19 infections are quarantined and tested for the infection.

Instructions have also been issued to all public offices, businesses and commercial buildings to ensure that hand soap and sanitisers are available at all times.

Last week, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame chaired an extraordinary Cabinet meeting in which he reaffirmed the government’s “strengthened approach to contain the potential spread of the coronavirus outbreak” in the country.

He put the ministries of Health and Local Government, the Prime Minister and security agencies in charge of spearheading efforts against the coronavirus.

The Covid-19 outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020, and infections have now surpassed the 100,000 mark, and killed more than 3,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.


Advertisement