Fear, panic as Covid-19 strikes

Sunday March 22 2020


Since Rwanda reported its first positive case of coronavirus on 14th March, 2020, precautionary measures were immediately introduced by government including temporarily closing schools. Photo | Cyril NDEGEYA  

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Rwandans like the rest of world are coming to terms with the outbreak of coronavirus, which has put the country to a near lockdown.

Since Rwanda reported its first positive case of coronavirus on March 14, precautionary measures were immediately introduced by government, which including temporarily closing schools, encouraging people to limit movements, practice social distancing and improve personal hygiene by frequent hand washing and use of sanitisers.

Since then, all forms of social gatherings that attract crowds are temporarily suspended. This has created logistical challenges for families that had planned weddings during this season while grieving families now face the risk of being comforted by friends and extended family.

For many, the call for self quarantine when one feels unwell remains difficult just like respecting instructions on social distancing in a society that is known to shake hands and hug as courtesy and show of respect.

However, beyond the temporarily disruption of social life, many have to endure unplanned expenses.

There has been panic buying as some residents anticipate an escalation, which could result into a total lockdown. Th government has also indicated that the initial two weeks semi lockdown may be extended depending on how the situation evolves.


Businesses have been forced to buy hygiene and sanitation equipment and materials whose price has seen doubled due to increasing demand. For individuals, suddenly, many people are seen wearing masks despite the guidelines on how and when to use these preventive tools.

The Ministry of Health recommends people to wear masks when they have respiratory sickness symptoms like cough and breathing difficulties and health practitioners who treat people with respiratory disease symptoms and diseases.

However, people are wearing masks even if they are not among these catego-ries of people mentioned above.

Jeannette Uwimana, a mobile money agent in down town in Nyarugenge sector, said clients would not visit her if she pulls off her mask. “I don’t have any Covid-19 symptom and I don’t even cough. But customers would not trust me if I don’t wear a mask. It is part of the business now,” she told Rwanda Today.

Due to high demand, the prices of masks are not fixed. Prices range between Rfw500 and 5,000. It is the major source of income for businesses now, and street hawkers in Kigali. Some even started to produce local-made masks, from Kitenge and another kind of clothes.

Besides, some people use the masks inappropriately due to its high prices and lack of information on how to use them. “You can’t find money to buy masks every day.

The reason why I use it like two consecutive days before changing it. I wear it when I’m going in public and when I reach home, I put it down,” she said Some even started to produce local-made masks, from Kitenge and another kind of clothes.

According to World Health Organisation, if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.

Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing. Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

WHO recommends replacing the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.

Meanwhile, sales of hand sanitiser, hand washing stations are skyrocketing due to the coronavirus, leading to rationing and price hikes. Demand for hand sanitiser, liquid soap, and hand washing stations is surging around the globe.

Sales of hand sanitisers and similar products have almost doubled across several markets in Rwanda since the first case of the COVID-19 outbreak was identified on 14 March in Kigali.

A two days’ mini-survey by Rwanda Today at Nyabugogo, Kimironko, City of Kigali Market, and in five pharmacies in Kigali found that shoppers were buying more hand sanitisers, liquid hand soaps, and hand washing stations than other usually purchased products.