Rwanda: COVID-19 - Airtel Offers Free Text Messaging Service to 'Keep Public Connected'

All Airtel customers can now send and receive text messages on the network with zero charges, Airtel Rwanda has announced Friday.

The development is expected to enable their subscribers to use SMS to remain connected with their friends and family as they continue to social distance to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"We understand that customers are staying home, limiting their movements and no longer able to see their family and friends. Offering free SMS will enable customers to maintain family ties and practise social distancing alongside several measures recommended by the government authorities," Amit Chawla, Managing Director, Airtel Rwanda, said in a statement released Friday, March 20, 2020.

The announcement also follows the removal of charges on all mobile money transactions in the country for the next three months as part of efforts to boost digital payments which help reduce the chances of COVID-19 spread. The virus can spread through surfaces, including via banknotes.

The statement also quotes the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of ICT and innovation, Yves Iradukunda, as saying, "The free SMS by Airtel is definitely a complimentary decision to the Government's efforts to keep people connected while maintaining social distances."

"We need each other, friends and family, as we go through challenging times," he is quoted as saying.

Social distancing, according to experts, is reducing physical contact between people, keeping a distance of at least one metre between one person and the next person. To encourage this, the Rwandan government has banned large gatherings and discouraged people from non-necessary travels. It has also urged employers to allow their staff to work from home, at least where possible.

The coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 disease, has become a global pandemic over the last couple of months.

Rwanda, which announced its first COVID-19 case last Saturday and has since recorded 10 others, is one of the 34 African countries which had confirmed coronavirus cases by Friday evening.

The virus, which has attacked more than 200,000 people and killed more than 8,000 globally since its outbreak in China in December last year, has ravaged the global economy with far-reaching consequences in all aspects of life.

Over 83,000 have since recovered from the infection globally, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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