Namibia: Nationwide Lockdown Looms

President Hage Geingob says Namibia will soon go into a countrywide lockdown to combat the further spread of the novel coronavirus, with the number of confirmed cases in the country having risen to 11.

The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Namibia jumped from eight on Friday, 27 March, to 11 on Saturday.

The country is currently in a partial lockdown, which includes Khomas (Okahandja and Rehoboth included) and Erongo regions, with a set of state of emergency regulations in place that apply to the entire country.

The 21-day lockdown came into effect at the end of Friday, 27 March, and will continue until the end of 17 April, after Geingob declared a countrywide state of emergency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The lockdown means citizens must stay home for its duration and only leave when necessary in order to curb the spread of the virus. Only essential and critical service providers are allowed to leave their homes to work.

At a press briefing on Friday, the president said the lockdown is a necessary measure undertaken by the government to protect Namibians from a devastating public health threat.

"We must act and we must act resolutely. As I said before, the health of the Namibian people is our highest priority.

These bold and aggressive measures are going to challenge us as a nation, but we believe it is for the greater good. The cost of not acting on time will be far greater than the inconveniences we may face today," he said.

Geingob added that the lockdown of Khomas and Erongo regions, which will be followed by the whole country later on, will be accompanied by a continued public health response to provide screening, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, isolation and medical management.

He said public servants who are able to work from home are doing so, while essential staff would report for duty.

"These measures will be reviewed regularly as we scale up our national response to Covid-19. During this time let us demonstrate the values of solidarity, unity and empathy. It is not only about this deadly scourge during this period, it is vitally important that we maintain our sense of community," he said.

CONFIRMED CASES

Namibia has 11 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with the latest three reported on Saturday. Health minister Kalumbi Shangula yesterday said the three new cases are regarded as cases nine, 10 and 11.

Case nine involves a 35-year-old Namibian woman who lives in South Africa but came to Namibia on 20 March. A sample was taken from her and sent to South Africa for testing on 25 March, and on Friday the result came back positive. The minister said arrangements have been made to admit her in an isolation facility.

"Case number 10 is a 33-year-old Namibian female who travelled to Dubai, Ethiopia and Johannesburg. She arrived on 17 March 2020 in Namibia, and visited a health facility on 26 March 2020. Specimens were taken and sent to NIP. The results came out as positive," Shangula said in a media statement.

According to the minister, case 11 is a 69-year-old Namibian man who travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa, and came back on 12 March. He visited a health facility on 25 March; a specimen was sent to the Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) on 27 March 2020 and the result came out as positive on Saturday.

"The MoHSS-led response is actively following up with all contacts of these persons to ensure proper quarantine and monitoring for symptoms," Shangula added.

REGULATIONS

Shangula explained on Friday that the categories of persons exempted from the lockdown include health workers in the public and private sector, and emergency personnel including paramedics, firefighters and call centre personnel.

This will also include security services such as the police, correctional service, traffic officers, military medical personnel, soldiers, immigration and customs officers, private security services and other persons necessary for the success of the country's response to the pandemic.

Also exempted from the lockdown are all persons involved in the production, distribution and supply of goods and food across the agricultural value chain; essential legal, financial and banking services; the maintenance of power, water and telecommunications services; laboratory and veterinary services; refuse removal; the provision of medical and hygiene products; cleaning services; aircraft and cargo handling and engineering; park wardens; social welfare services; humanitarian workers and the media.

In terms of the Covid-19 state of emergency regulations published in the Government Gazette on Saturday, alcohol may not be sold and all bars, shebeens, nightclubs, open markets and informal trading activities may not operate during the lockdown period. All shops and businesses except those classified as critical services - these services include grocery stores - must stay closed, while restaurants, cafes and coffee shops may remain open only for take-away services.

During the lockdown, people may not leave or enter the Khomas and Erongo regions, except to transport goods, distribute food or other necessities of life, perform medical and health services, to perform an action necessary for the enforcement of law or public order, to maintain or repair water, electricity, communication or financial services infrastructure, or to perform other critical services that cannot be postponed.

The regulations also state that during the lockdown, everyone must be confined to their homes, except if they have to perform a critical service, have to obtain essential goods or services, need to seek medical attention, or need to visit pharmacies, food shops, banks or the courts. People may also leave their homes for physical exercise, but may then not be in group of more than three persons.

Shangula on Friday said during the lockdown only one person from a household is allowed to go shopping at a time. In addition, not more than two persons are allowed on a donkey cart and not more than three people in a four-seater car, or four persons in a seven-seater.The minister said Namibian citizens and residents will be permitted to enter the country while all non-Namibians will not be allowed to enter the country and will be turned back, with the exception of humanitarian aid workers and essential or critical services as defined.

"All Namibians abroad who wish to return home must inform their embassy or high commission of their intention to travel, a week before departure," he said.

He further said returning citizens and permanent residents will be subjected to a mandatory, supervised 14-day quarantine.

"Facilities that satisfy the minimum standard as prescribed under the national guidelines, will be identified and reserved for the purpose of quarantine," he said, adding that all persons identified through contact tracing will also be placed under a supervised 14-day quarantine.

ECONOMIC impact

Finance minister Iipumbu Shiimi explained on Friday that critical services are those that support the combating of Covid-19 and help in sustaining lives, saying every other service that falls outside that category should either stop over the lockdown period or be operated from home.

He said some of the critical services include agriculture, as food production is essential, fishing and mining sector maintenance services, electricity supply, hospital services, construction services linked to curbing the spread of the pandemic, and communication services such as the media. The minister said the finance ministry has been directed to look at an economic response plan and thus engaged representatives of various industries to ask how Covid-19 has impacted them and what assistance they need from the government.

"All the representatives have to give concrete proposals for us to understand the impact on their various industries and for us to understand the help they need. Some proposals have already been provided to the respective ministries and we are going to study and assess these proposals to see what sort of response package we can put together," he said. "Our move is to safeguard the economy by protecting jobs and protecting businesses. After corona, we still want the economy to function, thus we want employers to be able to continue, we want employees to be able to continue. Give us time and in a week's time we might have come up with a response package to protect jobs and businesses."

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