Rwanda to Upgrade Covid-19 Testing to Detect Variants - Minister

Rwanda plans to upgrade its testing capacity to be able to trace the new variants of the coronavirus in the country.

The Covid-19 variants identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom are believed to be more transmissible than the original Covid-19 virus, raising concern that the new strains may be more deadly.

"We haven't yet tested and identified a new variant... we are still working on this capability, and soon, we will be having it in place," Rwanda's Minister of Health Daniel Ngamije said on national television.

The country, however, increased the number of tests done daily in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Rwanda resumed mass testing of residents on Saturday, running a three-day exercise.

On Monday, the country reported 336 new positive cases out of the 7,867 tests done, bringing the total number of infections to 12,975. It also recorded three deaths and 261 recoveries on the same day, bringing total recoveries to 8,420 recoveries and death toll to 174. Active positive cases stood at 4,453 on Monday.

The mass testing targetted vulnerable groups, including the elderly, who so far remain the greatest victims of the virus.

The Ministry of Health set a target of 20,000 people on a cell and village level in Kigali.

The mass testing aimed at determining how many infections are in Kigali and linking patients to their residential areas for better management.

"On the first day, among 4,500 tests taken, 200 of them were positive and above 70 years of age. We are confident that once we know who is infected and where they are, treatment will be more effective," Dr Ngamije said.

Last week, Rwanda re-instated a lockdown in Kigali for 15 days following a spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths. Movement remains restricted countrywide.

Rwanda recently imported 18,000 doses of the oral drug -Favipiravir used to treat influenza in Japan in 2014 that has now been approved by some countries for Covid-19 treatment.

The country recorded seven deaths on Saturday, the highest mortality rate so far in a day though the government is now optimistic that the new treatment will curb deaths.

Rwanda is also waiting to receive the first one million doses of Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccine after acquiring the required refrigeration units. At least 500,000 people, including frontline workers, the elderly, and those with underlying conditions are expected to be the first beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, Rwanda National Police (RNP) figures show from January 19 to 23, five days into lockdown, 1,221 vehicles were impounded, while 2,489 people in Kigali violated the lockdown rules.

Police arrested 141 people for engaging in social activities including house parties.

Police also say they received more than 78,000 travel clearance requests during the first week of lockdown, and only 53,000 were granted.

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