Rwanda: Covid-19 Spike 'Won't Derail' Phased Reopening of Gaming Industry

The recent spike in Covid-19 cases, especially in the City of Kigali, will not affect a plan laid out a fortnight ago for a phased reopening of the gaming industry, it has emerged.

A cabinet meeting, held on May 31, gave the green light for the gradual reopening of the sector which has largely been out of operation since the virus was first reported in Rwanda in March 2020.

Following the cabinet's decision to reopen the industry, the Ministry of Trade and Industry released guidelines spelling out what sector players needed to fulfil before they could be allowed to resume operations.

The ministry also released a schedule for subsequent field inspection, which was due to start with casinos (June 4), then betting shops (June 14) and, finally, slot machines (June 30).

This was before the cabinet sat again last weekend and adopted slightly tougher Covid-19 measures at a time when daily new confirmed coronavirus cases started to cross the 200-mark after new infections had largely been limited to double digits.

"The reopening plan for the gaming sector has not been affected," David Muganga, the service industry promotion policy specialist at the ministry, told The New Times from his office in Kimihurura on Monday.

He added: "All it takes is the company to request a visit and we go and check if they meet all the requirements. If they have fulfilled the conditions we then authorise them to reopen. This is going to be the case for the next couple of weeks."

By Monday, Muganga said, two casinos had been allowed to reopen. The two are New Oriental in Gasabo District, and Lin & Gao in Nyarugenge District.

"We are now looking at betting companies, some were inspected today (Monday)," Muganga added.

'I can't wait... '

Safari Gahizi, president of Rwanda Gaming Association, said they welcomed the cabinet's decision to reopen the sector but added that most of the operators remained closed pending inspection.

"Most are still closed, even the ones I have contacted today are still waiting for inspection teams," he said, adding that they hoped the process would be expedited.

Some of the operators have also claimed the requirements are so stringent it's next to impossible for some to meet them.

One of them gave the example of a requirement for all betting shops to adopt non-touch screens, which he said recalled removal of their equipment and investing in new ones.

They are also required to observe at least a 2-metre distance between machines.

The gaming industry directly employed some 5000 people before it closed the pandemic struck early last year.

"I can't wait to go back to work, I have been without a job for more than a year," said one Solange Uwera, who was laid off last year as the pandemic took its toll on the gaming industry. "This means a lot to me, even as it will obviously not be business as usual with all the requirements that we must observe every day.

Additional reporting by Aurore T. Ufitiwabo and Judith Kirezi

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