Exactly five months since the first COVID-19 case was reported, Rwanda has tested a relatively small portion of the population.
Current estimates of the country’s total population by the National Institute of Statistics (NISR) puts the figure at 12,374,397.
The first infection of the virus was reported on March 14. Five months later, a widely praised intervention system led by the Rwanda Biomedical Center, an autonomous agency of the health ministry, has tested 329,474 people across Rwanda.
The whole testing program in relation to the whole population means about 2.6% of Rwandans have been tested for the virus as of yesterday August 15.
The testing rate is largely at par with top ten countries in Africa that have implemented the most vigorous plans to deal with the global pandemic, according to estimates of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
This agency said in early June that it had come up with a scheme to ramp up testing on the continent. It planned to work with African governments to test 10m people by September.
By May, African countries had only conducted 2.4 million tests with a positivity rate of 6.4%. Ten countries contributed to 79% of the testing, said Raji Tajudeen, head of public health institutes and research at Africa CDC, at the time.
On average, African countries have tested about 1,700 people for every 1 million people living on the continent – much lower than the rest of the world. For example, Italy had tested 37,000 people per 1 million and the United Kingdom about 30,000 per 1 million.
In Rwanda, Government says it is doing “smart” testing, contact tracing, and treatment of identified cases. The combination of these actions have been given clean bill of health by the World Health Organization (WHO) and various other independent privately conducted studies.
As a result, Rwanda found itself on a very short list of countries whose nationals are allowed to travel to the European Union. The EU believes the work done by government in Kigali to contain the virus spread, is unique and working.
For example, specific villages which saw infections, have been singled out and put under strict lockdown – leaving life in other parts going on normally. Also, bars, night clubs and all fan gatherings, which would have been the biggest source of infections, remain banned.
If police finds you on the street at any time of the day not wearing the face mask, or wearing it wrongly, you will be taken to the nearby stadium where you will sleep there and released next. The same happens to anyone who flouts the night curfew. This is just one indication of how strict the measures are here.
As of Saturday, the whole testing program has identified 2,352 cases – of whom 1,631 people have recovered. Eight people have died so far.
The infection rate has been taking a mixed curve; going up, and then dropping within the past two months. It is unclear at this point as to whether opening of the airport to international travel on August 1, is contributing to infection rate. Government says not at all.
Three weeks ago, infections were peaking 30 and above daily. Then two weeks ago, recoveries were far more than the new cases. For this outgoing week, the daily infections are again higher. The authorities say there is no cause for alarm.
The biggest challenge for the authorities though is what to do with the land borders, which remain closed. The question is for how long Rwanda can sustain such a border closure, as the economy suffers.
Rwandan authorities remain with sleepless nights as what to do with the Tanzanian and Burundian borders. Governments in Bujumbura and Dar es Salaam have left their countries open, without any measures such as social distancing and compulsory face masks.
Both Burundi and Tanzania stopped giving infection updates in May. International reviews are unsure how to rate what is happening there.