January 29, 2021

Why Has UK Added Rwanda To COVID-19 Travel “Red List”?


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In Kigali, since last week, Government began mass testing up to 20,000 people over 70years and those with underlying medical conditions

There is fury in Rwanda after the UK banned travelers from Rwanda over COVID-19. The bad news came, coincidentally, the same day as a study published by Australia’s Lowy Institute ranked Rwanda among the top nations that have contained the pandemic.

The travel advisory says that travelers from or transiting through Rwanda, together with Burundi and UAE, are banned “to prevent the spread of the new variant originally identified in South Africa into the UK.”

This statement was followed up by Tweets from UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who emphasized that people from these countries will be “denied entry” except returning British citizens.

“Any exemptions usually in place will not apply, including for business travel,” said the UK travel advisory, meaning no one, including politicians or business executives will be allowed entry into the UK from Rwanda.

For hours, the Lowy Institute study was the trending news in Rwanda. Then the UK advisory appeared. Some known Government leaning social media accounts have been in overdrive since Thursday criticizing the UK decision.

On local Kinyarwanda language radio stations, commentators are also telling listeners that the decision is politically motivated, while others say that probably the UK’s decision was made to save Rwandans from contracting the new COVID-19 variants in UK and other countries.

Though UK officials have not publicly stated specific reasons that led to placing Rwanda on the dreaded “red list” despite its acknowledged fight against the pandemic, it is highly likely that the decision was taken as a precautionary measure. The thinking in London might be that since Rwanda doesn’t have the technology to identify the new dangerous variant to COVID-19, people from the country may sneak through with negative tests, yet they have the variant.

Ever since new COVID-19 variants were confirmed from countries like South Africa, the UK and others, Rwanda has not reported the variant. In this region, only Kenya has reported the variant.

With Rwanda’s neighborhood including Tanzania, DR Congo, Uganda – whose travelers are all banned from western countries, Rwanda had established itself as the exception on the continent.

Before the latest UK advisory, people from Rwanda were exempted from the two weeks quarantine in the UK; one of a handful of countries extended the exemption.

It is believed that the probable reason Rwanda has not traced the new COVID-19 variant is because the country has yet to obtain genome sequencing technology that allows to identify such variants.

Government is said to be in talks with some western nations to be able to tap from their technology.

On Thursday, the Australian think tank, the Lowy Institute said in its findings of the pandemic’s modeling that Rwanda was in the same league with star COVID-containing countries like New Zealand and Australia. Rwanda is listed as 6th globally among countries doing a better job.

In the same study, the United States, which has been ravaged by the pandemic, languishes near the bottom of the table, at number 94 globally. Yet, the US is not on UK’s “red list”.

The modeling suggested that efficacy by Rwandan authorities to keep a lid on the virus was largely because it was easy for them to make decisions on things like lockdowns due to trust from the public.

“The dividing line in effective crisis response has not really been about regime type but whether citizens trust their leaders and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state,” said the Institute’s Herve Lemahieu in an interview with ABC Australia.

A Germany research institute also said mid last year, as the pandemic ravaged nations across the globe, that Rwanda had contained the virus due to ability to take tough decisions like putting people in months of lockdowns.

Since mid-March last year, Rwandan authorities have implemented perhaps the toughest control measures anywhere and only comparable to China’s. Since last week, Kigali has been under strict lockdown; the second of its kind here. Movement in other districts are also restricted.

Since the virus outbreak, the narrative that has been maintained by government is that the virus is under control. However, voices are emerging suggesting the pandemic could be worse than publicly acknowledged by the authorities.

For example, a one Vanessa Rukundo posted on Twitter that her sister had come from school and revealed that their school had told students not to tell their parents about COVID cases in their school.

In part, she tweeted: “Earlier today, my little sister came back home 4rm school for a doctor’s appointment. As I go to welcome her, she pulls back and says I should not come near her. She goes on to tell me that two of roommates at school have tested positive to #COVID19. At this point I get sacred, I start asking her lots of questions! How come we did not know? Are you okay? Do you have it? Do you have any symptoms? Did you test negative”

Rukundo goes on: “She says she was not tested and that the school asked them not to inform parents about it. 2 of her 7 roommates tested positive and she was not tested. According to her, the school currently has 12 cases, 10 of whom are isolating at school. I’m out of words. I’m beyond mad”.

Other social media users have also expressed similar sentiments, suggesting the virus could be worse than what the authorities are telling the public.

Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the head of the Rwanda Biomedical Center under the Ministry of Health has said the vast majority of the country’s infected people are asymptomatic. He said at least 95% of the 5,100 active patients are on home-based care, basically isolating at home.

Meanwhile, the Chinese media also reported this Friday that RwandAir, the national carrier is suspended from flying to Guangzhou effective February 1, after five (5) passengers tested positive.

This Friday, good news for Rwanda came from the European Union, which also issued an update on which nationals can travel to its member states.

“Based on the criteria and conditions set out in the recommendation, as from 28 January member states should gradually lift the travel restrictions at the external borders for residents” of Rwanda and six other nations, the EU said in a statement.

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