Rwanda bans public gatherings to checkmate coronavirus

City authorities in Kigali, Rwanda, have banned concerts, rallies and other mass gatherings in the capital as a preventive measure against coronavirus, despite Rwanda recording no confirmed cases of the illness.

Coronavirus has only been reported in eight countries on the African continent, according to data from the World Health Organization, among the lowest rates of confirmed infection in any region globally.

“The city of Kigali wishes to inform that entertainment shows, social gatherings, trade fairs, exhibitions and other gatherings that assemble many people… are officially suspended till further notice,” the Kigali City Council announced in a statement Sunday.

The policy does not extend to venues hosting smaller numbers of people such as wedding venues, churches, hotels, restaurants, bars, and sports clubs — which were told to apply “good hygiene practises” and supply soaps and hand washes.

The government has advised its citizens against travelling to countries where coronavirus has been reported.

Church authorities, meanwhile, announced that communal holy water would not be provided for worshippers to dip their fingers upon entering mass, and that communion would no longer be passed from hand to mouth.

Religious pilgrimages have also been suspended as a precaution in Rwanda, where close to half the population is Catholic.

Rwanda has not recorded any cases, and none of its immediate neighbours have either.

But the small landlocked country is no stranger to imposing tough measures in response to health scares.

In August 2019, Rwanda briefly closed its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo as a precaution against Ebola, freezing overland trade across one of its busiest frontiers.

This measure against coronavirus, too, could hit Rwanda’s economy.

International visitors for tourism and trade shows are a major source of revenue of Rwanda and Kigali in particular, which markets itself as an attractive location for global conferences.

But the economic pain could be felt in other East African markets, where precautions against coronavirus could impact the lucrative tourism industry.

Kenya has banned direct flights to its tropical coastline from Italy, a major source of visitors, where the virus has hit hard, with 366 fatalities.

It has also suspended international conferences, a top earner in Nairobi, a hub for such events in the region.

In Uganda, meanwhile, all passengers arriving from France, China, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Spain must self-quarantine for 14 days, Ugandan health minister Ruth Jane Aceng announced at the weekend.

Aceng said Uganda “maintains an open-border policy” but authorities have urged travellers from high-risk countries to consider postponing all non-essential travel to the country.

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