The kingdom of Eswatini has extended its partial lockdown by an additional three weeks.

It is nearly three weeks since the landlocked state of Eswatini went into partial lockdown on Friday, March 27 for 20 days. The country had announced a state of emergency on Tuesday, March 17 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and has, to date, confirmed 16 cases of the disease within its borders and eight recoveries. On Wednesday, April 15, Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, announced that the country would extend its partial lockdown by an additional 21 days. 

The partial lockdown was undertaken to prevent an economic downturn in the small country of over a million people, while attempting to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown regulations include a limit on public transportation which is allowed to operate from 6-9am and from 3-7pm daily; only essential services personnel such as retail and consumer goods suppliers, network infrastructure, heads of civil service departments and more are expected to report to work every day while there is a strong police presence monitoring the movement of people across the country. 

Following the extension, the head of the country, King Mswati III, has ordered that the partial lockdown be “relaxed” to allow low-risk non essential businesses such as craft vendors, food vendors, car dealerships and others to operate under strict hygiene conditions. This is to ensure that the country can balance its health interests and economic stability. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade has released a list of these low-risk non essential businesses which can be seen here.

Eswatini test samples sent to South Africa

The biggest hurdle the government has faced in the fight against Covid-19 is the lack of testing facilities in Eswatini. For over a month, test samples had to be sent to South Africa’s NICD (National Institute for Communicable Diseases) and returned back to the country, extending the waiting period by three days.  On Thursday, April 9, the first local Eswatini Covid-19 testing lab was up and running in the capital city. The Eswatini Observer reports Minister of Health, Lizzie Nkosi saying, “Tests are now being conducted at the National Reference Laboratory in Mbabane, which is now designated as a coronavirus testing facility.” The lab is set to perform 60-100 tests daily but, as a start, the first few results will be sent to the NICD for quality control purposes. 

In a press statement on Wednesday, April 15, the Prime Minister announced the government is developing the laboratory at the Lubombo Referral Hospital for Covid-19 testing and will additionally train staff members so as to increase the testing capacity of the Mbabane Molecular Lab.

Economic relief

Whilst the government does not have the financial muscle or the sufficient resources to save businesses from collapse during this pandemic, the Prime Minister has tried to assure the country that the government remains determined to meet businesses halfway. The government says it will provide relief of up to E90 million to businesses with a turnover of E8 million or less (small – medium sized businesses).

Dlamini says, “The relief will be directed to businesses that have continually supported the development of the country by complying with tax regulations,”. This relief will be paid by way of tax refunds through Eswatini Revenue Authority in monthly installments of 25% of the actual tax paid in 2019. 

In a press briefing on April 8, Minister of Labour and Social Security Makhosi Vilakati, made an announcement that no employers should retrench their employees lest they fully comply with the provisions of Section 40 of the Employment Act, No. 5 of 1980.

The Times of Eswatini reported that  Vilakati went on to say that essential service employees are to be treated according to the requirements of Workmen’s Compensation Act No. 7 of 1983 – meaning if any of them contract coronavirus, they will be offered medical assistance, sick leave and other forms of compensation.

For students, acting ICT Minister Manqoba Khumalo, announced that the Ministry of Education will collaborate with his ministry to launch an educational programme that will play on the local channel, Eswatini TV and air on the local radio station, EBIS. This programme is specifically aimed at grade seven pupils, form three and form five students (Grade 10 and 12).

As the pandemic persists and South Africa extends its lockdown, there are looming threats for the landlocked country. The Times of Swaziland reports a shortage of hypertension and diabetes medication which most patients source from South Africa as the price of the same medication in Eswatini is prohibitively expensive. Speaking to the Times of Swaziland, deputy director of Health Services, Dr Velephi Okello, says she has not received any report of the shortages of the hypertension and diabetes drugs so far and the focus of health workers is on Covid-19. Additionally, the director of diabetes Eswatini, Dumisile Mavuso, says the association has provided diabetic patients in support groups with glucometers, in order to test themselves in the comfort of their own homes to minimize movement and risk exposing themselves to the virus.

The Eswatini Observer reported that regional administrator Themba Msibi, has called on the government to prioritise the Lubombo region for funding as Covid-19 patients are being cared for at the Lubombo Referral Hospital. Msibi says the region is in need of protective gear for the health workers who are working on the frontlines.

Within the 20-day partial lockdown, many public spaces and communities across the country have been assisted with handwashing facilities through the installation of 506 water tanks and the dissemination of information through media and automated health ministry SMS’es. 

Public spaces are in the process of being disinfected in the cities and the disinfecting effort is set to move into the towns. At least 500 volunteers have been deployed to work within communities and a total of E47 million in kind and E70 million has been raised to by both government, businesses, individuals in Eswatini and development partners to assist the country during the lockdown.

FEATURED IMAGE: Eswatini has extended its lockdown with some additional measures. Photo:

RELATED LINKS: Wits Vuvuzela, Eswatini university manufactures hand sanitiser for the nation, 10 April 2020.