Zimbabwe’s cross-border traders are in a quandary following a new raft of Covid-19 guidelines which were announced by Botswana. The guidelines announced by Zimbabwe’s western neighbour prohibit entry for visitors who have not taken booster shots.
Booster shots were only rolled out recently in Zimbabwe and have not covered much of the population.
According to daily statistics from the Health Ministry, only 83,274 people in Zimbabwe have received their booster shot in a country of over 15 million people. The low uptake of booster shots is expected to complicate matters for traders and job seekers from Zimbabwe, as this category of people heavily depends on the liberal immigration laws in Southern Africa to find employment.
Following the decision by Robert Mugabe’s government to expel white farmers more than 20 years ago, Zimbabwe was hit with myriad sanctions.
As a result, Zimbabwe’s economy went into a tailspin. While President Mugabe has since been replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa allowing for some changes within the economy, for most ordinary people the quality of life is still low. And as Zimbabwe’s economy continues the downward spiral, desperate citizens have swarmed Botswana, South Africa, and other neighbouring countries looking for jobs or business opportunities.
For years cross border traders from Zimbabwe have been eking a living by bringing various goods from Botswana for resale. Many over the last few months had chosen Botswana following xenophobic attacks targeting mostly other African immigrants that live or work in South Africa.
But with the new measures in Botswana that went into effect on February 14, many will now be stranded.
Announcing these new regulations over the weekend, Botswana’s Health Ministry Secretary, Christopher Nyanga said his ministry henceforth demands that any persons entering Botswana show proof that they have been fully vaccinated.
“Being fully vaccinated means having taken two doses of a two-dose vaccine regimen or a single dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. If one has taken any of the two and is overdue for booster shots, they are no longer regarded as fully vaccinated, until they have taken the booster shot,” said Mr. Nyanga.
Mr. Nyanga also explained that for unvaccinated persons, Botswana will henceforth require a 72-hour negative PCR Covid-19 test, and that person needs to undertake vaccination at the port of entry at his own cost and go for quarantine at his own cost.
“Alternatively, if one has no proof of being vaccinated and has no 72-hour negative PCR test result, they will be required to undergo PCR testing at the ports of entry at their own costs and where necessary quarantine at own cost as well,” he emphasized.
Those who tested positive would be allowed to isolate within the district of port of entry.
“In short proof of being vaccinated is now the main important requirement for entry into Botswana,” Mr. Nyanga reiterated.
However, there has been a huge public outcry over the issue with many people taking to social media platforms to decry the new measures. Many say this will negatively affect the tourism industry.
“This is insane, the vaccines do not work, vaccinated people are contracting and dying from Covid-19 every day, other nations are recording an increase in vaccinated people being hospitalized and you think it would be logical for you to put such measures in place. Be serious please!” said one ‘BoMo.
Carlos Moitiri on the other hand claimed the government in Botswana was using a communist mentality to force people to vaccinate based on Covid-19.
“We are Batswana, we are not vaccinated and if we want to come to Botswana, we will enter using the PCR results,” says Moitiri who in his diatribe highlighted the important ties that border communities from different countries have.
Meanwhile, uptake for the booster shot remains low in Zimbabwe with vaccination hesitancy still rife among communities. Conspiracy theories and misinformation remain the key drivers of vaccine hesitancy.
“Vaccine hesitancy is caused by many factors but mainly lack of adequate information. There’s no scientific basis against vaccination,” says Dr. Lincoln Charimari who leads the World Health Organisation (WHO) team in Zimbabwe.
To overcome vaccine hesitancy, Dr. Charimari says it is important to continually spread positive messages about vaccination. These messages revolve around three principal benefits which include preventing complications, reducing hospitalizations, and reducing mortality due to Covid-19.
Last month Zimbabwe’s President, Emmerson Mnangagwa urged people to have their Covid-19 booster jabs, assuring the nation that there were sufficient vaccines for everyone.
“Booster shots are available, and they are for free, people should go and get vaccinated,” he said whilst speaking to the ruling party, Zanu PF’s politburo meeting in Harare.