Two weeks before Rwanda counts exactly two years since the first Covid-19 case was recorded in the country, experts are optimistic that the high vaccination rate might shield Kigali against strict Covid-19 measures as the economy fully reopens.
Rwanda reported its first Covid-19 case on March 20, 2020.
On March 4 this year, the Ministry of Health announced that 60 percent of Rwanda’s population, or 7.8 million people out of its 12.9 million population, have been vaccinated against Covid-19 with two doses. Rwanda is close to reaching WHO’s global target to vaccinate 70 percent of its population by mid-2022.
As of March 6, Rwanda had fully vaccinated 7,889,839 people and 1.8 million people had received their booster shot. The country has instituted Covid-19 vaccine mandates for the public to access basic public services in a bid to reach the targeted 9.1 million people by July this year.
As the vaccination rate increases, Covid-19 cases have dropped significantly since January. The trend has given the government confidence to lift curfew and fully open activities for the first time in two years.
Dr Tharcisse Mpunga, Rwanda’s State Minister in charge of Primary Healthcare, told The EastAfrican that the current vaccination and infection rates might mean that even if a new variant emerges in the future, there is confidence that its effects would be less severe and measures to contain virus would be less strict.
“Seeing how the latest Covid-19 variant, Omicron, lasted only two months, it is safe to say the variants are getting weaker. With 60 percent of the population vaccinated, new variants are less likely to develop from Rwanda and even if they come from other countries, there is hope that the situation would not be as bad,” he explained.
In addition to vaccine mandates, Rwanda has installed mobile vaccination sites in public places and crowded spots in Kigali, including markets, malls, and bus stations. The vaccine is also available in public health centres and hospitals across the country.
On Monday, Rwanda opened its land borders, allowing traders, families, and friends to cross for the first time in two years.
As movement is expected to return on borders this week, Rwanda’s health officials have expressed concerns that this would mean more imported Covid-19 cases from regional countries.
“We are concerned that cases will be imported, but we are ready in terms of Covid-19 testing and vaccinating. We encourage the public to get Covid-19 booster shots to improve immunity against new infections,” Dr Mpunga said.
Rwanda has received more than 15 million Covid-19 vaccine doses since March 2021, with more than 14 million successfully administered, Health ministry says.
The Ministry recently announced that Rwanda will begin manufacturing mRNA vaccines in 24 months.
Rwanda is currently working with BioNTech to prepare employees and meet other requirements before the German-based company hands over the manufacturing plant to the country.