Namibians should prepare themselves for a complete lockdown of the country, should the government not manage to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the next 21 days.
Retailers have been advised to limit the number of shoppers entering their premises at the same time, depending on the surface area of their premises, while the maximum number of people permitted at funerals and other social gatherings across the country may be reduced from 50 to 10.
These were among a raft of new recommendations unveiled yesterday by former health minister Dr Bernard Haufiku, who is the government point person for the Covid-19 response in Namibia.
Restaurants and hotels have also been urged to reduce the number of people entering at the same time.
Haufiku also confirmed that the lockdown of the Khomas and Erongo regions will begin at a minute after midnight tonight.
Namibians must prepare themselves for a complete lockdown of the country, should the government not manage to contain the outbreak in the next 21 days, he warned.
Haufiku said transparent communication and cooperation will save the country.
He said bars and shebeens must close at 18:00 during the lockdown and enjoy the same privilege of being open as bottle stores. Again, premises have been urged to reduce the number of people entering at the same time, depending on the size of the establishment.
According to Haufiku the authorities plan to consult with shop owners to see how they can expand their trading hours, given the limited number of people who can shop at the same time, and to see how best they can manage the movement of customers into and out of shops.
He suggested that shops remain open between either 06:00 to 18:00 or 08:00 to 20:00.
“We have recommended the reduction of the threshold of people meeting from 50 to 10, with a metre between them. If you (as retailer) have space of hectares then you can look at one person per one to ten square metres.
“If we cut down the movement of people, we will shut down this virus out so that it does not decimate this nation.
“And this big and sparsely populated country can set the example for Africa with fair and reasonable enough resources,” Haufiku said.
“This window of opportunity is increasingly narrowing. But if we continue the current way of doing things, then it will hit us and hit us hard.”
Haufiku made it clear that people who are outside the perimeters of the Khomas and Erongo regions' lockdown will have to stay out for 21 days, unless they have critical medical conditions and arrangements are made.
For the purposes of the lockdown, residents of Rehoboth and Okahandja will be allowed to travel to and from Windhoek.
Haufiku said he had been advised by the coronavirus logistics committee that the country needs 88 more ventilators for treating critically ill people.
“I am told that about seven or eight ventilators came in last week; the health minister confirmed this. I am told there were 10 mobile ventilators distributed to hospitals throughout the country over the last years, but they were never used.
“I am now told those will be brought to Windhoek, as well as the ventilators that are in the intensive care units (ICUs). Ventilators used for coronavirus cannot be used for other patients for the moment. They can be used later once they have been disinfected or until the virus has died a natural death, but it will take some time,” he said.
The ventilators are crucial in treating Covid-19 because critically ill patients suffer respiratory failure.
Although Haufiku said the government was pulling out all stops to avoid corona-related deaths, he stressed that if deaths occur, only 10 people will be allowed at a funeral.
He does not foresee mass cremations as seen elsewhere in the world.
“We need to prepare. I am confident that if we put these lockdown measures in place effectively and early then we will not have too many people dying.
“But, going to that scenario, we need to speak to the responsible sector, such as cremation, but the culture in Namibia is mainly to bury. But we will not allow more than 10 people at a burial. They must be sensitised now, because people do not listen when they are grieving,” he said.
Haufiku added that the bodies of Covid-19 victims will be disposed of like those who die of Congo fever or Ebola, because the body remains infectious after death.
Haufiku said Namibians must prepare themselves for serious financial implications, but these can be lessened if they adhere to the measures in place.
According to him, if the government observes that the infection curve is flattening, it would review the situation and gradually lift the lockdown measures.
“That is why you see some economies such as the United States coming up with stimulus packages. If we have some reserves somewhere, then we need to open up those reserves,” he said.
Workers must be paid
Meanwhile, the labour ministry has warned against employers forcing their employees to take annual or unpaid leave.
Ministry executive director Bro-Matthew Shinguadja said: “This practice should be avoided at all costs and if any kind of leave is to be taken, it should be mutually agreed. Forced unpaid leave is illegal and hence unacceptable.”
The ministry has also directed employers to pay their workers in full for the months of March and April.