COVID-19: How Rwandans are using social media to raise awareness, enforce lockdown

A screenshot of Mimosa Munyangaju,the Sports Minister tweeter handle sharing her message to sports community to Stay Home. / Sam Ngendahimana.

In some countries, according to reports, social media posts are being used to track whether people are adhering to strict coronavirus lockdown rules.

In Rwanda where the government on Wednesday, April 1, ordered a 15-day extension of its ongoing lockdown, one of the key tools used to enhance the lockdown especially by “raising public awareness” is social media. 

 

Lead institutions on this front include the Ministries of Local Government, Health, as well as the Rwanda National Police.

 

On their social media platforms, you find  Hashtags like #GumaMurugo, #StayHome, #StaySafe, and so many others.

 

These are some of the key but simple and clear messages that are trending on social media platforms like Twitter, What’sApp, YouTube, and elsewhere.

In addition, classic media also followed suit and diversified content including social media.

“There is also a good presence by individuals including officials, and celebrities pushing key messages. The National Committee against COVID-19 works closely with celebrities to engage the public with key messages,” said a member of the task force who preferred anonymity.

The Joint Task Force is under the Prime Minister’s  Office but technically run by the Ministry of Health.

It comprises several other institutions and committees, with security organs, especially the police that enforces the lockdown. There is also a team that tracks down contacts or suspected cases. By and large, the Joint Task Force is operating in a coordinated manner. It is a team effort. 

The RNP especially continues to aggressively use social media for public awareness and it believes the tactic is paying off.

CP John Bosco Kabera, the RNP Spokesperson, told The New Times that social media is one of their communication platforms “through which we engage with the general public.”

“To this effect, we have used our Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram to educate and elaborate the government directives to all residents of Rwanda, and this has eased our enforcement efforts without use of force,” he said.

“Informed people make informed decisions and this has been the case in this period when the country is preventing the spread of the new Coronavirus.”

During the lockdown everyone in the country is being asked to change their lifestyle behavior in a nationwide effort to flatten the COVID-19 curve. In the study of the distribution, patterns and determinants of health and disease conditions, the idea of slowing a virus’ spread so that fewer people seek treatment at any given time is called “flattening the curve.”

The initial two-week lockdown was meant to end Saturday, April 4. But it will now go up to April 19 - after the recent extension - when the government will again reassess the situation and inform the public on what next. 

Asked how effective he thinks the use of social media has been, Kabera noted that through the same platforms, “we receive and respond to people’s complaints and concerns, get information on those who violate the directives and inform those who inquire about the same.”

Kabera emphasised that “such productive discussions with the masses” are part of the RNP proactive services particularly in this period.

“Social media helps to reach out to those we are mandated to serve in the context of community policing, which forms the cream of our mandate - to serve the people.”

A member of the country’s COVID-19 Communication Team who preferred anonymity because he is not the team leader said: “Social media just as other more traditional media channels like radio and TV have been very helpful in communicating about this pandemic.”

“Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are used for daily dispatches, prevention messages and other public awareness messages. We also use WhatsApp for questions that the public might have and it has proven to work very effectively.”

Explaining why the lockdown was extended, Minister of Health, Dr. Daniel Ngamije recently noted that the extension will help in tracing people who came in contact with confirmed cases. He also noted that the extension will help to focus on treating already confirmed cases.

The disease, Covid-19, first emerged in central China three months ago.

In its daily updates, on Thursday, April 2, the Ministry of Health announced two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 patients. This took the total tally for Rwanda to 84 confirmed cases. No death from the disease has been reported in Rwanda so far.

Confirmed global cases passed the one million mark on Thursday, with nearly a quarter having been registered in the United States, while Europe accounts for around half. 

Nearly 53,000 people have died. More than 210,000 have recovered. The US has so far recorded the world’s highest daily toll with 1,169 deaths.

With the pandemic taking a huge economic toll, a lot is being done to lessen its impact. The World Bank, for example, has approved a plan to disburse $160 billion in emergency aid over 15 months to help countries stricken by the pandemic.

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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