Drones enforce Rwanda lockdown

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Tech-savvy Rwanda uses drones to keep residents of Kigali informed of coronavirus lockdown measure and help catch those who abuse them.

Police stop cars and pedestrians on streets to ask why they are out while two drones buzz above them, one broadcasting instructions and the other monitoring movement.

“Drones are flying where checkpoints are not mounted and where there are no patrols,” said police spokesman John Bosco Kabera.

Among culprits are a pastor pretending to be on her way to a radio interview when she was heading to church despite the ban on public gatherings.

She was arrested and held for several days.

In another case, a man with permission to supply food was found transporting liquor instead, Kabera said.

“Just stay at home. That’s what we are enforcing.”

Like many African nations, Rwanda has relatively few coronavirus cases so far – 138 confirmed, with no deaths – but there are fears the pandemic could do worse damage on the world’s poorest continent in coming months.

Rwanda began a major lockdown on March 21, with residents allowed to leave homs to buy food or medicine and travel between cities and districts forbidden. On Friday, measures were extended until April 30.

Rwanda has long aspired to be a regional technology hub, but its use of drones to combat coronavirus is not unique.

From Indian slums to English countryside, a host of nations are deploying drones to publicise rules, check movements and spray disinfectant.

Rehema Kanyana, a 50-year old Rwandan mother of four, said she left home once since the lockdown came into effect on March 21 to withdraw cash to take one of her children to hospital, but was struck by the strict enforcement.

“On the way to hospital, police stopped us four or five times,” she said. Staying at home is tough for many, who are short of food, she added, though state handouts helped.