Covid-19 Take 2

On March 22 at noon all Uganda’s borders were closed, including Entebbe International Airport.
Prior to 31 March, many public places and shops had instigated sanitation practices for customers, while many people were voluntarily staying at home.
On 31 March Lockdown and Curfew became obligatory.
All public transport was banned fully.
Private vehicles were prohibited, and security services check all routes constantly.
Cargo and emergency services, including key workers, are allowed to travel with a special permit.
All non-food stores, bars, nightclubs, and other shops are closed; supermarkets and pharmacies remain open, as do hospitals and smaller clinics.
People can still walk (or take a bicycle) to local shops and food markets. All shops and markets sanitise customers prior to entry.

As of yesterday, 19 April 2020:
“Today 1,126 samples tested NEGATIVE For COVID-19
837 samples were from truck drivers at border points
289 samples were from individuals under institutional quarantine and contacts to confirmed cases
Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 stand at 55 in Uganda
Total COVID-19 recoveries: 22
Deaths: none.”
Source Ministry of Health

I have read some reports, generally from outside Uganda, that these figures must be fake. The overall take on Uganda’s status seems to be: how is this possible in such an under-developed country when the “developed” world is seeing thousands of cases and deaths each day? While I remain cautiously optimistic in terms of Uganda’s prognosis, there could be a number of reasons why Uganda’s figures are low. As a land-locked, generally rural-based country, travel is an expense many can ill afford. I don’t know the stats, but the numbers of Ugandans who have travelled abroad is low. While some countries are still allowing flights into their airports, our President closed Entebbe on 22 March, almost one month ago. Everyone who travelled into the country between 7 – 22 March is being traced and tested; many have already been quarantined and subsequently released if negative for the virus. This is our third week on lockdown and nightly curfew, with more than two weeks remaining. All this constitutes much faster action than in the US or UK (flights still operating in both countries to date). And we should not forget that Uganda has a good track record with disease control.

However, I am not an idiot. All governments and politicians lie to their people – everywhere. This thing could still turn sour and become a massive tragedy. Physical distancing and social isolation are well nigh impossible in many of our communities, especially in the slums of Kampala. If it does, there will be many thousands of deaths. But a further worrying issue is that the lockdown has made many hand-to-mouth workers redundant. Government food distribution is already subject to corrupt practices, and when people are hungry, disease seizes the opportunity to strike. Malaria cases will likely rise (it is the rainy season with higher than usual rainfall in many places); and people living near swamps and wetlands will certainly see more cases of dysentery and childhood diarrhoeal deaths. Money for simple medical treatment, scarce at the best of times, has dried up. In countries where people can easily get their five-a-day, many, many Ugandans will sleep hungry having had (if lucky) a simple meal of beans and maize flour during the day – enough to keep the stomach from rumbling too loudly, but hardly sufficient to maintain good health.

And so, whatever happens, our people will suffer, perhaps more from financial poverty and economic hardship than Covid-19. Only time will tell. I for one am praying for a positive outcome. Join me if you are the praying type.

Slán agus beannacht!  Stay home; stay safe; stay well.

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