A bodaboda rider adheres to the directive to wear a mask
Health ministry Permanent Secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, says the easing of restrictions is a welcome move for them as health professionals but urges Ugandans not to throw caution to the wind.
Scientists have predicted a spike in the number of infections in Uganda after the country moves out of lockdown that was instituted in March by the government in measures to stem the pandemic, writes Peter Mwayi.
Uganda, which to-date has kept its case numbers below the 300 mark, has been credited for its efforts to control the spread of the novel virus, which many experts have labelled scientific.
Explaining the measures taken, Uganda Virus Research Institute Executive Director, Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, says the objective was to maintain the infections at numbers that would not overwhelm the country's capacity to handle in terms of treatment.
He adds that every country experienced a spike in numbers which then reversed, causing what is now scientifically referred to as a curve.
"You would want to flatten it [the curve] to make sure the numbers do not shoot up. I think every country is happy when the curve starts flattening and the numbers are not increasing so much over time," Prof Kaleebu says, adding: "For any pandemic, definitely the numbers go up until they hit a peak and they start going down. But you want to keep that peak down, especially not to surpass your capacity so that you are not overwhelmed with numbers that you cannot cope with."
President Museveni on May 19, announced steps that the country would follow in lifting a two-month long restriction on movement of Ugandans. He announced that among other things, the Government will systemically allow the transport system to resume with the lifting on the ban on using private cars to take effect on May 26.
The President, however, tagged the easing of restrictions on the mass use of masks by anyone in public, among other standard operating procedures.
Health ministry Permanent Secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, says the easing of restrictions is a welcome move for them as health professionals but urges Ugandans not to throw caution to the wind but continue to practice safety measures, bearing in mind that the pandemic is still amidst us.
Dr Atwine and Prof Kaleebu last weekend appeared on an interactive panel where citizens had an opportunity to interact with health experts to have questions surrounding the pandemic and the novel Coronavirus answered.
The panel discussion organised by the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Germany foundation, Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), was broadcast on various social media platforms, constituted health professionals from across the board, including Word Health Organisation Country Representative in Uganda, Dr Yonas Tegegn, Makerere University School of Public Health's Pauline Byakika and the director public health and environment at KCCA, Dr Daniel Okello.
"There is no need for us to rush to normalcy. We must adjust and continue adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines. The social distancing culture must remain," Dr Atwine said.
According to her, the ministry had predicted that more than 100,000 Ugandans would be infected at the peak of the pandemic. However, because of the country's quick response and the health experts' as well as Ugandans' vigilance, the numbers have been contained at a very low level going by infections internationally, including in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania.
"We are now moving into phase two of the pandemic in Uganda and in this phase with increased movements, we expect that numbers will rise because people will be interacting more," she says, adding: "There was a time we recorded zero cases but with continued movement especially of truck drivers, the numbers began to rise."
Dr Atwine explains that while the first phase was about controlling, tracing and containing the spread of the virus to minimal levels, the second phase will involve preparing the health care system to have capacity to treat cases. So far, more than 60 cases have been treated and discharged from hospitals around the country, having fully recovered from the disease that has killed thousands especially in China, Europe and the US.
A major challenge that Dr Atwine identifies in the second phase is the porous borders where people are still moving freely into and out of the country. She says that whereas the Government has created a buffer zone around districts on the border with other countries, the challenge still stands. "We have got reports of Ugandans who cross to neighbouring countries at night and weekends to attend parties and other recreational activities and then cross back into the country afterwards," she says.
She, however, emphasises government's efforts to intensify testing at the borders and tracing contacts of infected people.
A number of Ugandans asked to give their concerns about the lifting of the lockdown expressed fear at the reopening of schools, saying the government had to rethink whether the schools will be in position to implement standard operating procedures announced by government.
On the morning of Monday, May 25, the Ministry of Education published a circular with procedures that the schools and institutions of learning will follow in allowing students in candidate classes and finalists to report back to school. Besides other SOPs as have been issued to the public the schools have been asked to appoint prefects and committees that will ensure the implementation of the COVID-19 safety precautions.
However, Sheila Kamuntu, a parent at a school in Naalya is concerned about whether the implementers will be in position to ensure that the students follow them.
"We all know that these children go as far as sharing personal items especially as friends and while we may speak about it to them, it is difficult to ensure that they actually practice what we tell them to. For example we all know the habit of sharing things like pens and these are people who habitually put these pens in their mouths, so if three friends share a pen, that could spell disaster," Kamuntu says.
Other people we spoke to say that while certain measures may prove nearly impossible to implement, there is also the need to realise that lockdown cannot stay in place for ever. This perhaps is why Uganda might just need to learn to live with the virus as scientists have advised.
When case zero was announced in Uganda, Kampala Capital City Authority with partners put in place hand washing points at several points in the city, especially at the taxi parks and markets, a measure that dates back to earlier days when the country religiously implements primary health care (PHC) procedures.
Local Council committees were charged with ensuring that households implemented the PHC measures, while schools to-date have PHC on their syllabus, much as it has remained in theory.
KCCA's Dr Okello says the city authority will ensure that dwellers return to strict PHC procedures.