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Experts warn against reopening schools, churches

By Cecilia Okoth and David Lumu

Added 2nd September 2020 04:24 PM

Experts warn against reopening schools, churches

City High School in Kololo, like other educational institutions, remains closed due to COVID-19. Experts have warned against reopening schools

The national COVID-19 taskforce has advised President Yoweri Museveni not to reopen schools and churches in view of the rapidly increasing cases in the country.

Sources say the experts called for caution on the reopening of schools and churches and recommended that the matter be studied further.

New Vision learnt that President Museveni Tuesday held a day-long meeting with the members of the national taskforce. By press time, it had not been established what the meeting agreed on.

The taskforce, headed by Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, tabled its recommendations on many COVID-19-related issues and the lockdown guidelines currently in place.

Sources said the experts recommended against reopening schools, arguing that there are still many grey areas, especially the rising infections and limited capacity of school directors to enforce the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

According to experts, the rising infection curve needs to first flatten, before schools are reopened.

"Otherwise, the taskforce has recommended that it is unwise to open schools, even if it is limited to candidates classes," sources said.

In his last address, the President said the decision to declare 2020 a dead year for learners will largely depend on how quickly scientists develop a vaccine for the coronavirus.

He said it was also dependant on how the education sector players work out a plan that will enable learners, especially finalists, to study without being exposed to the virus.

In the meantime, Museveni added, a plan for distance learning should be rolled out for students.

The distribution of radios to facilitate distance learning is expected to start soon, with plans in place to hand out 8,975,900 radios that are estimated to cost sh340b.

Places of worship

According to sources, the taskforce has also raised issues over the proposal to ease the lockdown on churches and mosques.

The national taskforce recommended further engagements with the Inter- Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) and other religious leaders on how they will manage crowds and enforce the required SOPs, especially social distancing.

During the National Day of Prayer on Saturday, religious leaders called for easing the lockdown on churches, mosques and other places of worship. Dr Joseph Sserwadda, the titular head of Born Again/ Pentecostal believers, argued that it is safe to re-open places of worship albeit with safeguards in place.

In response, Museveni said the plea by religious leaders would be considered when he meets the national taskforce.

However, sources said, the taskforce recommended that reopening places of worship be deferred.

Airport to reopen

The national taskforce, sources added, recommended that the airport be reopened, provided the health ministry ensures that SOPs are adhered to.

The easing of the lockdown on bars, discos and saunas, among others, was ruled out. The borders, sources added, will also remain under lockdown.

Since March, international flights have been limited to cargo and, lately, repatriation of Ugandans that were stranded across the globe.

No more total lockdown

According to sources, the taskforce did not recommend another total lockdown. However, they proposed a localised lockdown, depending on the rate of infections in the specific area. By yesterday, Uganda had passed the 3,000 mark of COVID-19 infections.

According to results released by the health ministry, 65 new cases were registered, bringing the total of cumulative cases to 3,037. The cases are of contacts and alerts from 14 districts, including 20 in Kampala, 10 in Kikuube, eight in Luwero, four in Buikwe, four in Zombo and three in Adjumani.

Arua registered three cases, Hoima three and Wakiso two. Jinja, Mbarara, Mayuge, Pallisa and Yumbe each registered a new COVID-19 case.

Two truck drivers tested positive in Pader and Lira as well as one health worker in Kampala.

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