Ugandans have been advised to avoid shaking hands and hugging at all times, to guard against the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as the global death toll goes beyond 2,800 with 82,000 cases confirmed.
This is contained in the wide-ranging guidelines issued by the health ministry.
Ugandans have also been advised to avoid close contact with people who are visibly sick with flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sneezing).
"When sick with flu-like symptoms, avoid going to public places, offices and public gatherings. Remain at home in isolation to avoid infecting others," health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng said yesterday.
The epicentre of the virus is Wuhan, Hubei province in China, where majority of the deaths and infections have occurred. Aceng cautioned against self-medication by the use of antibiotics in case of any symptom related to COVID-19. "You do not need to wear medical masks if you do not have respiratory symptoms, such as cough, sneezing or running nose," Aceng said.
Others measures include avoiding spitting in the public and, to always find a secluded place, such as toilets or pit-latrines in which to spit in, delay travel to countries that currently have many patients with COVID-19. "If you must travel, the protective measures must be adhered to," she said.
Aceng added that Uganda had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of yesterday and that 10 people who had signs of the disease tested negative. In Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria have already reported cases.
The minister said it is pertinent that the population remains on high alert and diligently exercise preventive measures, to avoid contracting the disease.
A total of 695 travellers, including Chinese and Ugandans travelling to Uganda, have been isolated for purposes of follow up, the minister said. Of these, 488 are Chinese nationals, while 143 are Ugandans.
A total of 280 individuals have completed 14 days of self-isolation.
STUDENTS IN CHINA
About the return of the students currently in China, Aceng said they would not evacuate the students. "You would be aware that there are over 47 countries affected. South Korea currently has 2022 cases, Italy has so many cases.
Iran has a number of cases, including high-level people, who are already in isolation. So, if you are talking about evacuation, are we going to evacuate from all (affected) countries?" Aceng asked.
"I am not aware of the Chinese government telling us to evacuate.
However, I have a letter from the ambassador telling us how well they are taking care of the Ugandan students," she added:
Organisers of mass gatherings must also ensure that handwashing facilities or alcohol-based sanitisers and temperature screening materials are available at venue entry points.
The health ministry said it has prepared adequately for the coming enthronement of the new Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev. Dr. Samuel Stephen Kaziimba Mugalu, tomorrow, at Namirembe Cathedral.
"Everyone going for the function will be screened, and there are hand sanitisers for everyone," she said. "We shall also be distributing leaflets on the dos and don'ts and we shall have health personnel take people through them on arrival.
This will be the case for other national gatherings, including Martyrs Day.
COVID-19 was declared in China on December 31, last year. The outbreak has now spread to all continents and over 47 countries have confirmed cases.
Cases have been confirmed in Italy, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland, France, Greece and Spain and Brazil.
In Africa, cases have been reported in Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the umrah pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by COVID-19 fears.
The move raised questions over haj, which starts in July.
World Health Organisation head Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said the COVID-19 outbreak has reached a ‘decisive point' and has ‘pandemic potential.'
His comments come as countries around the world battle to prevent the virus from spreading further. More cases have been reported outside than inside China.
The health ministry says it has undertaken the following measures to prevent importation of the virus into the country.
The ministry has enhanced surveillance measures for all travellers from COVID-19-affected countries.
The Uganda Virus Research Institute has the necessary equipment and reagents to test and confirm any suspected COVID-19 sample in the country.
So far, samples from 10 persons who presented with sign and symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 have been tested.
All tested negative. Screening at Entebbe International Airport and other points of entry, like Malaba, Busia, Elegu, Kyanika have been strengthened, with deployment of additional health workers, equipment and infection prevention materials.
Travellers from affected countries are required to undergo 14 days of self-isolation and are and monitored daily by health ministry surveillance teams.
Travellers who develop symptoms during the follow-up period are checked, samples taken, tested and advised on appropriate care.
Entebbe and Naguru referral hospitals are being prepared to receive people who may present with signs and symptoms. Eleven ambulances are on standby to transport suspected cases to the appropriate level of care.
Speaking at a public lecture on the Belt and Road Initiative at Makerere University on Friday, China's ambassador to Uganda, Zheng Zhuqiang, said China was taking care of Ugandan students in Wuhan.
"Talking about the COVID-19 epidemic, I know all of you are concerned about the situation of Ugandan students locked down in Wuhan.
What I can assure you is that, China is doing everything possible to take care of them, the same way as we take care of our own citizens," he said.
He explained that on February 22, he invited some of the parents and family members of those students to the embassy, where he shared the latest information with them and listened to their concerns, difficulties and anxieties.
The ambassador said he took down their requests and immediately sent them to China. "We are doing this to share with you that we are with you through thick and thin.
Yes, if winter comes, can spring be far behind? With the solidarity and support of Uganda, we are sure that spring will soon come back to see another boom in our people to people exchange.
In fact, the embassy is handling government scholarship applications, which are ever as vibrant as before." The health ministry appealed to Ugandans to remain calm and vigilant and avoid spreading false information, which may cause unnecessary anxiety.
The public has also been advised to report any suspected cases to the nearest health facility or call toll free lines 0800203033 and 0800100066.
Compiled by Apollo Mubiru, Gerald Tenywa, Taddeo Bwambale and Richard Kanene