Let's be extra careful to keep COVID-19 in check

By Arinawe Pius Keeya

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Like it has happened periodically before, the political season is upon us.

This would ordinarily be the time for open campaigns, rallies and all kinds of tactics to win over and/or retain voters' support.

Ordinarily there would have been rallies ranging from attendance by crowds of scores of people to tens of thousands and house-to-house campaigns popularly known as kakuyege. Excitement would be so high for the voters and the politicians who would also carry a characteristic load of anxiety over the outcome. It was typically a time of hyperactivity, crowding, merrymaking, and of course spending.

On the issue of crowds, in prior elections, people rightly or wrongly predicted the winning candidate by the size of the crowds he/she pulled which was wrong the majority of the time as there are many candidates who would "import" crowds.

Sadly, this is not to be this year because of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic that reared its ugly head in the world late last year. In his latest address to the nation on Sunday September 20, 2020, President Yoweri Museveni reiterated his consistent message that until a vaccine or a cure is found, COVID-19 is very dangerous and a killer which if one survives may be disabled in one way or another.

He emphasised that it was much better not to get infected. On the other hand, he said it was very easy to avoid the disease if one agreed to undergo a lot of the inconvenience of the lockdown and the losses (economic, social, etc.) that come with the restrictions, after all life is more important than wealth.

While the restrictions were gruelling, they were also rewarding as Uganda did not suffer any COVID-19 death until July 21, 2020. Then politicisation of the pandemic happened; it is incredible that some malicious people started spreading the gospel of "there is no COVID-19 and that this was a well-calculated fabrication of the Government to stop politicians, more so the Opposition from holding rallies!" This evil talk of "there is no COVID" reminds me of the case of the late Philly Bongole Lutaaya.

When he came out publicly that he had acquired HIV-AIDS, the cruel cynics had a field day, proclaiming that he was lying and targeting bazungu money. Because he opened up, he destigmatised HIV- AIDS, helping people accept reality and eventually go for treatment and increase their lifespan.

To those malicious people who were politicising COVID-19, see where we are — the death toll has risen to 63 with positive cases at 6,287 and 2,616 recoveries.

Uganda has now entered phase 4 of the epidemic's progression and the situation is more worrying today than six months ago.

These necessary and inevitable restrictions have a direct or indirect bearing on the activities of this political season with the traditional political campaign activities having to take on a new twist.

Even though the excitement of elections remains and is building up by the day, everything has to be done within these COVID-19 limitations and every person is required to comply. The pandemic has changed everything: The way the campaigns are conducted and the way people will vote.

Scientific elections have brought more challenges for the election administrators but also more focus onto technology and the digital space; the role of, capacity and responsibility of the media, the test for the politicians on their leadership qualities because they must show an example in complying with the national restrictions and the responsibility of the voters in staying safe amidst the excitement of elections.

It may well be another opportunity of turning the COVID-19 lemons that life has thrown at us into a lemonade that we can savour when all this is past us.

As the President guided, managing the COVID-19 situation remains very much both an individual and group responsibility. We all need to heed his passionate appeal to everyone "to be your own health worker" understanding the SOPs and putting them in practice for our own good and that of others.

Covid-19 is real, is here, it kills and can disable a survivor. The statistics are with us; we can see the evidence that we require for the reality to sink in. It would be reckless of us as Ugandans, political candidates, and voters to imagine it is business as usual.

Elections will take place on schedule; we shall exercise our civil and political rights, but safety is paramount.

The Government is doing its part in guaranteeing credible, safe, free and fair elections amidst the outbreak of a pandemic. Let everyone else, also be extra careful not to give COVID-19 a ride in this political season.

The writer is the Minister of General Duties in the Office of The Prime Minister