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Covid-19: Uganda goes into total lockdown as infections rise

A Ugandan prison officer receives the first injection of the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at Mulago Referral Hospital in Kampala on March 10, 2021.

Badru Katumba – AFP

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Friday tightened restrictions in the country following a worrying rise in Covid-19 infections and deaths.

On a day when 42 people were reported dead, and 1,000 new infections, the Ugandan leader vowed to “stop the joke” of the public violating the public health guidelines, known locally as the Standard Operating Procedures [SOP].

He stopped the movement of public and private transport vehicles. Only security, emergency and other essential service providers, including the police, firefighters and the military have been exempted.

The new move tightened restrictions imposed a week ago, when cross-district travel was banned, schools closed and other public gatherings restricted yet the deaths continued to rise.

At the Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala, a ‘technical fault’ on Wednesday cut off oxygen supply to Covid-19 patients at the facility, leading to the death of several patients. The new highest death toll would arrive two days later when the country reported 42 deaths, raising the number of those killed by the virus to 542.

“When I hear these people who have died…I am getting telephone calls from all over the place…they are telling me so and so is dying…and yet we told you from March last year, this joke must stop,” President Museveni said in his address to the nation on Friday.

The country had been operating under a tight set of restrictions, including a curfew that starts at 9pm to 5am, compulsory wearing of masks and social distance in public places.

The Ugandan leader lampooned schools and other learning institutions which he accused of sitting on evidence of possible infections in schools. He had said the same thing last week when he ordered schools closed. They will remain shut for the next 42 days.

“It is observed that some sections of the public are not adhering to the curfew hours. As such, curfew throughout the country is pulled back to 7pm to 5.30am,” he said.

The new move means Uganda, initially seen as winning the war on Covid-19 and reporting fewer cases compared to neighbouring Kenya, is now paying after its citizens dropped their guard.

The measures also included restricted cross-border movement, with vehicles only being admitted into the country if transporting cargo, moving essential personnel, dealing with emergencies or carrying Ugandans returning to the country. They all will have to abide by Covid-19 measures including providing proof of a negative test.

“Entebbe International Airport will remain open, but we shall ensure that no virus, or new variants enter Uganda. Uganda is a land locked country. All cargo movements to and out of Uganda will be allowed without any disruption,” he said.

“Burials to be restricted to the core family as applied in the military. My uncle died and was buried in Rwakitura but I did not attend the burial, I was not going to add any value, I was not going to resurrect him,” President Museveni said.

Accused of brutality in the past with illegal detentions, Uganda’s security agencies were also directed to impose spot fines on errant public to reduce congestion and infection conditions in cells.

Stop sharing rooms

Public officers dealing with non-core functions will be reduced further to ten per cent while factory workers will be asked to stay at work to reduce movement, based on arrangements with their employers.

Police and military in camps were advised to stop sharing rooms, although a special taskforce led by the Prime Minister [Ms Robinah Nabbanja] will determine the actual implementation.

Churches and worship centres and sports venues will suspend their physical operations. Clerics were advised to shift their ministries online. The Ugandan leader hopes that after 42 days, the country should be able to tame the infection rates.

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