Coronavirus scare: Government restricts public meetings

Precaution. South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at city hall in Daegu on Monday. AFP PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Target. The Health ministry says the ban mainly applies to events that attract participants from different countries, and those with huge crowds of people
  • At least 200 travellers linked to the deadly coronavirus have been isolated in their respective homes located in the different parts of the country since the outbreak of the disease in China and other countries this year

The Minister of State for Primary Healthcare, Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, has said all public gatherings organised without clearance from the ministry will be stopped in the new move to scale up prevention against coronavirus which has now spread to five African countries.

Addressing journalists in Kampala yesterday, the minister said the new requirement mainly applies to events that attract participants from different countries, and those with huge crowds of people.

“Every gathering must get clearance from the ministry. If you are organising a mass gathering without asking Ministry of Health, we have powers to stop you,” she said.

The minister said organisers should have basic surveillance equipment and other safety tools to be eligible for clearance.

“For those who wish to organise mass gatherings, we are requesting that you work with Ministry of Health to ensure that the place has all preventive measures such as temperature scanners and alcohol-based sanitisers,” Dr Moriku added.

According to the minister, the requirement also applies to churches and other local gatherings and events.
“There must be an entry point where people are screened and also people in place who will screen,” the minister said.

“People who have flu-like symptoms should stay home to avoid infecting others. They should avoid going to public places, offices and public gatherings,” she added.
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said police is behind the move by the Ministry of Health.

“[Coronavirus] is a health concern that has potential of endangering the lives of our citizens. Definitely, we shall proactively and jointly police all forms of gatherings to address the health and safety of Ugandans,” Mr Enanga said in telephone interview yesterday.

Mr Peter Ogwang, the State Minister for Information and Communication Technology, said this is one of the important steps government is taking against coronavirus to safeguard the citizens.

Dr Moriku said people showing these signs, including difficulty in breathing, should avoid self-medication as is the common practice among people.

“Do not take medication such as antibiotics when you have these symptoms. You need to seek proper medical care,” the minister said.

The minister said the country’s free entry policy places Uganda at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.
“Risk of importation remains very high because Uganda has maintained its open entry policy for travellers even from affected countries,” she cautioned.

However, Dr Moriku said the virus that was first reported in China in December 2019, has since spread to 74 countries worldwide, with cases so far reported in five African countries, including Senegal and Tunisia.
The minister said there is no confirmed case of the virus in Uganda yet, but added that 722 travellers who entered Uganda have been isolated for follow-up.

“Of these, 499 are Chinese nationals, 150 are Ugandan citizens and others are nationals from other countries,” she said.

“Ten samples of suspected coronavirus cases have been tested, but all have been found negative,” she said, adding that the ministry has also equipped hospitals with the coronavirus detection equipment and installed a surveillance system at Entebbe airport.

She also revealed that besides establishing mobile laboratory facilities, government has secured 11 ambulances to transport suspected cases to the particular medical points.

Experts caution government on self-isolation

As coronavirus spreads to 74 countries around the world, experts in public health have asked the government to complement self-isolation of people linked to the deadly virus with public education for effectiveness. They also questioned the reliability of self-isolation procedure without public education.

Prof Freddie Ssengooba, a seasoned researcher and lecturer at Makerere School of Public Health, said self-isolation is currently an appropriate intervention to prevent the contagious disease since the threat is still very low, but noted that public education is the most important.

“At this level, we need to be educated. For example, the people who are self-isolated [should] stay as far as possible without a strong contact with the people around them; by avoiding kisses, using a separate toilet and washing your hands,” Prof Ssengooba advised.
Prof Ssengooba further stated that the government has got to ensure that there is a ready team to move effectively should an active case of coronavirus be diagnosed.

At least 200 travellers linked to the deadly coronavirus have been isolated in their respective homes located in the different parts of the country since the outbreak of the disease in China and other countries this year. The move is a preventive measure against the spread of the virus that has ravaged China and other countries.
Another senior epidemiologist, who preferred anonymity to speak freely, said resources have to be provided to cater for the people who have self-isolated and prevent them from going out and spread the disease.

“When you advocate for self-quarantine, they [isolated people] must have the face masks and other things to use in daily life. Otherwise, where are they going to get the things to use?” the epidemiologist said.
An epidemiologist is a scientist who studies diseases within populations of people.

The risk importation of the virus into the country is still high due to its rapid spread, according to government. Uganda is also a major trading partner with China, with many citizens travelling to China for trade, education and tourism.

Dr Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, said it is not practical and neither is there space to isolate hundreds of people, explaining that people are told to self-isolate themselves in their homes with the supervision of the health workers in different areas.

“What we do when people come at the point of entry; they see that these are people who have been in areas that could have interacted with someone may be sick. They are given clear instructions before going home,” Dr Atwine said.

She said this kind of isolation is difficult and, therefore, requires self-discipline or else the person who might be infected might infect his or her family members.
Dr Atwine said isolation centres established in Entebbe and Naguru are used only when someone starts showing symptoms.

By Lilian Namagembe & Nobert Atukunda

Workplaces not ready to handle threat - survey

News of the outbreak of coronavirus in some African countries, which was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, raises issues for the preparedness in workplaces where a number of people meet every day.

A quick visit to many workplaces reveals that many of them are not adequately prepared to prevent the virus.
Despite the constant appeal by government, a number of workplaces neither have hand sanitisers nor do they have safety measures pinned at their notice boards. Some workers said they only get information on the deadly virus from the media.

This reporter visited a prominent bank in Kampala yesterday and found that they did not have sanitisers at their points of entry.

At several shopping malls and arcades in the city centre, although some people were talking about the virus, they seemed unbothered in terms of preparedness. Apart from fear written on their faces, they are carrying on with their lives normally.
Although government has cautioned the public against hand shaking and hugging, this seems to be a habit that people are not about to let go.

Mr Eddie Byamukama, a Kampala resident, said although he has tried to stop himself from shaking hands with other people, it is something that he sometimes forgets.
Mr Elson Matovu, an administrator at a hair salon, said although there are no sanitisers at his workplace, they have educated their employees about the preventative measures, adding that for his type of job, it is difficult to avoid personal contact.

However, some workplaces such as National Environment Management Authority, and Workers House in Kampala had sanitisers at the points of entry and briefed the front desk officers to ensure every one sanitisers before they proceed to the different offices, although a front desk officer at Workers House said some people adamantly refuse to sanitise even when they are told to so.

Mr Yusuf Nsubuga, a training manager at Federation of Employers, said emails were sent to employers on how to prevent coronavirus and they are following up on most of them.
“We have given them the information, the implementation is largely upon them,” he said.