Easing lockdown: We need clearer strategy

Monday July 13 2020

A trader sells merchandise from a car parked on

A trader sells merchandise from a car parked on Namirembe Road in Kampala. Government is yet to lift the ban on shopping arcades and other places. PHOTO/ALEX ESAGALA. 

By Editor

As Uganda grapples with containing the coronavirus pandemic amid social disruptions and slump in the economy, there has been phased easing of the lockdown.

Most essential services are fully operational and public transportation has also resumed in many parts of the country with restrictions to carry fewer passengers.

There are, however, other points of contention, especially the implementation and adherence to the guidelines. Two key issues stand out: Social distancing and wearing of masks. There is open disregard for these guidelines by the general public and those in authority who ought to lead by example.

A quick survey around public places will show that most people do not wear a mask. And most of those who have masks do not wear them in the recommended manner. These include government officials who are often captured on camera mixing with members of the public while not wearing masks properly or not at all.

Similarly, there are concerns about the congestion in downtown Kampala where social distancing guidelines are non-existent. This is happening at a time when the government – rightly so – has kept schools closed and the national electoral body has advised digital election campaigns.

The Health ministry has also issued stringent standard operating procedures requiring, among others, primary education institutions to have at least 10 pupils per classroom and only 15 students for secondary schools, tertiary institutions and universities before they can reopen.

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In the June 17 letter to Education Minister, Health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng also emphasizes a two metre distance between learners and teachers, hand washing and routine screening of learners and staff.

The SOPs state that when a case is detected, the school will be cordoned off until all contacts to the confirmed case are identified, before it is closed. The school will be allowed to reopen after 21 days. The reopening date has not been communicated.

These guidelines have raised debate on how practical it would be for schools to implement them given the generally big number in our classes. Separately, there are demands from arcade owners for government to allow them to reopen.

As the Covid-19 cases continue to rise, it would be unwise to ignore set guidelines but Ugandans also require practical strategies. For instance, what is the plan for a classroom of 50 pupils if only 10 are allowed per class? Will learning be phased?

Critically, why are set guidelines like social distancing and wearing of masks being disregarded with impunity, including by prominent government officials who are supposed to lead by example?

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