Covid-19: We need more than directives

Saturday March 21 2020

 

By Michael Aboneka

I salute the Ministry of Health for its efforts in managing coronavirus and providing timely information to the public.

On Wednesday, the President issued guidelines on what the country should do to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, below are issues that remained an unanswered:

The President made directives, but how legally enforceable are they. I don’t think presidential orders from a speech are legally biding.

There should be a legal process by the Health minister tabling or exercising her powers under the Public Health Act by first making a statutory order of the coronavirus to be brought under the Public Health Act and then make a special Statutory Instrument detailing the rules and their sanctions. As it stands, what will be the consequence if one does not follow the presidential directives?

The cardinal principle of Criminal Justice is that such sanctions should be exercised within the ambit of the Constitution and for every offence, there must be a sanction. I foresee challenges in enforcing some of the directives, unless the minister does what she is supposed to do under the law.

We know that prisons involve movements of persons such as visitors to the prisoners and attendance of court, among others. What is the position on this matter? For the remandees who still have court to attend what is the option that does not jeopardise their right to justice in a fair trial? As of now, we only have video facilities in Kampala.

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We need an urgent plan on this matter. Further, arrests will not stop because crime will continue, what are the mechanisms of arrest without physical touch? Are the police officers being oriented on how to handle this? How shall we deal with congested police cells? How shall we ensure that suspects are arraigned in court within 48 hours?

It is unfortunate that Ugandans who return home from abroad will be required to pay for their own quarantine upon arrival. A day after issuing the directive, several travellers were left stranded at Entebbe Airport because the authorities asked each of them to pay $100 per night for the 14 nights. Who set this standard fee?

What happens to travellers who cannot afford it? How about other border entry points? What are the plans? Are there any designated quarantine facilities the ministry has established?

Only those that can access televisions, radios and newspapers benefited from the Presidential address (which was delivered in English). I have also seen the Ministry of Health guidelines in regard to this pandemic issued in English. We need to do more sensitisation using a language the target audience understands.

For example, all the hand washing demonstrations I have seen involve a water tap. How about those without taps and clean water, how do we demonstrate the right way to use their containers to wash hands without risking infecting otters. Let us all take whatever measures we can to localize these messages through all means available.

The Pandemic is here but nothing has changed significantly in terms of numbers of health workers, their readiness, support systems and welfare. We are still dealing with Yellow fever, malaria, and HIV/Aids. How prepared are we to handle coronavirus victims without suffocating other services?

Is there a special ward(s) designated for the would-be victims? How about using the structure of prayer houses that have also been shut down as emergency centres? Is this something the ministry is thinking about, We need answers for these and more questions?

Michael Aboneka,
abonekajunior@gmail.com

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