What you need to know:
- State House says the meeting was postponed because the president is preparing for his national address on Covid-19 update.
President Museveni yesterday called off a scheduled meeting of the Inter-party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) at his country home in Rwakitura, Kiruhura District after he received news about the escalating Covid-19 situation.
The high-level meeting with Secretaries General of political parties in Uganda, which was organised to discuss issues of democracy, has now been pushed to a later date in January 2022.
Sources told this publication that the President got concerned after he confirmed that 1,272 people tested positive on December 27 and the positivity rate had jumped from 0.9 percent on December 11 to 18 percent.
The Secretary-General of the National Resistance Movement, Mr Richard Todwong, told this newspaper last evening that the meeting was cancelled because the President was engaged in other state duties.
Senior presidential press secretary Lindah Nabusayi yesterday said the meeting was postponed to a later date because the President is preparing for his national address on Covid-19 update, which will be delivered at the same time as the annual New Year’s message tomorrow at 8pm from Rwakitura.
“He needs enough time with the IPOD SGs so he requested for a postponement,” she said.
The President faces a delicate balancing act between unlocking the economy to save jobs and livelihoods, and protecting the lives of more than 40 million Ugandans who have endured Covid-19 induced challenges for two years.
Surging Covid-19 infections in the country have complicated matters even as schools prepare to welcome 15 million learners on January 10.
In the last three days, 12 people have succumbed to the coronavirus disease on top of an average of 3,000 new infections within the same period. In the previous weeks, only around 100 cases and two deaths would be reported in three days.
To avert a crisis in hospitals and other health facilities, other sources in government expect new Covid-19 containment measures as the President addresses the country tomorrow.
They have talked of a new intelligence brief to the President which highlights the dangers of rising infections and the need to reinforce the war against a pandemic that has so far infected 137,270 and killed 3,287 people, according to the latest Ministry of Health statistics.
Sources at the Health ministry told this publication that the promised full reopening is not guaranteed and they ruled out the past pronouncement by the Health minister that Uganda will never have another lockdown.
Sources close to State House said the drastic rise in infections has also thrown the planned reopening of schools into a crisis with Mr Museveni expected to make a final decision tomorrow.
After realising that daily Covid cases were increasing, the Minister for Presidency, Ms Milly Babalanda, yesterday wrote to the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) and Resident City Commissioners (RCCs) to implement the Covid-19 measures.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that out of 32.6 million doses the government has acquired through donations and direct procurement, 9.8 million Ugandans have received first dose and 1.5m have received their second dose. The government is racing to inoculate at least 22 million people.
What experts say
Dr Samuel Oledo, the President of Uganda Medical Association (UMA), supports increasing the enforcement of preventive measures such as social distancing, wearing of facemasks, hand sanitising and maintaining a lockdown on bars.
“Bars are places that generate a lot of money for the economy, but in such a time, when we want to reduce Covid-19 spread and you want to reopen a bar! How can a drunk person observe preventive measures?” he said.
President Museveni has kept the entertainment industry under lockdown since 2020, citing the higher risk of spreading the coronavirus among patrons.
Mr Rugiirwa Katatumba, the chairperson of Bar, Club and Entertainment Owners Association, told this newspaper yesterday that they are “disappointed” about the recommendation from scientists to delay their reopening.
Dr Oledo on the other hand said allowing public transport operators to carry the full capacity of passengers will worsen the Covid-19 situation as they handle travellers who have higher chances of harbouring the infection.
“We are less than 2,000 doctors employed by the government.”
But the renewed enforcement of stringent measures such as social distancing and curfew time is contrary to what many Ugandans were expecting after the President announced plans to fully-reopen the economy in January 2022.
Mr Ismael Kalema, a trader at Mukwano Arcade in Kampala, said he expects the President to reopen the fully-reopen the economy as he addresses the nation.
“There is no need to keep us under lockdown. Everything should be reopened at once,” he said.
“It has now been two years since we started fighting Covid-19; we have learnt how to live with the disease.”
He said the curfew time has greatly reduced time for business and prolonged Covid-19 restrictions on other sectors such as education and the entertainment industry, which has increased poverty among Ugandans.
But another official at the Ministry of Health, who preferred anonymity to speak freely, said if cases continue increasing at this rate and hospitals start getting overwhelmed, there will be no option but to lockdown the country.
“Our health system cannot handle many sick people, so if cases rise so high, there can be another lockdown. Forget about the saying that there will be no lockdown. We are talking about reality here,” the source said.
“What is confusing us when it comes to full reopening of the economy is the mass movement of people from the cities to rural areas during this festive season. Now we will have to wait and see what will happen in the next two weeks,” the source added.
Dr Jane Aceng, the Health minister, said: “We don’t want any more lockdowns. Lockdowns have caused a lot of suffering to our people. Omicron or no Omicron, we shall open up in January. Even the seven cases of Omicron reported are asymptomatic.”