With just 12 days to the end of the 42-day lockdown, government has no clear exit strategy to return the country to normal amid shortage of vaccines and poor compliance to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Uganda was thrown into a second lockdown on June 18 when the second wave of the pandemic hit, forcing upwards the number of cases, hospital admissions, and deaths. To break this chain and buy time to get in more vaccines and expand capacity of hospitals, government imposed a countrywide lockdown.
But 30 days later, government has made only limited progress in mass vaccination, which has been fronted by experts as the best way to cut back on both infections and deaths and enable the country open up sooner.
By July 13, the Health ministry statistics indicated that only 1,085382 people had been vaccinated of the targeted 21.9 m.
Total infections by the date stood at 89,080, and deaths at 2,249, while recoveries were recorded as 64,096.
But even with its efficacy in stemming transmission, the lockdown has had adverse effect on the economy and peoples livelihoods, and experts now say opening up is a compelling option. But the question now is how best Ugandans can learn to live with the virus.
Dr Charles Olaro, the director for curative services at the Health ministry, says the only option for the people is to observe SOPs because the country cannot stay locked down for so long.
“The lockdown is not the solution to the rising cases, but it’s one of the solutions, so the solution is for us to prevent, and protect ourselves. The only way to live with this disease is to avoid places that are congested, limit visiting … and observe SOPs. If we do that, we can live with the virus, if we don’t, then the virus can live without us,” he warned.
Dr Richard Idro, the president of the Uganda Medical Association, said: “By now people have understood the seriousness of this disease. If we don’t comply, it will send us back to where we were. As a country, we should press everything to have everyone vaccinated. In the meantime, we have to follow SOPs. If people behave and adhere to SOPs, the lockdown will be a temporary measure…”
Dr Freddie Ssengooba, a public health expert at Makerere University, said there is need to reduce gatherings, which are major source of transmission with catastrophic outcome.
“Those in big markets that are not able to follow guidelines; the burials are risks, huge gatherings for prayers remain a challenge if there is no enough space to follow the guidelines,” Dr Ssengooba warned.
He advised the public to stick to SOPs as the country cannot stay under lockdown until vaccines become available.
“We have been able to survive for a year plus. The problem is that we have had recent increase in cases with many people dying, but I don’t think it would be wise to say that the lockdown should stay until the vaccines are here. Through other measures that have kept us going, we can still continue so those measures still work,” Dr Ssengoba said.
“However, boarding schools are not a problem. I see challenge with day schools because (students) have to commute, use public transport, especially in urban schools where there is public transport. If we had a few more vaccines, we would deploy to see that teachers and the more vulnerable are catered for,” he added.
Dr Misaki Wanyegera, the head of the ministerial advisery committee on Covid-19, said it is difficult to plan a normal life when majority of the people have not been vaccinated, adding that learning to live with the virus would take a lot of adjustments in the way we live.
Dr Wanyegera said although government had thought it would carry out mass vaccination during the lockdown, this has not been possible due to sacristy of vaccines.
“There are things we thought we would have done during this lockdown, including mass vaccination, unfortunately, we have not done that because of scarcity of vaccines not because of resources,” he said.
He also said a cure would be the best solution as well as adherence to SOPs.
“The other plan is to get therapeutics that are effective. If you can get a drug that somebody who got Covid can take and be cured that would be great… in terms of social compliance adherence levels are low so we continue to have loopholes among people,” Dr Wanyengera warned.
Scientists say although there is a shortage of vaccines, some of the vaccinated people are getting infected through direct exposure to the virus.