Relief as nightlife set to resume

President Museveni. PHOTO/PPU

What you need to know:

  • Opening schools has turned out to be a headache for the government, which had insisted that all teachers must first get vaccinated before schools are reopened. 

With the Omicron Covid-19 variant taking a foothold in the country, President Museveni yesterday moved to start fully reopening the economy two years after large parts of it were officially shut down.  

Citing the increment in vaccine uptake, which has been put at 11 million Ugandan adults getting at least one jab, Mr Museveni allowed public transport to operate at full capacity, and also schools to open on January 10, 2022. 

In his speech on New Year’s Eve, Mr Museveni said although the schools will be opened on January 10, the Ministry of Education will issue a separate roadmap detailing how students and pupils will report to schools. 

“Last time we had chaos when children were told to go home,” Mr Museveni said, referring to June last year when schools were closed, leaving school-going children stranded within the bus terminals for days because of the exhorbitant fares charged to access the buses and taxis. 

Opening schools has turned out to be a headache for the government, which had insisted that all teachers must first get vaccinated before schools are reopened. 

Despite having low infection rates, Uganda has come under criticism for being the only country to have its schools shutdown and in September, Education Minister Janet Museveni – who is also the country’s First Lady – fortified her policy to keep schools closed, contending that the decision was envisioned to protect the projected 15 million learners from the threat posed by Covid-19, which has so far killed more than 3,250 people in the country. 

On September 22, Mr Museveni said universities and other post-secondary institutions could reopen on November 1, provided lecturers and support staff were vaccinated against Covid-19. Indeed, the universities and other tertiary institutions were opened.  

“After detailed discussions, the national taskforce [for the prevention of Covid-19 in Uganda] and I have decided post-secondary institutions can re-open,” Mr Museveni said, adding that 330,000 learners aged 18 and above in post-secondary institutions of learning should be vaccinated “as soon as possible” to allow for the safe reopening of campuses.

Although he greenlighted the reopening of the economy yesterday, President Museveni warned that if cases surge again, he will have it reversed. 

“If we see the [intensive care unit] ICU beds are occupied and high dependency [unit] (serious cases)...if we find that patients are filling more than 50 percent of the beds, we might have to do something about the measures, especially the transport ones and our friends the bar people and so on,” Mr Museveni said, adding that there are 187 ICU beds in government hospitals, and 475 beds in the high dependency units, and the total Covid-19 beds are 3,900. 

“Recently, they have been empty because we have not been having cases,” Mr Museveni said.  
In reopening the economy in what he called a staggered manner, Mr Museveni said cinemas and sports events will be allowed to operate but with strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPS) – such as social distancing, wearing face masks, and vaccination.  

For bars and concerts, which have been closed since 2020 when the contagion took a foothold in the country, Mr Museveni said they will be allowed to operate two weeks after the opening of schools, and that is when curfew will also be lifted.  

“We want to first finish with the opening of schools and then we deal with the other groups,” Mr Museveni said.  
The President, however, said that boda boda riders will be under curfew which starts at around 7pm to 5am.  
“Boda bodas, you will forgive us, you have many issues. You will have to observe the curfew,” Mr Museveni said. 

Before the address, it wasn’t clear whether Mr Museveni was going to fully reopen the economy following reports that the National Covid-19 Taskforce had advised him to delay the reopening in a bid to assess the impact of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“We watched the numbers increase. We have not yet seen an increase in [hospital] admissions but that doesn’t mean the cases will not increase,” a member of the taskforce said.  

“The decision for reopening is based on science. We will have to wait for the next two weeks to understand what the pandemic will look like,” a member of the task force told Saturday Monitor on December 28. 

“The positivity rate was under one percent, but right now it is above five percent, which is the red-line. Once the positivity rate goes beyond five percent, it means you are already in trouble,” the official added. 

“We are reconsidering the reopening plan because we need to curb the infections. The only thing is that maybe hospitalisation and deaths are not yet high but soon, we shall reach there because many people are not yet vaccinated.”

It’s, however, said Mr Museveni was hesitant to take the position of the taskforce since in October he had encouraged Ugandans to get vaccinated and vowed to remove all remaining restrictions come January. 

But members of the taskforce, who spoke to this publication this week on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, said they were concerned by a surge in cases driven by the new Omicron variant, which is believed to be more transmissible.

Recently, Health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng told this publication of plans to start implementing vaccine mandates as a means of increasing uptake of the jabs to control the pandemic.

The mandate involves restricting the unvaccinated from accessing offices and public places.
“Cabinet approved our recommendation for vaccination mandate and that we will start implementing next month,” she said. 

“We are working with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and the Office of the Prime Minister to start implementing. Next month, we will present the list of institutions and organisations that will be implementing vaccination mandate.”

In yesterday’s speech, Mr Museveni, as usual, implored Ugandans to get vaccinated, saying it is the only way the virus is going to be fought.  

“When coronavirus started, the solution was to run away but now, our solution is no longer to run: one of the solutions is vaccination for the 22 million people above the age 18.  The syringes are around. Go and get vaccinated,”

Mr Museveni said, adding that Ugandans who are 50 and above can get their booster.  

“Come out again for the booster dose. I will be soon going out again for the booster dose and Mama here [Janet] . We shall be there because they are saying we need a booster jabs now,” he said.