Scientists recommend govt to extend Covid-19 lockdown

A new study by scientists at Makerere University College of Natural Sciences has recommended that government extends the Covid-19 lockdown up to October.

The scientists said rushing to release more than 75 per cent of the population from lockdown before the said time would cost the country more than 10,000 infections, something that is unmanageable given the fragile health system.

They also say the move could set the second and “more disastrous” wave of the pandemic in the country.

“….with 3,200 hospital beds and not all are ICU-like in capacity, releasing more Ugandans within the 100 days, means the pressure on the health facilities would be overwhelming in case of new infections,” wrote the scientists.

“....75 per cent of the population can only be effectively released from lockdown after 210 days (around October 2020) if the possibility of having the second wave of the infection is to be mitigated,” they added.

The study report titled, “Understanding the dynamics of decision making amid political, public, socio-economical, national and regional challenges and interests,” was released yesterday Makerere University.

The study is a mathematical modelling of Covid-19 dynamics in the country which drew the conclusion from analysing the characteristics of Covid-19 recruitments, recovery, importation of cases, surveillance and case management.

The scientists analysed the population at high risk and those infected but cannot be detected by the screening and diagnosis system.

According to the experts, a much slower approach to easing the lockdown that includes a strong surveillance would work for the country. The scientists also indicated that Covid-19 infections can be contained if imported cases are restricted.

“The issue of eliminating truck drivers mingling at service and testing centres at border crossings should be re-enforced. Government should set up treatment and isolation facilities as close as possible to the testing border points,” they said.

The scientists explained that this would prevent overwhelming cases in regional facilities, optimise deployment of the scarce resources and minimise stigma and anxiety.

Prof Joseph Y.T Mugisha, who led the team of five scientists while releasing the report, said their modelling is feasible in real life.

“To understand whether the model serves the purpose, we fitted the model with reported data from the Ministry of Health,” he said.

Prof Mugisha said the current measures put in place such as the wearing of facemasks and partial lifting of the lockdown are insufficient to safeguard the country.

He said a number of new infections are still being imported into the country, and more people are unknowingly contracting the disease from community and health facilities.
“Since hospital-acquired infections have emerged, mitigation should be given priority,” he said.

Prof Mugisha said government should provide isolation facilities for health workers, effective personal protection equipment and increase number of health workers.

The study, according to Prof Mugisha, was intended to assist government to study the transmission dynamics of Covid-19 and use it to make more informed decisions.

Other key findings
On the impact of the lockdown, the scientists said: “In the ideal situation of maintaining only 10 per cent of susceptible population available, the hospitalisation requirements would be close to 1,000 beds by 100 days after reporting the first case.”

“If the available proportion is increased from the initial 10 per cent to 50 per cent after two months, then within 365 days, the hospitalised cases on a given day would reach very high levels close to 10,000 and undetected infections will be high at close to 1,400 on a given day,” they added.

Among all the assessed scenarios, the scientists found out that the only way to wipe out the disease during the first year is to stop importation of the cases within the first two months.

“Model results reveal the disease will be persistent in Uganda for as long as we still have imported cases,” they wrote. To stop infections, the scientists said: “This would be achieved after 200 days if all other measures in place are strictly observed.”