Where did Museveni drop his Covid guard?

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President Museveni during his State-of-the-Nation Address at Kololo ceremonial grounds on June 7, 2023.

What you need to know:

  • Precaution. A day after the President announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19, we trace his activities over the past fortnight, the gestation period for coronavirus, to spotlight where he could have picked the virus. 

President Museveni’s declaration yesterday that he was Covid-positive, the first time in 39 months since Uganda registered its index case in March 2020, has sparked questions about where he picked the infection from when prevalence is lowest in the country and globally.

Mr Museveni is a health freak and has for the most part masked up since the pandemic outbreak, initially avoiding crowds and preferring virtual engagements.

In public, there is always a table by his side with tissue for cleaning hands and a trash can for disposing the used paper serviettes.

He rarely shakes hand and government officials and private individuals meet him only after presenting Covid-negative result, although it remained unclear if foreign guests are subjected to similar protocols to safeguard him.

Despite the precautions, the President announced yesterday that tests after he suffered mild flu-like symptoms confirmed he had he virus, admitting he had dropped masking guard due to an allergic reaction.

“I have, therefore, self-isolated at Nakasero [State Lodge in Kampala],” he tweeted, assigning Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja to his scheduled tasks for yesterday and today, the highlight being presiding over the national celebrations to mark the Heroes’ Day in Luweero District,  
News of the infection came a couple of days after the President returned from attending a 10-day retreat of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party parliamentary Caucus at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi (NALI).

Besides holding side meeting with visiting local and foreign delegation, including guests from Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr Museveni reportedly interacted closely with the party lawmakers.

He, for instance, tweeted on June 4 that he hosts hundreds of the Members of Parliament subscribing to NRM at State Lodge Ngoma for the closing session of the retreat.

“It has been both a nostalgic and hopeful experience interacting with these mostly young, educated and energetic members,” he noted.

It is unclear whether any MP has gone down with Covid.

Caucus members who spoke to this newspaper said I would be difficult to know who infected others – in the event the President, who is the NRM national chairman, picked the virus from the retreat.

There is nothing to suggest that the fully-vaccinated President, including with a booster shot, is ill and courtiers suggested he went into self-isolation out of an abundance of caution.

He spoke of his first preventive action was using a car different from that of his wife Janet when he on Wednesday went to Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala to deliver the State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA).

The President said he took the precaution after a CPR test showed conflicting outcomes – one a positive and the other negative – after a rapid test turned a negative result.

Dr Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Health and a personal physician o the President, was the first on Wednesday to confirm that Mr Museveni had the virus before the head of state reported about his infection in a tweet yesterday.

His declaration comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that Covid-19 is no longer a global public health threat because of a significant decline in infections and deaths.
“Covid-19 transmission remains, but largely, most infections are mild,” Dr Henry Kyobe, the National Covid-19 incident commander, told this newspaper last evening.

He added: “However, a few individuals who have comorbidities are slightly in the severe form [of the disease].”

Our tracking of the activities of the President based on publicly available information shows that besides being in daily contact with his household and guards, he held at least nine bilateral and group meetings over the past two weeks (May 25 to June 7). 

The time from exposure to the coronavirus to symptom onset, commonly known as the incubation period, is 14 days, according to scientists.

The President, along with Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu, on May 25 commissioned a 16-megawatt cross-border hydropower plant developed by independent power producer, Kikagati Power Company Ltd, on River Kagera.

The following day he was in Kalangala meeting farmers who grow oil palm trees and a day after that, he joined members of Parliament subscribing to the ruling NRM for a 10-day retreat at NALI.

“After the very useful interactive retreat in Kyankwanzi, I was already immersed in the activities in Kampala. However, on Tuesday, I started experiencing mild flu-like symptoms,” Mr Museveni wrote in a lengthy tweet yesterday.

Adding: “I ignored the feeling and had my meetings in Entebbe as well as working on my voluminous State of the Nation Address.”

Among those he met in the intervening period were top government delegation from Sudan led by Malik Agar Eyre Nganyoufa, a parliamentary team from DRC’s Ituri province, and Mama Maria Nyerere, the widow of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere.

The others included Speaker of Parliament Anita Among, Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa and the United States Ambassador to Uganda, Natalie Brown.

“As everybody knows, I have been very cautious with Corona. However, recently, I had to give up masks because they have been causing me allergic reactions in the eyes and also in the throat,” the President said during his State-of-the-Nation Address on Wednesday.

Dr Kyobe said that although some people may contract the infection, the variant that is circulating in the country, Omicron, is generally a “milder form”.  

“We are also seeing majorly mild cases because of higher vaccination rates. So, we hope there is some degree of immune protection which protects them from severe disease, both from previous infection and Covid-19 vaccination,” Dr Kyobe said.

He said they don’t intend to do contact tracing because Covid-19 prevalence in the country is under control.

“Covid-19 is an airborne disease, so doing contact tracing is not relevant; however, it can also be spread through contact. But we also have influenza viruses circulating alongside coronavirus,” he said.

Since the outbreak of the virus in the country in 2020, there are 170, 602 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 3,632 deaths, according to data from the Health Ministry. At least 26,406,936 vaccine doses have also been administered.

Dr Daniel Kyabayinze, the head of public health at the Health Ministry, said Covid-19 is still around and people should be cautious.

“The WHO gave a communication that Covid-19 is no longer a pandemic of public health concern given the aging of the disease and the intervention and the resources available,” he said.

He added: “The regulations and practices for Covid-19 prevention such as good hygiene, social distancing and wearing a mask should continue because we still have Covid-19”.
Dr Kyobe urged those aged 50 or above or with comorbidities to get booster shots every six months” for “optimum protection”.

The President has reported being fully jabbed including with a booster shot.
The Incident Commander said anyone presenting with Covid symptoms “should wear masks to protect those around them from contracting the virus and if possible, you should stay away from other individuals; don’t go to work, don’t use public means, don’t go to church till the symptoms disappear”.

He added that there is no likelihood of a surge in Covid cases.

President’s Covid announcement

"Ugandans, especially the Bazzukulu.
Greetings. Congratulations on the Heroes’ Day of tomorrow and Congratulations on Mwalimu Nyerere’s Prayer Day (the 1st of June) and on Martyrs Day (the 3rd of June).
I congratulate the security forces for blocking all the terrorist activities and ensuring that the huge celebrations (like those of the 3rd of June), took place without incident in spite of the terrorists operating in Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique, etc.
After the very useful interactive retreat in Kyenkwanzi, I was already immersed in the activities in Kampala. However, on Tuesday, I started experiencing mild flu-like symptoms. I ignored the feeling and had my meetings in Entebbe as well as working on my voluminous State of the Nation Address.
Yesterday morning, however, I noticed some mild flu-like symptoms in one of the nostrils (the right one). That is when I called my doctors to take samples and rule out Corona. They took three samples- one rapid and two PCRs. The rapid one was negative and so was one of the PCRs.
However, one of the PCRs was positive. Taking precautionary measures, I traveled to Kololo, with a separate car from Maama’s car as the samples were taken back for reconfirmation. When I came back from Kololo, it was confirmed that I had Corona.
I have therefore, self-isolated at Nakasero and I have delegated my work for today and tomorrow (Heroes’ Day in Luwero) to Prime Minister, Robinah Nabanjja.
As everybody knows, I have been very cautious with Corona. However, recently, I had to give up masks because they have been causing me allergic reactions in the eyes and also in the throat. Do you remember when I lost my voice twice during the elections? That is part of the allergy.
I have, therefore, got the second forced leave in the last 53 years, ever since 1971, when we started fighting Idi Amin. One other time was when I had a problem of sinuses and I had to lie low for some days at Mweya.
By God’s Grace all is well, and I am only experiencing mild symptoms. However, I always prefer to err on the side of caution and self-isolate for now.
God bless all of you.
Yoweri K. Museveni