What you need to know:
...allow the option of a negative test for those who won’t or can’t be vaccinated. The cost of repeated tests clarifies the choice soon enough.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Uganda government imposed an array of restrictions to limit social interactions and the spread of the coronavirus. At their severest, these restrictions emptied the streets and created ghost towns.
Many restrictions have since been relaxed, although important ones remain. These include schools that have now been closed for longer than in any other country in the world according to one report, as well as bars, spectators at sports events, and a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
The school closures, in particular, remain inexplicable. The schools were closed at first, which made sense, reopened prematurely which did not make sense, then hastily closed and students sent away to carry the virus to all corners of the country, which was totally bonkers. They remain closed even after the positivity rate dropped to below one percent. Students are being punished for an incongruent and clueless policy. We will suffer the negative outcomes of this sub-optimal state of affairs for years to come.
The remaining restrictions and the plan to reopen reflect continuing lack of clarity in crafting and executing public policy. Traffic jams snake out of the capital Kampala long into the night and well beyond the start of the curfew time. Many Ugandans listen to the President explaining the dangers of reopening bars while drinking inside crowded bars.
A first-time visitor to the country would mistake this for the state’s inability to enforce rules but long-term observers will know that this is how the state works, not how it fails. Uganda has, for many years, been managed like a pressure-cooker. You set the rules, build up a bit of pressure, then let the steam out either by exempting the privileged class or slowly letting everyone off the hook until there is no more water in the pan. The government now says the economy will be reopened in January whether the target of 7.8 million vaccinated Ugandans is met or not. What this means is that people who do not want to get vaccinated can simply hold out for another five weeks. Given that the virus, from all publicly available information, does not intend to disappear at midnight on December 31, it also means that the vaccinated and unvaccinated will be allowed to mingle, just as schools reopen.
If the plan is to leave matters to fate and herd immunity from January, then we have wasted much of this year and should reopen immediately to allow a quicker on-set of the immunity. If it is to encourage people to rush out and get jabbed, telling sceptics they only have five weeks to wait you out is not the best way to do it.
The smarter alternative is to provide positive incentives to those who are vaccinated, and negative ones for those who aren’t. Many countries now require proof of vaccination or a negative covid test before allowing people onto public transport, into public buildings, or even merely sitting down for a drink or a meal. The vaccinated are thus free to move about freely; those who aren’t aren’t.
The key here is not to make it a binary choice between vaccinated or not, but to allow the option of a negative test for those who won’t or can’t be vaccinated. The cost of repeated tests clarifies the choice soon enough.
The coronavirus pandemic has tested countries’ health systems, government legitimacy, state capacity, as well as public health policy design. Early commentators attributed the almost unquestioning respect for stay-at-home directives at the start of the pandemic to government legitimacy. It now appears to have been fear, of the virus and the enforcers. Similarly, the ability of beer companies and the Buganda Kingdom to roll out public vaccinations much faster than official channels suggests a deficit of trust in some institutions, an overabundance of admiration and respect for others, and a rather thirsty population.
You need a particular skillset to decentralise vaccination centres, build a robust database of test and vaccination results, roll out QR code readers, ensure respect for mask-wearing mandates and get people – including students and teachers – to come out and get jabbed. You also need a different set of skills to man a roadblock or raid a bar to arrest patrons, whether they are vaccinated or not.
Each country takes the path that reflects its capabilities and investments in social control. Some herd cats.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.
[email protected]; @Kalinaki