A friend recently told us a story about her quarantine experience, from the 2020 lockdown. Having managed to return, after getting stuck outside Uganda for a couple of months, she, and others, were held in one of the gazetted hotels to quarantine for 14 days.
To her dismay – not shock – she realised that the locks couldn’t hold if you found the right amounts of money to grease the hinges. Apparently, the hotels were fine letting you out, because that meant room for a new returnee. That, in the nights, people in government vehicles and large SUVs would often pull up and whisk away their friends and kin. Basically, you stayed quarantined if you were broke, had no connections or just chose to stay.
Now, I haven’t verified the accuracy of this story but if it’s coming from the same country where the international airport was opened to let in a plane carrying three passengers – in the middle of the lockdown; the same country where medical personnel were falsifying Covid-19 results; the same one that couldn’t ably distribute masks and relief food; the one where those who issued safety guidelines were the first to disregard them, then I’d say let’s rest this case.
The jury need not even come out on our handling of every facet of the Covid-19 pandemic, yet you worry about our ability to create a crisis out of every situation. What was the point of quarantine, if those in charge found a backdoor to beat the system? Which brings us to the current lockdown. It is the second and yet you wonder if we learnt anything from the first.
Could we, perhaps have stocked up on oxygen supplies to deal withcurrent shortages? Maybe ramped up our Intensive Care Unit capacity? But, we didn’t. Instead, we went on a crowdfunding spree, whose collections we haven’t quite accounted for, one year later. We saw donations of vehicles but there is no telling where they are today. The country was locked down but didn’t exactly lock down, because we also needed to conduct an election and then a swearing-in and then victory parties.
This week, in effecting the second lockdown, there was near paralysis of the public transport system, as thousands scrambled to exit the city andfind refuge upcountry. It is just the way the economy is set up, with everyone living hand-to-mouth, so, 42 days of economic inconvenience are an existential threat. Most stranded passengers were students whose schooling was getting interrupted for the umpteenth time. Retrospect is great only if it provides solutions for the future.Which is why these ideas are proffered if we ever have to do this again, and not just a what-we-should-have-done. Let’s assume that for some reason, we have to suddenly close schools – which have the highest concentration of people – and put our joke of a public transport system under pressure, here are a few options we can explore.
The first, and perhaps best option, is to stay put. Lockdown everybody from wherever they are. Whoever is in school stays there, including the teachers. No visitations, no pickups. Increase monitoring and tracking,because we know schools are likely to conceal the negatives. After all, they cheat exams and charge inexplicable fees, so they can’t be trusted. Then, track and pick those who need medical attention. If everyone stays put, then no pressure is exerted on the system – transport and health – from the cross-country travels.
The second option is to have phased closures and movements. Start with closing universities and allowing for 48 hours in which every student finds their way home. Then repeat the same for secondary schools and increase the time to 72 hours because of the numbers. Then do the same for primary schools. This will essentially allow for mass movement. The last is something that could also have been applied to the national identity card registration process; the regional/geographic locus.Those who listened to the President speak as he laid the grounds for the lockdown must have heard him list the level of spread, based on the districts. It’s impressive, the amount of information we have. So, it is possible to move people one region at a time, focusing on where the problem is. Bottom line is, can we try to make it easy on our people?
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. email@example.com