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Uganda's Presidential Hopefuls Kick Off Campaigns as COVID-19 Cases Rise

Uganda's Presidential Hopefuls Kick Off Campaigns as COVID-19 Cases Rise
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Uganda's Presidential Hopefuls Kick Off Campaigns as COVID-19 Cases Rise

Campaigning is gearing up in Uganda for general elections but candidates are struggling to follow the guidelines for containing coronavirus pandemic.

As campaigns ramp up ahead of the January 14 general vote, it’s often hard to tell there is a pandemic underway.

Many at rallies are ignoring calls to social distance and wear face coverings.

Election officials are urging the 11 candidates running for president to take the lead and encourage people to help control the virus. Paul Bukenya, Electoral Commission spokesperson, says candidates should lay out the ground rules.

“Your first statement will be to the people … ‘Please put on your masks. If you don’t put on your masks, I will not talk to you. Please social distance, can you social distance? Put on the distancing that is recommended,’” Bukdenya said.

Uganda has reported more than 16,000 infections and at least 150 deaths.

At a campaign event in northern Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni said all candidates should hold rallies with social distancing, even as his own rallies draw larger crowds.

“So, this bankruptcy of calling people together in a such dangerous time is criminal. And we are going to deal with those people who are doing it,” Museveni said.

But it appears security may be targeting the opposition.

Police have been seen violently dispersing crowds supporting opposition parties, while it appears ruling party rallies are being held freely.

The National Unity Platform party led by Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as the singer Bobi Wine, and the Forum for Democratic Change have been cited as the defiant parties.

With masses excited to see Wine, large crowds are common.

Joel Ssenyonyi, the NUP spokesperson, says it’s tough for the party to ensure all their supporters practice social distancing and wear face coverings.

“These people that wait for us, you know on the roadsides and so on, what do you do about them? These are Ugandans who are hungry for change. So, when they stand on the roadsides and wave and all of that, for starters, they also don’t commit a crime," Ssenyonyi said.

In a statement Monday, the ruling National Resistance Movement party said it has directed police to disperse any processions being held by their party members across the country.

Candidates are being allowed to campaign until January 12, two days before the election.