Uganda has reimposed a 42-day lockdown as coronavirus infections surge in the East African country. President Yoweri Museveni said in his Friday night address that he was tired of receiving calls about deaths, but critics say he presented a wish list that would instead worsen the situation for Ugandans.
Earlier Friday, the Health Ministry shared the latest coronavirus figures indicating 1,564 new cases recorded in the previous 24 hours.
This included 42 new deaths, bringing the total to 584. One thousand four active cases have been admitted at health facilities around the country.
After presenting those figures in his national address Friday night, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said Ugandans had been violating an earlier ban on interdistrict travel.
In his speech, Museveni said every village has community health workers who are in touch with families and keep records on the health status of the villages. They know how many people are in the village, how many are pregnant, how many have children, etc.
Private vehicles, other than those operated by essential workers will only be allowed to travel if they have permission from their local village chairman or health worker to transport a patient to hospital.
"All cross-boundary district and intradistrict movement of public transport and by private vehicles or boda bodas is hereby suspended for 42 days starting today," said Museveni. "Why 42 days? Because we know that this virus, once it doesn’t spread in 14 days, it gets out of your body.”
The virus has significantly spread to 108 districts, out of which 20, including Kampala and Wakiso, have been most affected. Museveni noted that the country is experiencing very high hospitalization and death rates for COVID-19 patients among all age groups. He says Ugandans have not been serious and have not adhered to earlier COVID-19 directives.
"I’m getting from all over the place, telephones, telephones, so and so has died, so and so has died. Imagine. And yet we told you," said Museveni. "We told you from March last year, I said you people … And when people listened, we controlled the disease. As such, the curfew time throughout the country is pulled back to 19:00 hours up to 05:30 hours.”
Museveni also noted that the number of severely and critically ill COVID-19 patients has more than doubled, straining the health system, particularly the available oxygen supply. While an average non-COVID-19 patient requires one to two cylinders per day, a severely ill COVID-19 patient needs four to six cylinders per day.
"With the estimated COVID-19 patient increase in the coming weeks, the daily oxygen consumption will rise to 25,000 cylinders per day in one month, unless we change the course. This is nearly a ninefold increase in the overall national oxygen requirement," said Museveni.
The Health Ministry this week indicated that they had secured $7 million from the Global Fund to install seven oxygen plants in the country.
Unlike last year’s distribution of food to vulnerable city dwellers – an effort that did not reach many of the targeted people and spurred complaints about the food -- Ugandans must use the little they have to survive the 42 days this time.
Sarah Birete, who is executive director at Center for Constitutional Governance, criticizes Museveni’s directives, saying they are merely wish lists that will only worsen the already difficult situation for citizens.
"It’s a good thing to do, but with no budget line, with no capacity, no arrangements," said Birete. "The way our systems are normally disorganized, it’s a wish list and it’s going to risk people's lives more. When you look at general limitation constraints on transport. You know people don’t want to engage with the LDUs [local defense units] and the way they treat people. So many people who do not want to be caught up in that fracas are likely to die in silence.”
Ugandans will now have to wait till July 30 to resume normal lives unless the spread of the coronavirus is contained before then.