By PATRICK JARAMOGI
KAMPALA, Uganda-SHIFTMEDIA- On June 8 2021 when the Covid 19 cases surged, President Museveni slapped a 42 day lockdown that ends in 9 days.
What seems apparent is that the lockdown has tried to scale down the infections (That was 17%) to now (8.9%). The deaths has albeit increased from the original 320 we had since last year to 2,392 as of July 20 2021.
The number of cases is now 90,656 with 68,241, recoveries and 20,023 active cases. But the big question remains, after July 29th (end of 42 day lockdown) what next?
What measures have the Covid 19 National Task Force put in place over the 42 days that Ugandans have been locked hungry in their houses to mitigate the further spread of the pandemic?
Shall Uganda as a country keep on locking its citizens whenever the pandemic surges and lift the lockdown when infections drop?
Is this a good measure given the huge debt burden and crippling economic base? The first lockdown in March 2020 came in after a few deaths, the second one (due to the emergence of the deadly Delta variant from India) struck in June leaving many infected and thousands dead.
As we speak the world is facing a series of new other variants, with another deadly variant currently wreaking havoc in South America.
According to Dr. Monica Mosenero, the senior epidemiologist and Minister for Science and Innovation, there are currently five variants present in Uganda. The Kenyan, South African, Nigeria, the UK and Indian (Delta- B.1 617.2)
The wild delta variant has been described by the World Health Organisation as the “most transmissible” and has so far spread in 85 countries forcing many to impose fresh restrictions and lockdown.
What lessons do we learn?
WHO has warned that Covid 19 may not be combated over a long period of time, we just have to learn to live with it period, but how?
There are few countries that I will highlight today that have made it in combating the pandemic, even without necessarily locking down and hurting their economies.
But key to note here is perhaps three factors, the political will, financial response and health response. If none of these are put at the center of focus, Uganda as a nation may not manage to contain this virus. We shall always go to lockdown whenever numbers surge.
There should be political will coupled with health and finance response to have multiple testing. Until today nobody can exactly tell the exact number of Ugandans infected with Covid 19. Ministry of Health Statistics indicate just 1, 427,897 out of a population of 45 million has been tested so far. This sounds rather as a big joke.
Government through the ministry of health needs to screen, contain and suppress as means of mitigation of the pandemic. Mass testing like is being done in Rwanda after it announced a 10 day total lockdown, and like it was done in South Africa needs to be emulated here. Rwanda currently has 58,235 cases, with 666 deaths, 41,046 recoveries and 16,523 active cases out of the 1, 895, 926 tests conducted so far.
More efforts and energies should be centered on these rather than the tough measures on curfews, where vulnerable citizens are fleeced by corrupt security persons at roadblocks and night operations.
Government needs to impose both mitigation and containment measures so as not to suffocate the already injured health systems.
The issue of compulsory mass testing, especially in schools and mass gatherings needs a political will. Then the aspect of mass vaccination is paramount.
Countries like Britain that has so far vaccinated over half of its population are now enjoying life again. UK opened to full freedom with all night clubs opened on July 19 2020.
Other countries that have vaccinated over 70% of their population include Turkey, Canada, and Israel.
Uganda needs to pick a leaf from South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Iceland, and New Zealand . One of the reasons that has left Taiwan with less fatal Covid 19 cases was its aggressive monitoring.
By June 2020 Taiwan had 443 registered cases and just 7 deaths. Today, it has 15,453 cases with 773 deaths and 13,650 recoveries and only 1,030 active cases.
Singapore that is just experiencing another surge has so far registered 63,440 cases 62,533 recoveries and just 36 deaths.
Meanwhile Iceland as per the Hopkins University statistics has 6,718 registered cases, 6,628 recoveries, 60 active cases and only 30 deaths out of the 803,998 tests conducted so far.
As for New Zealand, out of the 2,822 cases recorded, 2,745 recovered, with just 51 deaths registered out of the 2, 405, 241 tests carried out.
South Korea with its political will has so far tested 11, 251, 987 citizens registering 180,481 cases, of which 160,347 have recovered, leaving 18,075 active cases and 2, 059 deaths.
How did these nations handle
- A country like Taiwan didn’t conduct any nationwide lockdown. It just restricted entry into their nation from all ports of entry apart from its resident citizens.
Once this addressed, the importation of new deadly variants such as the Indian Delta can be contained.
Those who entered these nations were aggressively monitored wherever they were quarantined. Here in Uganda you recall stories of people who escaped from isolation centers, some after paying bribes to police guarding the premises. Here is where the political is needed to avoid further draconian lockdown.
- Taiwan apart from closing its borders, also put in place serious contact tracing using digital SMS innovation, similar to Israel and South Korea to ensure those under quarantine were abiding by the SOPS.
- Issuing of free facemasks and sanitizers locally produced also helped curb on infections and fatalities.
- Singapore also like Taiwan, used technology and strict monitoring using an app to curb on transmission of the pandemic (Those in quarantine remained there until they tested negative)
- Limiting the number of students and those at workplace coupled with routine temperature checks also helped Singapore contain the numbers.
- Uganda needs to secure funds (already IMF gave) to inoculate its citizens like UK, Turkey and Israel have done.
- Singapore made it due to its rigorous contact tracing and massive testing
- Government needs to prepare ahead in case of a third wave by rapidly increasing bed capacities in all regional referrals as well as ICU and also increase of oxygen manufacturing locally.
- Like South Korea, any small outbreak must be immediately contained with strict quarantine for those who test positive to avoid massive spread
- Ministry of Health needs to engage the population in massive sensitization so that they understand and abide by observing the laid down SOPs.
- Government needs to emulate South Korea that didn’t halt the economy by locking down but begun producing massive Covid 19 test kits.
- A robust political will, like that for New Zealand is needed in Uganda with constant messaging, emphasis on vaccination and mass testing.
- With funds available, the model that Iceland used, contact tracing, free mass testing and isolation of Covid patients and now vaccination would help save Uganda from continuous lockdown.
- The use of affordable drugs such as Ivermectin that has done wonders in India, Zimbabwe and South Africa needs to be considered immediately
- Now that we have our own doctors, Prof Ogwang (Covidex) and Gulu University developing (Convylice) it is important to channel funds into scaling production of these herbs as well as thinking of producing our own vaccine.
By the way if you didnt know, Vatican City (Holy See) , Solomon Islands, Saint Pierre Miquelon, Macao, Falkland Islands, Anguilla, Greenland and New Caledonia dont have any registered death due to Covid 19. The few who had have since recovered. Basically, they are Covid free!!
But as we wait for the vaccines, lets think of the best means, preventative by doing the following
- Washing hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Observe maximum social distancing of at least one meter
- Avoid crowded places and those people coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your face, mouth and nose.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Stay home if you feel unwell.
- Refrain from smoking and other activities that weaken the lungs.
- Practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel and staying away from large groups of people.
- Regularly exercise when indoors