There is no denying the impact that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Uganda and the world at large as it experiences a second wave of the virus. The Coronavirus disease, named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, is a disease caused by a novel virus now known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – formerly called 2019-nCoV. It was first identified during an outbreak in the Wuhan City of Hubei Province in China in December 2019.
The disease was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on 31 December 2019; however, by 30 January 2020, the WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency. By 11 March 2020, the WHO had declared the outbreak a global pandemic following hundreds of thousands of infections around the world especially in the United States of America, France, Spain, Britain, and a host of other countries.
Coronavirus in Uganda: The first wave
Uganda took its first affirmative action to curb the spread of the virus when it announced that public gatherings including places of worship, pubs, weddings, music shows, rallies and cultural meetings were suspended for 32 days with immediate effect on 18 March. This essentially meant that all persons arriving in Uganda, both foreigners and Ugandans, were mandatorily subjected to a 14-day mandatory quarantine in hotels designated by the government in Entebbe, about an hour from Kampala. However, the citizens paid for it.
On 22 March, Uganda confirmed her first case of coronavirus when a 36-year-old male tested positive for the virus following a business trip to Dubai on 17 March 2020. Following this index case, the ministry of health confirmed another eight cases on 24 March, which were all traced to the same flight that brought the index case. That development led to the closing of all schools and universities for 30 days in the country.
On 25 March, public transport was suspended for 14 days. Only private cars with not more than three occupants are allowed on the road as the government sought to curtail the spread of the deadly virus.
Coronavirus numbers, infections, recoveries, and deaths
The Uganda Ministry of Health reports that 40,335 coronavirus cases have been recorded as of 26 February 2021. As of the date, Uganda has also recorded 14,616 recoveries and 334 deaths. This puts the outbreak in Uganda in very sharp contrast to numbers coming out of the western world especially the US and Western Europe.
The global record of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at about 110 million people worldwide with 113,076,707 and 2,424,060 deaths as of 27 February 2021, according to data published by the WHO. On the other hand, data from Wordometer shows that 89,830,612 people have recovered from the disease by 27 February 2021. The same data also reports 114,268,724 coronavirus cases and 2,534,605 deaths for the same period.
Johns Hopkins University’s data shows that the US has recorded 28,540,400 coronavirus cases and 511,787 deaths related to the disease during the same period. Nigeria, on the other hand, has recorded 155,076 confirmed cases, 132,544 discharged and 1,902 deaths as of 26 February 2021.
Note: The WHO has an interactive map, which you can use to view the coronavirus statistics for all regions and countries.
Safety measures, prevention, tests and symptoms
Safety measures and prevention
Following the first report of the virus in Uganda, the ministry of health under the supervision of the government implemented several policies and measures to curb its spread. One of such measures was the compulsory wearing of masks for all persons above the age of six within the country. Public gatherings were also banned by the government even as citizens were advised to maintain a strict social distancing policy if for any reason they had to be in the company of other people. Incoming flights from designated countries were also restricted with newly landed travelers required to observe the mandatory 14 days in quarantine for further observation should they exhibit symptoms of the virus.
Recommended: How to protect yourself against COVID-19 in Uganda
On 18 March, as a precautionary tact, the government banned outgoing and incoming travels to specified highly affected countries for 32 days while schools and universities were shut down even as public gatherings were prohibited. The government extended the lockdown period for another 21 days in addition to the initial 14 days. This lockdown period continued from 15 April till May.
According to available reports, the Ministry of Health also introduced contact tracing following the first reported case of the virus in the country. According to Biomedcentral, “Contacts were defined as persons with face-to-face contact with a case-person or persons who spent time in a closed environment with a case-person, including coworkers or household members; healthcare workers or other persons providing direct care for case-persons without recommended personal protective equipment; persons sitting within 5 seats in any direction from the case-person in a vehicle or plane; or crew working in the section of the plane or vehicle where a case-person was seated.” Furthermore, regarding asymptomatic case-persons, all contacts exposed to the case-person in the 14 days before the case person’s positive tests were listed as contacts.
To prevent further slow the spread of the virus, the following precautions are advised:
- Clean your hands often. Use soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Stay home if you feel unwell.
- If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and get tested.
Symptoms of COVID-19
COVID-19 affects people in several different ways. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Dry cough
Less common symptoms include:
- Aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste or smell
- A rash on the skin or discoloration of fingers or toes
Some of the reported serious symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
- Loss of speech or movement
Testing for the COVID19 virus is as important as the precautionary measures employed to curb the spread of the pandemic even as the pandemic shifts gear into its second wave in 2021. Initially, following the outbreak of the pandemic, coronavirus tests were carried out at the cost of $65 per test. This caused quite a stir among citizens who demanded a less expensive option for testing considering that businesses were shut down and the Ugandan economy seemed to be reeling from its effects. The government eventually cut the testing cost by $15 leaving the cost $50 for a test.
Speaking on the change of the price, Uganda’s ministry of health said, “The basis for the cost was actually the cost incurred while procuring and transportation and all those logistical costs, and therefore it was very expensive. But now, the airport (has) opened. But also remember that at the beginning, few companies that were manufacturing. But over time, we have seen more companies come on board, therefore the tests are easily available and therefore the cost even has come down.“
How to get tested for Coronavirus
According to the government’s policy, all entrants into Uganda are mandated to undergo testing for the coronavirus. They are also required to quarantine and self-isolate for a period. Additionally, before anyone is allowed to travel, a COVID-19 test certificate must be mandatorily presented to ensure a controlled stance on the spread of the virus during the second wave.
Getting tested in Uganda is quite easy, compared to what is available in many other African countries. Ugandans have the option of getting tested from the comfort of their homes without having to visit a hospital or wait in line in a queue. The certificate is also delivered to the person, if requested, to ease the burden on the citizens and allow for convenient testing without the risk of further exposure to the virus.
For example, TestXpress offers highly accurate PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests to everyone, without compromising on quality. The tests are the most affordable compared to regular pricing and they ensure the highest standard of quality Additionally, TestXpress boasts of “state-of-the-art facilities and equipment and the best practices to match international standards, and ensure the delivery of high quality, safe and effective medical testing services.”
The second wave of Coronavirus in Uganda
Following the global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in 2020, governments across the world declared restrictions and lockdowns to try to curtail the surge of infections. Largely, across the world, these measures have proven to be effective in controlling the spread of the virus. This allowed governments to ease the restrictions on movement and association in public places. Citizens, however, are required and/or advised to wear facemasks, to social distance and to sanitize their hands as frequently as possible.
After weathering the storm of the first wave of the virus with minimal death cases, African countries are finding it increasingly difficult to curtail the spread of the second wave as the virus seems to have taken a new variation. For example, Nigeria recorded above a thousand new cases daily for about two weeks in January. It is obvious that irrespective of the initial success in containing the first wave of the coronavirus, the virus seems to be growing alarmingly in many African states.
African countries recorded an average of 73,000 new COVID-19 infections per week since the end of November compared to an average of 30,000 new weekly cases in October, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The rise of the second wave in Uganda has been attributed to large gatherings during the recently concluded election campaigns. Uganda’s general election held on 14 January following reports of mammoth crowds gathering severally in support of their political parties. These gatherings are believed to have triggered the community transmission process of the second wave of the virus in Uganda undoing the initial progress in preventing the spread of the virus across the country.
The country’s election commission had announced that campaign rallies were banned in the capital Kampala and 12 other high population centers in the weeks leading to the election. The other centers include Mbarara, Kabarole, Luwero, Kasese, Masaka, Wakiso, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo, Kampala City and Tororo.
The Ugandan ministry of health has, however, confirmed that efforts are underway to procure the vaccine for the virus through COVAX, a global facility created to ensure equitable access to vaccines for developing countries.
The way forward
With the COVID-19 vaccine now looking to be available for governments around the world who are looking to buy, it does appear that the second wave of the virus in Uganda would be rather short-lived. As the government moves to procure the vaccine through COVAX, the logistics of vaccination would have to be considered vis-à-vis the volume of the vaccines the government might be able to acquire. With a population of over 40 million people, it remains to be seen how the Ugandan government looks to navigate the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines and rolling it out nationwide for its citizens. According to reports from the authorities, the government has already ordered up to 18 million doses of the vaccine and intend to receive at least 40% of the order by the end of March 2021.
Meanwhile, until most if not all Ugandan have been vaccinated, we must continue to wear masks, physically distance, and avoid crowds. Being vaccinated does not mean that we can throw caution to the wind and put others and ourselves at risk, particularly because it is still not clear the degree to which the vaccines can protect not only against disease but also against infection and transmission of the virus. More so, it does take some time for the body to build immunity after vaccination. Everyone presumably is longing for a COVID-19 free world. The sooner we cooperate with health official, the sooner we can return to normal or at least a new normal that we are comfortable with. So, keep your eyes on the goal and soon, the world may be rid of COVID-19 or so we hope.