The Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng has warned that Uganda can easily be "thrown off balance" by the coronavirus pandemic and start recording daily deaths in excess of 500 if Ugandans don't take the disease seriously.
In a multi-sectoral press conference at Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) offices, Aceng says she is getting reports that some Ugandans are not adhering to the social distancing guidelines where individuals are supposed to keep a 4-metre distance between themselves or not gather in groups of more than 5 people.
Aceng says if Ugandans think that what is happening in the first world where more than 900 die daily in some countries like Italy and Spain, the coronavirus can easily override the already fragile system.
"I keep getting messages of areas where people are not observing social distancing. Maybe some people don’t believe that COVID-19 is real. But if you are out there and have been watching news, and seen what is happening in other countries, countries that are much more developed than Uganda - countries like Italy, USA, Spain, countries like France, you don’t want Uganda to go into that direction. We don’t have their capacity. If they have been brought down to their knees, to what level will Uganda go?" Aceng said.
Uganda currently has 44 confirmed cases with more than 1000 under quarantine. The minister said social distancing has proven in countries like South Korea and China that it can slow down the spread of the pandemic.
She said the lockdown will not last forever but that will depend on how faster people adhere to the guidelines. She said much as social distancing is painful and undesirable, it is the most viable option for Uganda as opposed to suppression where the most vulnerable are isolated from the pandemic to slow down and break the chain of transmission. Aceng said such a measure could work best for countries that know the actual number of the infected but Uganda does not know the actual number of infections.
"Do not push the health system to levels where it cannot manage, we have this opportunity to flatten the curve and ensure that we don’t have excessive numbers of patients who are affected by COVID for us to manage. Everybody is anxious including the health workers, so we need to work together as a team to ensure that we don’t throw our country off balance. We also have other challenges that the extremely developed countries don’t have and I don't want to repeat them. Please maintain your social distance it is extremely important whether you’re in the supermarket or market it is for the good of your country." Aceng added.
In previous communications, the ministry of Health said those who'd completed their 14-day quarantine would be released starting March 31.
However, Prof Dr Rhoda Wanyenze, dean of Makerere University School of Public Health said today those in quarantine will stay locked up for another 14 days because evidence from other countries like the USA has shown that sometimes those under quarantine can test negative and stay asymptomatic yet continue infecting other people.
She said they work on assumption they could have missed out on some cases. Indeed at the same press briefing, Uganda Virus Research Institute director, Prof Pontiano Kaleebu said they have been left perturbed after results from the parents of the 8-month-old Iganga positive baby turned out to be on the "borderline" (neither positive nor negative). He said they still need to carry out more tests to determine the status of the parents. It had been believed that the baby's father who returned from Kisumu, Kenya was the cause of infection.
Kaleebu said so far UVRI isn't yet overwhelmed but could soon be if it experiences delays in securing more kits that are currently on very high demand globally.