Uganda: Covid-19 - Airport Blunder Kicks Up Storm in Uganda

Uganda's strict screening and surveillance of people arriving into the country has come under scrutiny after the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus climbed to 18 on Thursday, only five days after reporting of Patient Zero.

In his fourth televised address on the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, President Yoweri Museveni admitted that mistakes had been made in the testing and screening, leading to infected people who had arrived from Dubai to be released instead of being sent into quarantine as required.

Uganda confirmed its first case of Covid-19, on March 22, a 36-year-old man who had travelled to Dubai for business five days earlier.

The next day, eight people tested positive in what authorities have now come to admit was careless handling of arrivals even after President Museveni had issued guidelines that all people arriving from abroad be quarantined for 14 days.

Sources reveal that President Museveni "was livid" when he learnt that officials' carelessness allowed infected people who arrived from Dubai on March 21 to leave and mix with the public, potentially infecting many more.

In a televised address after Uganda confirmed the first Covid-19, Health Permanent Secretary Diana Atwine was at pains to explain to the President why passengers who were on the same flight with the infected man were allowed to leave for home.

She argued it was late and that holding all the 84 the passengers at the airport would have caused congestion.

"We tried to move as many passengers from the airport as quickly, so this person had to be tested from alone. By the time we completed testing him other people had already left but most of the passengers were not coming from highly affected countries," Dr Atwine said.

But if congestion was a concern, first hand witnesses of Uganda's quarantine system have their own horror story to tell as people were transported to their $100-a-night isolation hotel in Entebbe, in a packed van with health officials paying no attention to social distancing.

"Precaution is low and with congestion one stands a high risk of getting infected here. Health officials don't even care to inform the herded people about precautions to take," wrote Dr Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, a columnist for the Observer newspaper.

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