Uganda: President Museveni Calls for Prayers As Uganda's Covid-19 Cases Rise

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has called for a day of prayers as coronavirus cases soar. He has imposed a stricter lockdown and shut down the country's parliament. But many are wondering if these measures are enough.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has declared Friday, June 25, a public holiday for the nation to pray to God to reverse the COVID situation. This comes after an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases in the East African Nation. In the last three days, 126 people have succumbed to the virus -- the highest ever since the pandemic started. President Museveni has confirmed that this number does not reflect the exact situation given that many people die of disease but are never captured by the national statistics.

The huge increase in coronavirus cases has resulted in Uganda's public hospitals reporting countless challenges as they strive to cope. Reports from the capital city Kampala highlight the main challenges: lack of beds for new patients, shortage of oxygen equipment, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gloves and masks for those on the frontlines.

"We got very few gloves from NMS (National Medical Stores) recent supply, the aprons and sanitizer we have are inadequate. As we speak, we have one liter of sanitizer, critically ill patients need to be referred, but ambulances are not available," Dr. Sam Elungat, from a health center in Busia district at the border with Kenya, told DW.

Exorbitant medical fees

In addition to the shortages of equipment, DW's Alex Gitta reports that many of Uganda's private hospitals have hiked treatment fees. Some health facilities are demanding cash down payment of at least $3,000 (€2,510) before attending to patients. Not many Ugandans can afford to pay, Gitta said.

DW's Lubega Emmanuel reports that there has been some controversy over the management of the pandemic. Ordinary Ugandans believe that it was unfair for major government institutions such as parliament to continue their activities despite the closure of others to minimize the risk of transmissions.

According to some local media reports, over 200 lawmakers had tested positive for COVID-19. However, Chris Obore, the parliament's director of communication and public affairs, stated in a letter to parliament, 14 MPs had tested positive.

Too little, too late?

President Museveni has announced a new set of stringent measures over a 42-day lockdown, including limitation of movements. He hopes that these restrictions will stop the virus from spreading and imposing a heavy burden on Uganda's struggling health system.

Museveni has deployed Ugandan police and the army to chase citizens off the roads leading to Kampala. Roadblocks have been erected on district borders to stop anyone from crossing from one district to the other. The movement limitations have hit small-scale traders hard.

"He should be lenient despite the situation. We are low-income earners and should be able to access our merchandise and sell it from somewhere. We are suffering, yet we have families to take care of," a trader in Kampala told DW.

Although the Uganda government has promised to give cash bailouts to vulnerable persons via mobile phone accounts during the lockdown, there is widespread skepticism. Ugandans are unhappy about how COVID relief funds were mismanaged last year when the country imposed a similar lockdown.

While some view the measures as draconian, others are more concerned with Museveni's ban on social gatherings such as weddings and funerals. But the president justified his ban. "My uncle died during this corona, I never went to bury, because I was adding nothing, I was not going to resurrect him, what difference does it make, just gathering when there is so much danger," Museveni said.

Ban on gatherings

Burials in Uganda are highly emotional ceremonies that, in some cases, require people to travel hundreds of kilometers. Similarly, many citizens say weddings are social events that should not be totally banned. Mubiru Isaac, who had sent out invitations to over 300 people to attend his wedding, is one of those affected: "We kept on shifting moving from one date to another, it was so disorganizing to me as an individual up to now, truth be told am not yet settled," Mubiru said.

"Where do I start from to tell them please you will not attend. It is the challenge I am still having."

Some in similar situations, such as Mubiru, agree with President Museveni's decisions, albeit for different reasons. Jonan Kabigumira thinks that having a small wedding will be good for his finances as the new measures mean he can legitimately stop his many relatives from attending his wedding.

Uganda was one of the first African countries to impose lockdown measures at the start of the pandemic in 2020. The country of 45 million has recorded over 74,000 cases with 752 deaths. Over 834,721 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered since the country started its vaccination drive in March.

While many parts of the world have made significant progress with vaccine rollouts, the continent's 1.3 billion people accounting for 18% of the world's population, have received only 2% of all vaccine doses administered globally.

Alex Gitta and Lubega Emmanuel contributed to this article.

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