The Cabinet meeting shared by President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday extensively deliberated on the state of health facilities upcountry before resolving to shut down public transport across the country.
The meeting at State House Nakasero, hours after 5 more cases of Coronavirus were confirmed in the country, critically looked at management in case the heavily contagious disease hits the country hard.
Museveni, Prime Minister Rugunda and the rest of Cabinet members were briefed by the Ministers of Health and other officials from the ministry.
They mainly based their submissions on the challenges the Ministry would face in the event that the undesired situations, already being experienced in Europe and America, unfold here.
“Dr. Jane (Aceng) and Joyce (Moriko) briefed us at length on the preparations to handle the disease when the cases increase here,” said a source who attended the closed door meeting.
It was soon realized and acknowledged by almost everyone that only the facilities in the Kampala metropolitan region and few regional hospitals have the capacities to favorably handle Coronavirus now declared by World Health Organization as pandemic.
Cabinet members reached a consensus that any cases upcountry would even pose great danger to the rest of community in such a locality due to poor management of the severely infectious condition.
“Obviously, we have seen the developed nations already on their knees. Our case would be something else and worse of all in our villages and small towns,” said a source.
Challenges in upcountry health facilities include inadequate oxygen cylinders, also affected by unstable power supply.
Coronavirus heavily affects respiratory system; inhibiting breathing hence requiring external oxygen support.
Unlike health facilities in Kampala, Wakiso, Mpigi and few big towns like Mbale and Mbarara, those upcountry lack stable medical supplies, human resource and critically essential protective gears.
To avert any worst scenario to unfold in the country sides, it was resolved that the population in Kampala metropolitan area and major towns be significantly incapacitated from returning to their villages as it had started to happen.
“It became evident that rural settings even pose bigger risks than the populated areas with relatively better medical facilities to manage Coronavirus,” added the source.
The resolution was then made, not only to shutdown public transport, but also to restrict private vehicles from ferrying people to their villages.
The better part of agriculture which employs more than 80% of Uganda’s population is in rural areas.
An outbreak of the virus in the countryside would negatively affect agricultural production especially at a time when farm workers are preparing fields for crops for the new season.
This would undermine the country’s food security, leading to political unrest.
For example, Italy is paying a heavy price as farmers remain indoors during the sowing season of spring crops, such as corn and sunflower and summer fruit.
The lockdown could jeopardise processing and early harvests of fruits and vegetables because tens of thousands of seasonal workers from countries such as Romania and Albania are now blocked, Reuters quoted Coldiretti, Italy’s biggest farmer association as saying.
Most importantly, as cases of the novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 continue to rise worldwide, researchers have learned that older adults may be particularly susceptible to the respiratory illness, which can cause pneumonia and symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“The data coming out of China continues to say that the people who are at higher risk for severe disease and death are those who are older and with underlying health conditions,” Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a press briefing in early February.
Preliminary estimates suggested that the virus, which then had sickened tens of thousands and resulted in hundreds of deaths, had a fatality rate of about 2 percent.
Early findings from China, which pertained to the first 17 people to die in the outbreak, revealed that their median age was 75, and a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the median age of the first 425 people infected with the virus was 59.
In Uganda, the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) scheme, older persons receive a monthly grant of Ushs25,000 (about US$8) to help them meet their basic needs and where they can, to invest further to improve their income security.
In 2018, Programme was reaching 154,000 older persons in 35 districts. These older persons are concentrated in villages where they look after thousands of orphans on a shoe-string budget. The spread of Coronavirus in these areas would wreak havoc.
Museveni announced on Wednesday evening that on top of stopping taxis, coasters, minibuses, buses, all passenger trains, tukutuk (tricycles) and boda boda, private vehicles should not carry more than three people.
“Only private vehicles are allowed to operate and these should not have more than three passengers, including the driver, at any single time. Therefore, let us not see families of more than three packed in a private car,” said Museveni.
In essence, the president stopped any urban-rural migration since most families exceed members and majority with cars are those who have worked for some time hence in 40s and above with at least four children excluding the wife of husband.
Museveni emphasized that people should remain where they are and no one should even think of travelling home for Easter.
“Stay where you are. Don’t go anywhere for now, not even Easter,” he stressed.