Ugandan scientists warn against complacency in fight against COVID-19

Ugandan scientists on Thursday warned that COVID-19 cases in the country could surge out of proportion if the public continues to relax in implementing preventive measures against the virus.

The country this week and last week registered its first two COVID-19 deaths, and the scientists warn that more infections and death cases are likely to be registered if social distancing, wearing of face masks and hand hygiene is not practiced.

“We are not yet at the worst but the worst has started,” Misaki Wayengera, head of the Ministerial Scientific Advisory Committee on COVID-19 told reporters at a news conference called by the ministry of health to update the country on efforts to combat the virus.

“There has been a lot of laxity in the public, we are really joking with our lives. Let’s take this thing seriously, let’s put on masks,” Henry Kajumbura, a microbiologist who attended the presser warned.

“As these deaths come up, none of us is safe, we are sure more deaths are going to occur,” Denis Byarugaba, another microbiologist also warned.

Ruth Aceng, minister of health, said that one confirmed case, if not attended to early, can spread the virus so fast, infecting thousands of people.

“We are not implementing the measures, if we don’t go back to seriousness, we are going to see many more cases and many more deaths,” Aceng said.

She warned that if the cases blow out of proportion, the health facilities and workers would be overwhelmed, which may lead to some deaths.

As of July 29, Uganda had a tally of 1,147 cases of COVID-19, 1,028 recoveries and 2 deaths, according to the ministry of health figures.

The warning by the scientists comes at a time when the country is easing the COVID-19 lockdown measures to curb the spread of the disease. Public and private transport resumed as well as some shopping malls reopened for business.

The country’s border entry points remain closed to incoming and outgoing travelers although cross border cargo transport is open.

Yonas Woldemariam, World Health Organization country representative to Uganda said that evidence from other countries has shown that easing of lockdown restrictions has led to a surge in the infections.

Woldemariam noted that countries face a difficult situation of deciding whether to open up or impose tough restrictions. Countries that have imposed tough lockdown measures have had their economies negatively impacted.

Byarugaba said Uganda may need to go into a situation where the COVID-19 prevention measures are strictly adhered to. He said while the ministry of health has played its part by sensitizing the public, enforcement agencies must play their part.

“We might get into the next stage to ensure enforcement is strong, to ensure that the public is safe,” Byarugaba said.

The scientists are concerned about the situation in the capital city Kampala especially in the shopping areas where there are large crowds without protection. In other parts of the country, political activities have started as the country prepares for next year’s polls, but people are not taking COVID-19 preventive measures.

Aceng said, starting Friday, government will distribute over 6.7 million face masks in the Kampala metropolitan area and the surrounding districts of Wakiso and Mukono.

She said government in its nationwide program has so far distributed 8.2 million face masks to 27 districts across the country.

The minister urged all health workers in the country to treat all acute respiratory tract infections or symptoms, including pneumonia cases with high-index suspicion.

“Heath facilities are also urged to make swift decisions and referral of patients with signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to reduce avoidable deaths. Failure to identify symptomatic cases is a danger to the health care workers, their families and patients,” Aceng said.