By Prof. Waswa Balunywa, PhD
What the Lockdown Means
What did the President mean when he did not lock down the country entirely, as was the case during the first lockdown? The President was asking Ugandans to know the virus is back but be more careful as they go ahead with their economic transactions. As a developing country, we cannot afford to have another lockdown. The rich countries have food reserves to last them months. Even their agricultural production methods, using modern technologies, don’t need many people in the factories or food production fields. Nonetheless, the virus has devastated the economies of rich countries and, worse for the developing countries.
People have become poorer in developing countries because of the lockdown. We cannot afford another total lockdown. It is possible that we can limit activities in certain physical areas, for instance, in Kampala, where the biggest problem is and may continue to be. It is possible to restrict the access into the city from the countryside or limit the travel to the countryside by people from Kampala, especially those who are very vulnerable and are not on any business or government business. This may be difficult because you need the economy to continue; therefore, you need business people to go around and need government officials to travel around.
It is easy to clear government but not business people to travel around the country. Yet, the business community is central to the economic affairs of the country. The business has to thrive by the movement of goods and people. Any restriction, as ever, will increase corruption and increase the cost of doing business and escalate prices of consumer products. People should be allowed to move to do business since they cannot feed them if they stayed home. People are now fearful of travel. Maybe there was no need to restrict inter-district travel since it constrains business. The fear people have is self-restricting. Few people want to leave the comfort of their homes, especially if they have food. But some actually don’t know or don’t want to believe the virus exists and yet is back with the vigour. For such people, restrictions are helpful.
The President Closed Schools For Six Weeks
Among the things the President did, thunderous, was to close schools for 42 days. Of course, there is a challenge in Educational Institutions, mainly primary and secondary schools. It is reported that there are approximately 15 million people in our educational institutions. Closure of schools affects the economy related to those people. The majority of them are primary and secondary schools. There is an outcry among parents that some children have not been to school for more than a year. Some of these children have lost a year! For instance, if they were in senior two in March 2020, they will be in Senior two a year later, 2021 but now closed till July! When will they ever finish? This calls for very innovative ways of managing the school system. Private schools owners are in serious trouble. It is reported that hundreds of schools are on sale by banks. School owners are out of business! Teachers have been laid off! Coronavirus, the biggest disrupter of any system in the world so far, has killed schools and education in poor countries.
To enable children study, the President ordered for purchase of radios. This would have enabled children from poor families to access education. It is reported that the money provided by President for radios was “chewed” by procurement people. Even food purchasing money too was eaten. Some Ugandans are bad-hearted. How can you starve students and poor people? The students in boarding schools are easy to manage, but those who walk to school every day are the ones where discipline must be instilled to ensure that they do not go around without masks and they don’t associate with people who are likely to infect them. But you cannot guarantee this, so you cannot try it out. So you keep them home. The President had promised radios and televisions. This was a great opportunity to produce radios in this country. The country would have benefited tremendously. New jobs, new products, access to education among other benefits. But it seems due to corruption, we blew up the opportunity. Radios would have enabled rural schools to do some teaching. The children would not have forgotten about school. Nobody talks about this now!!
This recent surge in the virus was also in schools! Boarding schools! Even before the President’s closure, some schools had asked parents to pick their children. There are numerous reports that children from many schools exhibited signs of COVID-19. Some parents who had their children tested found them positive! Unbelievable, but true. A question that needs no answer is how did this virus get into those schools which previously didn’t have it? Boarding Schools have been safe to a great extent until this outbreak. But as I indicated, this is not the time to go into why. Instead, it is time to find solutions.
Life must go on because we may not have enough food to feed the country if it doesn’t. The country will slide further into poverty. People will then die of starvation rather than the virus. Luckily for the countryside, the infection rates are low, and agriculture continues, of course, with the support of the rains. This is continuous, but the engine of growth in the economy is in urban areas especially greater Kampala, and if the urban areas grind to a halt economically, so will the countryside.
Solutions To The Virus Challenges
What should the country do to starve off this dangerous onslaught of the virus? There are many questions that need answers. One, which I wouldn’t like to ask is why now? Where from? Why appear in Uganda and not elsewhere? Some of the answers to these questions may provide a solution, but that may just cause unnecessary anxiety! So let us go into solutions, the awareness campaign, enforcing SOPs, Homemade solutions and the Vaccine. As indicated above, the first solution is an awareness campaign. During the first lockdown, people didn’t understand why they were being locked down. They tried to fight the lockdown. However, fortunately, the infections were not many. They were 45,000 or so people who were infected across the country, which is a minimal number, and they reported deaths of less than 400, which was also a very small number.
The deaths were less than 1% of the infections. This time, the virus is back and is different, and it has come with a vengeance. It has already claimed many people. Unfortunately, we don’t document some of the deaths, so we cannot tell how many. This is a characteristic of poor developing countries.
It is vital that government leaders, both at the national and local level, heads of institutions, continue to create awareness among the people, to tell them that this virus is hazardous and makes them aware it kills. It is essential to bring out what the signs are and what is to be done. I must accept, this was done very well by the Ministry of Health first time round, hopefully, it is in the process of doing so again with the various posters and possible radio campaign. We need radio programmes so that people can be aware of what the challenge is and accordingly take the necessary precautions to be able to safeguard themselves.
……to be continued to part four……