Uganda and Rwanda have recorded the highest ever corona virus infections between August 20th and 22nd spreading fear that governments of the two neighbours considered to have effective strategies in containing the pandemic are beginning to lose war just after easing lockdowns in their respective countries.
On August 22nd Uganda Ministry of Health announced 318 new COVID-19 cases, making it the highest total recorded in a single day since the start of the pandemic in March. Around the same time Rwanda recorded 200 cases- the highest number in a single day since it reported its first case in March.
Both countries recorded more cases in their capital cities Kampala and Kigali indicating laxity in enforcement of the healthy guidelines like social distancing, sanitizing and dressing masks because of congestion.
In the Uganda capital Kampala infections were detected in media houses, shopping centres and offices, which are; Malaysia Furnishing, Toyota, Eagle Holdings, Megha Industries, Royal Pharma, Stanbic Bank, Ministry of Finance, Uganda National Roads Authority, Inspector General of Government, Kampala Capital City Authority, NRM Secretariat, media houses New Vision, NBS, NTV, BBS and private hospitals. The others are; the Uganda Police Force headquarters and the National Closed Circuit Television – CCTV command centre, which have since been closed for disinfection.
Rwanda has had to close two major markets in the capital Kigali after spike in COVID-19. The rising cases have led to concerns on the possibility of new restrictions being imposed in both Kampala and Kigali.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni called an emergency with the National Task Force to find new ways of fighting the pandemic yet not restricting economic activity.
Close analysis indicates that Rwanda and Uganda appear to be taking the same route as Kenya, the other East African state.
As COVID-19 cases surged in Kenya at an alarming rate in July, authorities moved to reinforce containment measures, some of which citizens had been flouting.
In all the three East Africa Countries a number of citizens, in both urban and rural areas, have not been wearing masks as required in public places.
Similarly, many politicians and government officials have been holding public gatherings that attract throngs putting many at risk of contracting the virus. In Uganda, which is preparing for elections in early 2021, politicians from both government and opposition have been gathering crowds to campaign.
A dusk to dawn curfew, which has been in place since April, had lately been ignored with citizens going about their businesses late into the night.
Bars, which were ordered closed, have found ways to operate, selling alcoholic drinks as it were before the pandemic.
A number of public transport vehicles have been carrying full capacity passengers in disregard for social distancing.
Generally, a sense of normalcy has been gripping East Africa after the government lifted partial lockdowns and allowed some economic activity to take place.
The situation has been blamed for fast-rising COVID-19 cases in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda alike. To stem the rise, the government and individual institutions have to enforce the containment measures.
However, what is more worrying is that Uganda and Rwanda appear to be relaxing on their efforts to contain the pandemic yet they are the only two East African states that have applied science to combat the pandemic.
Uganda and Rwanda have taken proactive actions ranging from lockdown to swift public health measures that are showing early signs of bearing positive fruit in the form of minimal community transmission.
Uganda has adopted a science-based containment strategy driven by past experience of battling other pandemics. Before lifting the lockdown measures, Uganda, like Rwanda, opted for the science-driven route of informing the masses of the planned next phase.
The government engaged 200 survey teams to conduct a rapid assessment exercise to establish the prevalence of COVID-19 among communities – a move based on derived data that sought to know it if it was right to relax some of the measures.
Rwanda’s decision to partially lift the lockdown was reached after a countrywide health survey across 30 per cent of health facilities in the country. Among the survey samples were 4,500 employees who had continued to work during the lockdown and others who had over time shown COVID-19-like symptoms. The survey, according to Rwanda’s Minister of Health, revealed either minimal or zero communal transmission. Therefore, it seemed wise to partially lift the lockdown.
In contrast, the Kenyan government turned the public health crisis into a “law and order” issue, while the leaders of Tanzania and Burundi went into denial mode. In Kenya, the disjointed COVID-19 control measures have not been informed by any publicly known survey or large-scale mass testing.
Comparatively, Burundi and Tanzania opted for an open COVID-19 control strategy alongside questioning or downplaying the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 guidelines. WHO and critics of these two countries argue that the path taken by Burundi and Tanzania puts their citizens’ and their neighbours’ lives at an alarming risk.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli has cut a resolute posture of a COVID-19 denialist. Tanzania has placed a ban on reporting on or updating COVID-19 cases in Tanzania; the last COVID-19 update was on April 29 and by then fatalities stood at 21 people.
Therefore, across East Africa there is pattern of disparity in the implementation of COVID-19 control measures yet they boast of unity under the umbrella economic bloc of East African Community.
The EAC Summit chairman President Paul Kagame early August admitted that the regional bloc had failed to respond to the pandemic with a common approach.
“There are many things you have to work on and that is why communication was not as fast or as good as it should have been. That includes the fact that maybe the (communication networks were not as efficient as we have today but there has been improvement,” the Rwandan leader told The EastAfrican in an interview.
It should be noted that bilateral conflicts have largely affected cooperation in the region. For instance, Rwanda and Uganda for a year leading upto the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic had closed their borders each accusing the other of fueling insecurity in their territories.
A similar bilateral conflict concerning security issues also exists between Burundi and Rwanda. While Kenya and Tanzania on the other hand are fighting economic wars between themselves. Generally, the economic bloc has failed to speak with one voice. And this is largely the reason COVID 19 may stay a little longer in the region.
As of today Kenya has recorded 32,803 cases of corona virus with 559 deaths; Uganda 2,426 cases with 25 deaths; Rwanda has reported 3,537 with 15 deaths and Burundi has 430 cases with one death. Burundi with a new government has changed its attitude and now appreciates existence of the pandemic. The new Burundi government has embarked on mass testing since July. However, Tanzania has maintained its deniability stance and no reliable statistics of the pandemic can be tagged to the largest East African country.
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