Covid: Uganda heightens surveillance as new Omicron variant spreads

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Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, Minister of Health Uganda

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The Government of Uganda has intensified surveillance measures on most of the points of entry to curb the spread of Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant, the Minister of Health has said.

While presenting a statement on the Floor of Parliament on December 2nd, 2021, the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, said that whereas the new Omicron variant has not yet been detected in Uganda, government is not taking chances and has intensified its measures especially at the points of entry like Entebbe International Airport and high-volume land border points like Malaba, Busia, Mutukula, Elegu, Mpondwe and Katuna.

“While the Omicron variant has been reported in several countries across the world, it is important to note that this variant has not been detected in Uganda. However, government has intensified surveillance at points of entry; with particular emphasis at the high-volume entry points,” Minister Aceng said.

This latest COVID-19 variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa last week and is said to have spread significantly to reach all provinces of South Africa. The new variant has reportedly spread to at least 23 other countries including Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, UK, Germany and Italy among others.

There is fear that this new variant may be more devastating than the dreaded Delta and Alpha variant.

About two months ago, the Government instituted mandatory testing of incoming travelers upon arrival at Entebbe International Airport to curb the importation of the virus. According to Dr Aceng, this measure will continue to restrain the new variant.

“We shall continue testing all incoming passengers. However, passengers will be allowed to proceed to their destination once their sample has been removed,” she said.

On average, six positive cases are recorded daily from the mandatory testing of incoming travelers and Dr Aceng is confident that the numbers are still low for the Ministry to handle.

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The Minister assured the House that all positive samples from travelers shall undergo genomic sequencing to enable detection of the Omicron and other variants. She also encouraged the public to embrace the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and continue adhering to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

MPs demanded assurance from the Health minister on the availability of COVID-19 vaccines following an outcry from some communities of vaccine shortages.

“We leaders have done our part to mobilize our electorate to go for vaccination. However, in Nakaseke district, vaccines are not available. Like in Kikamore Health Centre III and Butalangu Health Centre III, people go and line up and they are told vaccines are not available. I am getting a lot of phone calls over the same,” Allan Mayanja, Nakaseke Central MP said.

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Tororo Woman MP, Sarah Opendi said that Tororo district is also facing the same challenge of vaccine shortage and urged government to ensure that vaccines are readily available.

The Deputy Speaker Anita Among tasked the Minister to give the country assurance on the availability of vaccines and government plans on enforcing mandatory vaccination.

Minister Aceng also allayed fears raised by Solomon Silwany, Bukooli Central MP on the effectiveness of the vaccines being administered following the emergence of the new Omicron variant which is said to be more fatal.

“Information coming in from South Africa is that out of the 990 cases they have registered, majority of them are not vaccinated, so that gives you information that the vaccines are good,” she said, adding that Uganda is ready to handle the Omicron variant if it enters the country.

According to the Health minister, the Government has to date received a total of 17,131,090 doses through donations and direct procurement by the Government of Uganda; of which 10,523,853 doses have been distributed countrywide.

Distribution of the remaining 6,607,237 doses is ongoing. Government will receive an additional 15,563,650 doses by the end of December 2021.