Kampala, Uganda | URN | President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday 15, June attended the budget reading ceremony virtually, a week after declaring that he had contracted COVID-19, which triggered mixed reactions from the public.
While all indicators show that the President will soon be out of isolation since health experts advise that those with COVID-19 can go out of isolation at least 10 days after testing. Mr. Museveni makes 9 days today.
Questions about how he could have gotten infected still linger given that he was adherently following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
With him at the helm, Uganda was lauded globally for championing efforts geared towards prevention and halting further transmission of the viral respiratory disease right from simple personal initiatives like hand hygiene and wearing face masks to tough regulations including curfews and long-spanning lockdowns. In fact, the country had the longest school closure of two years.
Also, while many countries had long dropped contact tracing and testing requirements, President Museveni until today requires all individuals attending public ceremonies where he is present to first test for COVID-19. This had happened last week, before the State of the Nation address from where he declared that he had contracted the virus.
Where could have President Museveni lost his guard? How far can one go to maintain SOPs? Our reporters put these questions to public health experts.
In an interview, Dr Misaki Wayengera, a virologist at Makerere University told this publication that it’s hard to trace where the President could have gotten infected but rather explained that there’s generally a surge in flu-like illness currently, which is not a surprise as this is a seasonal issue to do with the influenza virus life cycle. He says cases tend to raise between May and June and towards the end of the year.
Even as the President is an ardent follower of SOPs, the doctor who chaired the National Scientific Committee of the COVID-19 Taskforce, says we will not see them imposing new SOPs like it was. He says they have advised the government to incorporate COVID-19 in routine care as all the other infections that are endemic in the country such as malaria.
“Following SOPs should be a personal initiative as the number one citizen has done. Elsewhere people stay at home and isolate themselves when they get the flu or they wear masks when going out. Any person getting COVID-19 should not cause any scare,” the doctor said explaining that they have downsized the COVID-19 response and are currently doing surveillance as is down for all infections.
We also put these questions to Prof Jayne Byakika the COVID-19 Incident Manager at the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa Regional Office who said even as the dominant omicron strain of COVID-19 is mild, people of advanced age like the President can easily get infected and develop severe disease if especially they are not vaccinated.
She said all SOPs should still be followed and people take a personal initiative to seek booster doses for those that are fully vaccinated and wear a mask if they have flu-like symptoms and would like to attend outdoor events.
The same views are shared by Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng who rather encouraged people not to panic because of the President’s infection but take personal initiative and maintain proper prevention practices as the whole African continent is recording an average of 6,000 new infections each week from a peak of over 308,000 cases weekly at the start of the year in 2022.
However, doctors recommend that the Ministry should instead issue general guidelines for people to follow to manage all flu-like illnesses.