Gulu City

Gulu Street on the first day of lockdown, March 26, 2020          

“Go my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you, hide yourselves for a little while until this wrath has passed by”-Isaiah 26:20

GULU-UGANDA: Uganda’s long term strongman, President Yoweri Museveni, has suspended all means of public transport for fourteen days which the public had been using to move about the country to do business with effect from Thursday, March 26, 2020 after 14 people tested positive for corona-virus; which has now soared to 33 as of Monday, March 30, 2020.

“All public means of transport have been suspended for fourteen days. This includes taxis, buses, tricycles and boda boda (motorcycle taxis). Only private means will be allowed to move. Only private means will be allowed to carry not more than three people”, Mr. Museveni told the nation through the different media outlets in the country.

This ban excludes trucks and lorry, which carry foodstuffs from the farms and villages to markets in towns. He advised Ugandans to stay at home and observe social distancing as a mean of controlling the spread of the corona-virus among the community. The president also extended the ban to boda-boda, passenger motorbikes, from carrying people but appealed to people to use them (boda boda) for transporting goods and foodstuffs.

“We are trying to target human beings. Passengers will only move in private cars. Ambulances, vehicles of security forces, army and police, some of the government vehicles doing essential work, garbage trucks will be allowed to move”, Mr. Museveni told the nation.

This pronouncement caught several people off guard as it disrupted business, especially those who sell non-food items in shops at different markets across the country and people on transit.

“For now, the markets should only be for foodstuffs like matooke, nuts, rice, fish, etc. Therefore trading in the markets other non-food items like clothes, mobile phones, neck-less and shoes, among others has been suspended to create space. Supermarkets will have to control customer traffic load within the premises and look at the possibilities of utilizing boda boda service delivery systems to clients and thus reduce human traffic in those collections”, emphasized the strongman.

He also says his next targets are the offices which he says are areas of ‘human concentration’, adding that the COVID-19 crisis will teach Ugandans how to do business without involving ‘too much human involvement’.

“All government vehicles in the district should be put at the district headquarters under the command of the District Health Officer (DHO) and may be assisted by police such that when we hear of any suspected case, we don’t get excuses of no vehicles”, he says.

Mr. Museveni, Friday March 27, 2020, tweeted that of the 197 suspected cases who were undergoing ‘institutional quarantine at different hotels in the country, after returning  home from Dubai, four have tested positive, bringing to 18 the total number of people tested positive. One of the 18 is an eight-month old baby, but the mother of this baby has since tested negative while the result of its father was reported positive on Sunday night. He is reported to have returned from Dubai recently.

Since then the Ministry of Health has been releasing results on daily basis. Tests are being carried out at the Virus Research Center in Entebbe and by Sunday night a total of 33 cases were confirmed positive. All these cases have been taken for treatment at Mulago National Referral Hospital.

“It seems, therefore that the efforts of identifying by temperature monitoring at the airport, quarantining the people on whom there is some suspicions and tracing ones who escape from the quarantine is working well”, Mr. Museveni said.

Meanwhile, security people across the country have been going around the country trying to enforce the directive. In Mukono Municipality, two casual workers on a boda boda were shot and injured by police who accused the two of defying the directives of the president.

One of the two, Mr. Alex Oryem, told the Daily Monitor correspondent in Mukono that he had not heard the presidential directive on riding more than one person using a boda boda.

“As we were going to work, we met two officers who blocked us and blamed us for being two on a boda boda. When we asked the officers what offence we had committed, they just started shooting us”, the Monitor quoted him.

The Kampala metropolitan police spokesman, Mr. Patrick Onyango, refuted the allegation but blamed the duo of trying to ‘attack the police officers on duty to enforce the directive’.

“He first fired warning shots in the air. People should not defy presidential directives aimed at preventing the spread of corona-virus in Uganda”, he says.

In Gulu, I took a ride on a borrowed bicycle on the second day of the lockdown to the town center, three kilometers away, where I found ‘empty streets, limited traffic with very few shops open for the few customers’. Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC), where I normally work was still closed by 11.00 am. The usually busy Gulu Central Market and the Bus Park were ‘virtually empty except for a few women selling food-stuffs and very few vehicles in the park’.

On my way back home, I crossed to visit Mr. Denis Bongomin, who just wedded in December 2019, and a vendor in Chinese-made clothes at Gulu Main Market. He was at his home in Kabedopong, in Keyi “A” village. He was just playing cards to defeat boredom with a colleague who also sells clothes in the same market.

“I don’t know what to do. I borrowed loan from Centenary Bank and I am unable to pay it in time because of the lockdown. I fear I will be pushed out of business. I have stocked my house with charcoal, beans and posho. This business of daily income is now over for me”, says Bongomin.

Along the way, I found several people, mostly women who went to town to buy foodstuffs or were still going there. Some few bodaboda still carry passenger by-passing police personnel in town.

According to twenty-three year-old Okema Erick, a boda boda operator at Laliya, he earned just UGX 16000.00, about US$ 4.00.00, instead of his daily income, of UGX. 36,000.00, equivalent of US$ 10.00 lockdown.

On Saturday night traditionalists across Acholi sub-region performed what is called ‘ryemo gemo’, meaning chasing away pestilence from inflicting harm to the community because they believe that God must be angry with the people following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Meanwhile security officials in Acholi sub-region say the rate of crimes, especially of domestic violence, have gone down across the region as most men who normally spend most of their time in bars drinking beer and socializing are now forced to stay at home with their families because of the lockdown.

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