Dear President Museveni,
I had promised not to write about COVID-19 again. I thought that by now, Uganda, would have already taken the Tanzanian route. It is a road less travelled, yet for poor countries like ours, it is the road that knows us better.
Now that word has it about next week’s lockdown on public transport, Kikuubo and a number of other arcades, I could not hold back but deliver another word, hopefully the last once again on this matter.
It is a warning that Uganda should do itself a favour and not delay the inevitable. The worst mistake Uganda can make is to pursue a second lockdown. If Uganda makes this mistake, there could be no recovery, not even in the next 10 years. I thus feel convicted to sound the warning bell against imposing a second lockdown.
First of all, lockdowns do not work in poor countries. We just don’t have the systems, the financial muscle, the human resource to enforce lockdowns and while at it, utilize them for the intended purposes. In countries where lockdowns worked, officials went around testing house by house, taking out all the positive cases and having them under quarantine. In Uganda, lockdowns do not achieve this purpose. They simply delay the inevitable.
Uganda should thus swallow the humble pie and take the Tanzanian, Burundian and Sweden route. We must open up everything as soon as possible.
In the absence of a cure or vaccine, lockdowns lose meaning, in fact, lockdowns become detrimental. For a virus with a death rate below 3%, it is a high cost to bring the whole country to a standstill. You have argued that this is a fight between life and death. Uganda’s annual death rate stands at 6.4 per 1000. This means that for every 1000 Ugandans, 6 of them are expected to die in any given year. With such a death rate, it is clear Covid-19 is not Uganda’s worst threat. In fact, our fight against Corona is the bigger threat. The costs of fighting Covid-19 in a poor economy outweigh the benefits.
We must take the bold step and bet on herd immunity. We must bet on having as many of our citizens infected with the virus. We must bet on the fact that with every new infection, the next infection becomes less likely. Because soon, a good number of people become immune to the virus, and the virus runs out of potential hosts. Tanzania knew this, Sweden knew this, Burundi knew this, Uganda should know this.
I thus hope that when you meet your Ministers of Health, herd immunity becomes another option that Uganda should be prepared to pursue. By hiding under masks, by social distancing, by imposing lockdowns, we make our journey out of the pandemic longer. It also means that every time you open up, you revert to the same initial state. The solution is this to fully open up and go head-on with the virus.
The cost to achieving herd immunity could be direct deaths of some of those who get infected. But let’s also not forget that lockdowns kill more people than they suppose to save.
Do Ugandans a favour, and choose the herd immunity strategy!
The writer is a Ugandan Engineer with love for writing and books