Ugandan Health Authorities on High Alert, Restrict Travel to Countries highly hit by COVID-19

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Health Minister, Hon. Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, Sheraton Kampala hotel (AT Photo)
By :
Baluku Geoffrey

KAMPALA – Uganda has restricted the public from traveling to nine more countries that are highly hit by COVID 19 bringing the number to a total of 16 countries.

Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Ugandan minister of health made these revelations while meeting hoteliers, tour operators and other members of the Tourism industry at Sheraton Hotel Kampala. The meeting was convened to orient the tourism fraternity about the looming threat of COVID19 and the prevention measures that they should embrace in their various capacities.

According to Dr. Aceng, travel restrictions on the said countries are as a result of recorded rise in numbers of infected persons just within a period of 24 hours hence posing an imminent threat to the country.

Among the countries listed are; Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Malaysia, Norway, San Marino, Sweden, USA, United Kingdom and Malaysia. Others are China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Spain.

Dr. Ruth Aceng, however, says travelers from the restricted countries who want to enter Uganda will have to self-quarantine at their own expense. She indicated that defiant travelers will be asked to leave the country.

When tasked to explain why the ministry was not updating the country on whether they have the required screening kits to test for the virus, the minister seemed non-committal but insisted that washing hands with soap was the best remedy for now.

The minister reaffirmed to the tourism fraternity that Uganda as of the 11th of March 2020 has not reported any confirmed cases of COVID 19.

Adding that, all the 26 samples of persons who presented with signs and symptoms of the COVID -19 were subjected to tests and all came out negative.

Africa Tembelea understands that so far, 1,623 travelers have been followed by the health ministry and asked for self-quarantine since COVID 19 was declared in China in December 2019. Of these 1,071 are Chinese, 244 are Ugandans, 443 are Italians and 34 are from South Korea.

Tour operators who spoke to Africa Tembelea on the sidelines of the meeting raised the issue of the 14-day quarantine for travelers to Uganda. Many argued that by imposing a 14-day quarantine, the ministry was in effect ‘banning’ tours to and in Uganda since 90 percent of the travelers normally take between 5 and 10 days’ tours inclusive airport transfers. In this case, the quarantine period would literally mean the tours are banned. This is in direct contrast to what other countries are doing.

Some of the countries in the region have an alternative approach and saying that all travelers who present one of the COVID19 symptoms and coming from countries with confirmed cases of the virus will be considered as suspect cases and taken for isolation at nearest hospitals for further investigation and laboratory tests. If tested positive, suspected case then becomes confirmed and is sent immediately to a COVID 19 treatment center. In the case of Uganda, Dr. Aceng was non-committal on what hotels would do or which holding centers were available in case of the virus outbreak. However, she shared a toll free helpline 0800-203-033 and advised the public to report any suspected cases.

On issues to do with travelers reschedule of gorilla permits, as well as hotel bookings and other pre booked tourist services, the minister said she would liaise with Tourism minister (Rtd.) Col Tom Butiime and share the concerns in cabinet on monday next week. However, she requested Mrs Yogi Birigwa and Mrs Susan Muhwezi, the Uganda Hotel Owners Association Chairperson to come up with a paper on the pertinent issues that will be added to her weekly cabinet update.

Also, in attendance at Sheraton Kampala, was Dr. Yonas Tegegn, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Representative to Uganda who urged the tourism fraternity NOT to believe in the myths surrounding COVID-19.

He said that COVID-19 could NOT be cured by bathing two times a day in hot water, neither could COVID-19 be cured by eating garlic or drinking alcohol.

Dr. Tegan also informed the meeting that coronavirus outbreak had become a pandemic, with 114 countries confirming cases.

His key message to the meeting was emphasis on washing hands with water and soap or an alcohol based sanitizer or hand rub.

– What you need to know about the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) –

This is a highly infectious disease caused by the new Coronavirus (COVID-19). It is spread from person to person through sneezing, or coughing (droplets infection), human to human contact and contact with contaminated surfaces.

Signs and Symptoms of COVID-19 include; fever, cough, sore throat, difficulty in breathing or other flu like symptoms like running nose, sneezing, and body weakness.

– What Must Not Be Done –

  • Avoid handshaking and hugging at all times
  • Avoid close contact with people who are visibly sick with flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sneeze)
  • When sick with flue like symptoms avoid going to public places, offices and public gatherings. Remain at home to avoid infecting others.
  • You do not need to wear medical masks if you do not have respiratory symptoms such as cough, sneezing or running nose.
  • Don’t take self-medication such as antibiotics
  • Do not spit in public. Find a secluded place like toilets or pit latrines in which to spit.
  • Delay travel to countries that currently have many patients with Coronavirus disease.

– What must be done to protect one’s self (THINGS TO DO) –

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol based hand rub or wash them with soap and water as this helps kill viruses.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with tissue or a handkerchief when coughing and sneezing. Throw away the used tissue immediately and wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol based hand rub. The handkerchief must be washed by yourself and ironed with a hot iron. In this way, you protect others from any virus released through coughs and sneezes.
  • Maintain reasonable distance between yourself and someone who is coughing, sneezing (at least 1 meter apart).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Hands touch many surfaces which can be contaminated with the virus and you can transfer the virus from the surface to yourself.
  • If you have fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, seek medical care immediately. If possible, call a health worker and alert them about your condition.
  • People with flu like symptoms should use face masks to cover the nose and mouth and stay home in a well ventilated room.
  • If you are caring for individuals who have symptoms, such as cough and fever you are encouraged to use a face mask to cover your nose and mouth for personal protection.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs/ handles, car doors and elevator buttons.
  • All travelers coming from countries affected by the Coronavirus disease should follow guidance given by health workers at the airport and other border entry points.
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