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Open Letter to Minister Aceng: Stop Violating Covid19 SOPs for Financial Gain

By: Ivan Bwowe

I want to thank the ministry for all the good work and the medical professionals attending to us on a daily.

The World Health Organization declared that the incubation period of COVID19 is 14 days. Those that have been exposed to laboratory confirmed COVID19 patients therefore should undergo quarantine covering the incubation period.

Uganda in particular, has gone ahead to issue stringent measures which include mandatory institutional quarantine for many of us who were stuck out of the country on return. This was in addition to having a health declaration of a negative test of COVID19 prior to boarding any flight under the assumption of probable exposure during our travel back to Uganda.

These are some of the most stringent measure all over the world. This has been and is a burden emotionally and financially to citizens who have already been struggling since the country closed its borders denying us entry over three months ago. Nonetheless, have religiously abided by these rules in a bid to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Much to our dismay, the ministry continues to contradict its own guidelines hence imposing more financial stress and emotional stress on many in both in public/private mandatory institutional quarantine. The ministry has sent mixed messages on the core issue of quarantine days as a measure of containing the spread COVID19.

Officially, the stipulated SOPs declare a mandatory 14 days. However unofficially, returnees are being forced to spend up to 17 days in quarantine. The Ministry is yet to offer any clarifications on this discrepancy.

The idea of three (3) more days after the mandatory 14 days is disturbing our peace. The three added days are not for medical purposes but rather commercial reasons. They are a further neglect of duty intended to exploit the Ugandans in the quarantine centers who are waiting to go back to their loved ones and have a semblance of normality after months of neglect from their government.

Whereas the Ministry enforces the regulations to control the spread of COVID19, that in itself does not empower the Ministry to violate the same regulations, miss apply them or using them to exploit the vulnerable. The ministry should act in good faith and avoid shifting the rules when it is convenient to them but at the cost of those in quarantine centers. 2

Questions of who will foot the bill for the three (3) torturous additional days have by far not been addressed.

The World Health Organization mandated member countries to make regulations to govern quarantine. The MoH subsequently made these the Guidelines on Quarantine of Individuals in Context of Containment of Coronavirus Disease (COVID19) in Uganda and duly published them on their official website on 24.04.2020.

Special guidance No. 2.1 clearly state that quarantine shall last 14 days and the waiting time for the results is not amongst the reasons for extension.

Medical Procedures of testing and monitoring of quarantined guideline No.6.1 recommends two tests, one of the 1st day or the 2nd day and another at the 14th day of admission. The guidelines equally guide on discharge particularly guideline No. 6.3 which states that the quarantined person is discharged from the quarantine at the end of 14 days, if at the end of the 14th day the test is negative there has been no contact with any exposed person during quarantine.

As an emphasis, a negative result at Day 0 or any day before 13th Day of quarantine does NOT qualify a person for release as per the guideline.

This said, discharge should be at the 14th day. Either tests are carried out on the 13 the day and results returned on the 14th day or the tests are done in the morning of the 14th day and results returned on the same day.

Hon. Minister you informed us that, Uganda has capacity to return results on the same day. In fact, you have regularly reported testing and returning results of over 2,000 truck drivers per day.

Waiting for results cannot be reason enough to keep us confined while asking us to spend more. This is especially so when samples can be taken, and results are returned on the same day.

Prior to embarking on a journey back to Uganda, we signed commitments to spend 14 days in mandatory quarantine at facilities approved by the Government of Uganda in line with Standard Operating procedures issued in June 2020.

SOP 4 mandates us to comply with the national guidelines for quarantine. We pre-booked hotels for 14 days, on lapse of the said days, one is either, given a release certificate on testing negative, quarantine extended under circumstances per the guidelines or transferred to an isolation center on testing positive.

We are religiously complying with the rules and so should the Ministry. It was therefore exasperating to receive a document dated 18th.May. 2020 at the 3

airport indicating that the sample shall be taken on 14th day and returned within 3 days after completion of mandatory quarantine days. Wabula Mujooga!

We loathe this kind of conduct. At the end of the 14th day, we shall have no contractual obligation with the hotels and quarantine facilities you recommended us to book for 14 days. We are out of money and so we simply cannot pay!

We shall not pay any extra money for the three added days. The hotels can throw us out or the ministry can decide to relocate us to new facilities of which that alone can expose us to COVID19 and will be at the ministry’s cost. This situation is purely the ministry’s making and so government can foot the hotel bills for any days it seeks to add at the end of the mandatory 14 quarantine days.

If I tested negative before coming, tested negative here in Uganda on the first test, respected all the guidelines in quarantine, I have developed no symptoms for 14 days. Why would you keep me confined at my expense for your failure to return the results in the shortest time possible?

We want to go to our homes and create space for the many other Ugandans returning.

The writer is a lawyer and formet Guild President of Makerere University

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