President Yoweri Museveni has eased anti-coronavirus restrictions, including allowing reopening of places of worship, education for universities and other post-secondary institutions, citing a decline in infections in the country.
In a televised speech late on Wednesday, Museveni said the outbreak had continued to ebb since.
"The COVID-19 transmission rates in the country have continued to decline. ..the daily average number of confirmed cases over the last one month has declined and stabilised," he said.
He said all universities and other post secondary education institutions should now re-open on Nov. 1 and also allowed churches and a range of other sport and social activities such as weddings and funerals to resume.
"The places of worship can now open under the following conditions:
•Limit the number of worshippers at any one time to not more than 200 provided the place of worshipcan ensure physical distancing of 2 meters on either sideand adequate aeration.
•There must be strict adherence to all SOPs at all times i.e. hand washing/use of alcohol based sanitizer, temperature monitoring, and consistent wearing of face masks by all congregantsincluding the choirand preachers.
•No congregation for worship aftercurfew hours
•The 200-persons-limit, physical distancing and all other SOPs should be respected even during special occasionse.g. weddings, funeral services, confirmation etc
•Partner with Government to communicate and mobilize the population for vaccination and other control measures.
Bar closures and a range of other restrictions such as a night curfew would however be maintained to help prevent a third wave of the pandemic, he said.
"Bars are a high risk area where individuals have no sobriety to observe the SOPs. They will be considered for re-opening when the 4.8 million priority population is vaccinated," Mr Museveni said.
As of Wednesday, Uganda had registered 122,502 confirmed cases and 3,135 deaths.
A total of 12 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines are expected to have been brought into the country by the end of the year, most of them donations, Museveni said.
He said the government aimed to vaccinate around 4.8 million people by the end of the year, which he said would permit the lifting of nearly all other remaining restrictions, including allowing primary and secondary schools to also re-open.
The president urged various stakeholders to mobilize all eligible priority groups to go for vaccination, saying they should,in addition, ensure that no vaccines are wasted.
To strengthen the vaccination exercise, the president ordered the following:
i. Scaling up vaccination for all the eligible Ugandans aged 18 years and above (approx. 22 million)
ii. Prioritizing the vaccination of the 4.8 million priority population: health workers, teachers, security personnel, elderly persons of 50 years and above, those below 50 years with comorbidities and 330,000 students in post-secondary institutions aged 18 years and above.
He directed all RDCs, CAOs and DHOs to carry out intensive mobilization for all eligible priority groups to go for vaccination. "They should, in addition, ensure that no vaccines are wasted or left to expire."
In any district where vaccines expire, the RDC, CAO and DHO will be dismissed, he said.
In order to prevent the third wave and importation or emergence of new variants in the country, he directed the Ministry of Health to:
i. Enhance surveillance at the airport and all the 53 land ports of entry. The government will establish testing facilities at the airport and all land border points of entry. In the interim (not more than 2 weeks), the private laboratories will continue to test the incoming travelers.
ii. Work with the UPDF and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to complete the modifications necessary for the installation of the testing facilities and to carry out the surveillance processes.
iii. Carry out regular and systematic genomic sequencing to detect any new variants (locally emerging and imported)
iv. Work with the Ministry of Education and Sports to support headteachers to carry out surveillance and early reporting of suspected cases in schools to the District and City Task Forces once the schools open.
v. Follow up the use of Rapid Antigen Self-tests with World Health Organization (WHO), and once approved, inform the Ministry of Education and Sports to consider their use in schools
a) Places of Worship: The places of worship were allowed to open under the following conditions:
• Limit the number of worshippers at any one time to not more than 200 provided the place of worship can ensure physical distancing of 2 meters on either side and adequate aeration.
• There must be strict adherence to all SOPs at all times i.e. hand washing/ use of alcohol-based sanitizer, temperature monitoring, and consistent wearing of face masks by all congregants including the choir and preachers.
• No congregation for worship after curfew hours
• The 200-persons-limit, physical distancing and all other SOPs should be respected even during special occasions e.g. weddings, funeral services, confirmation etc
• Partner with Government to communicate and mobilize the population for vaccination and other control measures
b) Weddings, Burials and other social events: The number of persons attending these events can now increase to 200 under strict observance of SOPs
c.) Casinos, Gaming, Betting shops and Gyms: • The casinos, gaming, betting shops and gyms can now operate during the day and close by 6:00pm.
• The various local governments, Cities and Kampala Capital City Authority, working with the National Gaming and Lottery Board MUST inspect the various betting outlets for suitability and adherence to SoPs before opening.
d.) Concerts, disco halls, performing artists and beaches: These tend to congregate in large numbers and are difficult to control. With the level of vaccination still low. He directed that these remain closed until at least the 4.8 million priority population is vaccinated.
e.) Bars are a high-risk area where individuals have no sobriety to observe the SOPs: They will be considered for re-opening when the 4.8 million priority population is vaccinated.
f.) Cinemas and Bibanda (Local Cinema Halls) These should remain closed as the local cinema halls are areas of immense crowding and mostly have poor aeration and are designed to have artificial ventilation systems.
g.) Curfew Restriction of movement of persons at the night time is key to the enforcement of other preventive health measures. Curfew remains at 7:00pm – 5:30am. Boda bodas should stop movement at 6:00pm.
h.) Weekly markets: These are open door settings and currently transmission rates are low in some areas. These can be opened with strict adherence to SOPs and the curfew hours except for current hotspot districts (Soroti, Kampala, Kalungu, Kabale, Kumi, Tororo, Gulu, Nwoya and Yumbe).
The RDCs, RPCs, DPCs, DISOs, GISOs should enforce adherence to SOPs. The Minister for Health should follow up the hotspot districts and review their situation for safe re-opening of the weekly markets after two weeks.
i.) Reopening of schools: Infections in children below 18 years are often mild and they recover quickly. However, many of the 15 million learners are day scholars who once infected, go back home and infect their parents and grandparents that may subsequently die.
This was observed during the second wave. To avoid a similar scenario, the National Task Force, on several occasions, considered conditions for safe re-opening of schools which included; vaccination of teachers, non-teaching staff, 330,000 students aged 18 years and above, plus all the other priority populations.
This was in addition to the rate of transmission in the country. To date, out of the targeted 550,000 teachers, 269,945 have already received the 1st dose of vaccination while 96,653 have received the second dose. This leaves a total of 280,055 not yet vaccinated at all.
On re-opening of schools, he said:
a. Post-Secondary institutions of learning to open with effect from 1st November 2021 on condition that; all teachers and non-teaching staff are vaccinated
b.) The 330,000 students aged 18 years and above in post-secondary institutions should be vaccinated as soon as possible
c.) The rest of the learning institutions will open in January 2022