Uganda update

Greetings from rainy Mukono! I wanted to give you an update on how we are in Uganda here. Like the rest of the world, we are watching with somewhat bated breath to see what the next developments are. 

As of 22 April, Uganda has 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 41 have recovered, 20 are active cases, and there have been 0 deaths, thanks be too God.

PBS published this 5 minute video about how Uganda is a model for containing contagious diseases like Ebola and Marburg; I very much appreciated their reporting. For context, when the woman speaks about the increase in the price of beans, the kilo (2.2 pounds) for 4000 shillings (~$1.08) increased to 5000 shillings (~$1.35) overnight. All food prices have increased, some nearly doubling. And we’re just a month in to the pandemic. 

In line with taking swift action, the president closed schools and churches as of 20 March, and the driving ban kicked in about a month ago (I think; time is super fluid these days), so that means that few people are working unless they are essential, or they can walk to work. I’ve talked to some friends in the village, and since they can’t drive, it’s hard to get food. There are reports of women delivering on the side of the road because there was no transportation, so the president relaxed that rule so that the pregnant women can be driven for medical attention.

The list of the government’s actions is now 34 items long, but please don’t ask me to list them. In short: there’s a curfew from 7pm-6:30am, no driving vehicles, bodas (motorcycles) can carry cargo, but no people. Of course, the airport and borders are closed, but thankfully, cargo is still coming in.

I’m immensely grateful for my little protective bubble on campus. For me, the restrictions are mostly an inconvenience. I can walk to the supermarket outside the gate for basics and veggies, and there are supermarkets who will deliver out here for about $10, for which I am immensely grateful.

Most of all, I miss my students. Several have called or texted to say hello and check on me, which is sweet. But the campus is too quiet. We had planned to have our students have take-home exams, but the government nixed that. We had hoped that schools would reopen 5 May, but that has been postponed indefinitely. We are all concerned for how this will play out. 

Please continue to pray for us as we pray for you as well.

Corona impacts

Of course, there are many impacts of the Coronavirus, and Uganda is no exception.

As of evening on 25 Mar, there were 14 documented cases of COVID-19 in Uganda. So the president closed public transport for two weeks. This effectively stops work unless you have personal transport, and that is restricted to three people, driver inclusive.

The Old Taxi park is a ghost town. If workers were able to get there, it would be the perfect time to make the desperately needed improvements. The same holds true for the roads. Many projects have begun, and now would be a great time to work in earnest when traffic is minimal. But the workers would have to be able to get there, so it’s not likely.

Old Taxi Park on a normal day.
And the Old Taxi Park without taxis.

Food prices are also rising, though the president said he would pull the trading license of anyone who engages in food price gauging. For example, a kilo of sugar (2.2 pounds of turbinado sugar) was going for 3500 shillings (just under a dollar), and it’s now going for 5000 shillings; nearly double the price. I appreciate the president’s sentiment, though it’s nearly impossible to enforce. He also closed markets to non-food items.

As of the evening of 30 March, there were 33 documented cases of COVID-19, so the president put the nation on lockdown. Now there is no driving at all (unless it’s cargo), and there is a 7pm curfew. Almost everything is closed. Markets can remain open, but sellers have to sleep there. As in they can’t go home. For two weeks.

There are other restrictions, and many require clarification. I know that we are joining much of the world in this new normal, and I know that there are economic repercussions, just as everywhere else. Parents are accustomed to their children being fed lunch at school, and now they have to provide another meal, which is difficult when one is not working. I’m hoping most people have access to clean water, as people must keep a 4-meter space, and that’s even more difficult when carrying water, a very social activity. That’s 12 feet. How on earth is one to go to the market and keep 12 feet around you? If you’re in the village and the market is far, how are you to get there so you can feed your family?

I am grateful that I am in my idyllic little bubble on campus, and am fine. I stocked up on most supplies before the restrictions, and there’s a supermarket just outside the gate if I run out of something. I should be fine. Others are not so fortunate. Even with the restrictions, the concerns over crime are valid and widespread.

Please keep Uganda in your prayers as we continue to pray for all.