“On this dirt road, yesterday, I counted three “check points” manned, not by armed men in uniform, but by young men. Civilians hardly 25 years of age! All wearing face-masks! Armed with a rope and improvised tyre-cutters, they stopped pedestrians, pedal-cyclists and motorists alike.”
By Wilson Akiiki Kaija
On Thursday, at about 9am, I witnessed what we all need to do, individually or collectively, to turn the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic. A citizen action of sorts.
I was travelling from Sumbwe to Kampala city centre. Sumbwe is a peri-urban area located near Buloba, off the Kampala-Mityana-Mubende highway. It is three kilometres on a dirt road off the highway. Depending on where one is going, the distance could be longer. The road has many other access routes that connect back to the highway. It is a good detour for those who want to avoid the usual morning and evening traffic gridlock between Busega and Buloba. That’s if you are ready to accept the inconvenience of potholes.
On this dirt road, yesterday, I counted three “check points” manned, not by armed men in uniform, but by young men. Civilians hardly 25 years of age! All wearing face-masks! Armed with a rope and improvised tyre-cutters, they stopped pedestrians, pedal-cyclists and motorists alike. To go beyond the checkpoints everyone, pedestrian or cyclist or motorist, had to wear a face-mask! Those who didn’t have face-masks were asked to go back to wherever they had come from to get one.
It is not unusual to find unofficial check-points mounted on this particular road – Mwenda to Sumbwe, Sumbwe to Buloba or Sumbwe to Busega. In fact, on the evening of November 18, 2020, hours after opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu was arrested, the stretch from Busega to Sumbwe had four check-points (complete with bonfires) where violent young men forced pedestrians and motorists to pay money for them to be allowed to pass.
But the situation was different yesterday. The youth manning the check-points were firm but not violent. They never asked for money. They wanted travellers to wear face-masks. Period!
This, at a time when the country is battling the second wave of COVID-19, is a timely move. Our daily infection rates are consistently going up and so are the deaths. According to the Ministry of Health, Uganda’s cumulative death figure from COVID-19 stands at 542 people, including 83 who died in the last 72 hours!
Ministry officials are doing their best to give us daily updates but we still don’t know the extent of the problem. While it is true that at least 48,000 of the 65,000 confirmed cases have recovered from the virus, there are still unanswered questions on where we stand as a country. As of Wednesday, just over 1.2 million people have been tested, still a small number to give us a clearer picture. Only 831,213 people have received at least one shot of AstraZeneca vaccine. Those who have had the recommended two jabs are just over 40,000.
There was a two-day stampede on the roads after President Yoweri Museveni ordered schools to close, once again. We are yet to see the full impact, in the communities, of the mass movement as students (and non-students) travelled home following President Museveni’s 42-day partial lockdown.
Another stampede is inside health facilities, both private and public. The number of COVID-19 patients wheeled into hospitals is much higher than what can be handled. Five days ago, a 94-year-old was rushed to Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital. He had tested positive for COVID-19, had hiccups and was struggling to breath. He needed to be put on oxygen urgently. It wasn’t easy, not because the hospital did not want to, but because there was no space. Eventually he was admitted. A day later, his wife, 88, also tested positive. She was coughing and visibly frail but the hospital had no space for her. Luckily, her breathing was normal. She’s being treated from home.
As I conclude this article, I have just learned that the old man is dead.
We still have a long journey to walk. Continue wearing face-masks the right way, washing hands or sanitizing, avoiding social gatherings and keeping a safe distance from the person next to you.
Tell your neighbour to do the same.
The young men on Sumbwe Road reminded us all that it is our collective duty to fight COVID-19.