By Robert Kateera
Here forever. That would be my title if I were to write a script for a dystopian movie about COVID – 19 had I had extra sensory perception abilities to see through our future at the beginning of 2019.
Today, the whole world is dealing with COVID as a pandemic, but it is most likely that this virus is to become endemic in the nearest future even if we vaccinated ninety percent of the world population, which is impossible. Epidemiologists like Roy Anderson of the Imperial College London, have argued that the world had better realize that this virus is not going to go away.
The most we can do is manage the pandemic, but not institute interventions that are directed to halt almost all human activity such as the blanket lockdowns Uganda has instituted for three times now, as if one day soon the virus will vanish out of the window.
The economy of Uganda is struggling. Our GDP per capita stands at 794 dollars, behind most of our East African Community counterparts such as Kenya at 1,816 dollars, Tanzania at 1,122 dollars and Rwanda at 820 dollars.
Of these, only Rwanda has come close to the stringent measures Uganda has applied, yet we don’t have much difference to show in accounting for the terrible dent we have put on our economy which has been hibernating for about a straight year now since the pandemic broke out. Whereas children are largely not at risk of the virus, schools have remained closed for about two years now.
The government seems disinterested in any conversation about what this means to them. It is as if there is more death in corona virus deaths than in all other causes of death to which children have been exposed outside school.
Some scientists such as Jennie Lavine, an Emory University postdoctoral fellow have carried out studies which indicate that if SARS-CoV-2 behaves like other coronaviruses, it will likely morph into a mild nuisance years or decades from now. Of course this transition from pandemic to endemic will depend on how the immune response to corona virus will hold up over time. But we can’t choose to lock up and do nothing up to that point.
While it is now considered a rule of thumb that the less the virus spreads, the fewer opportunities it has to evolve, the government of Uganda has to rethink both the contribution as well as the cost of lockdowns in the fight against this spread.
We also need to keep in mind the fact that we are not just about to immunize a sizeable number of the population due to lack of vaccines, and as Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s director for Africa said recently, “vaccine hoarding in rich countries will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa’s recovery”.
So the government of Uganda clearly needs to have a “Ugandan” plan different from the approaches taken by rich nations which plan on immunizing everybody in a short time and get back to work. What happened to the concept of African solutions for African problems when this pandemic happened?
What bothers me most is that the government of Uganda seems to plan its intervention as if there is a before and after of the COVID pandemic. As if there will be a time as now the virus is gone, churches can open, schools can open, bars can open, concerts can happen.
There will never be any after the pandemic date, and government had better look into a mode of intervention that keeps the economy running while combating the pandemic. Even researchers’ best projections run into the uncertainty of when the future will separate from the present. It is clear that we shall have reinfection, transmission, and viral evolution playing out for decades to come.
The author Robert Kateera is the President Trudeau Youth Council