By Katumba Willy
KAMPALA: Ugandans, who are scheduled to return home under a special government arrangement, will be quarantined depending on their financial ability, the health ministry has revealed.
Dr Allan Muruta, the health ministry’s commissioner for public health emergencies, revealed that they have identified a number of hotels around Kampala in which the returnees will be booked for quarantining.
“We do not know the cost of the quarantining yet.
We are still having engagements with the hotel owners. We have classified the returnees into three groups: the high class, middle class and lower class,” Muruta said, adding that returnees will choose the category in which they feel comfortable vis-a-is the quarantine.
According to a survey by The Homeland Newspaper, rooms in Kampala go for $262 (sh995,600) and $40 (sh152,000) a night. Although there are the ‘Go-Cool’ lodges that offer accommodation for as low as sh30,000 a night, it is not clear which hotels have been selected.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 lock down in March, Ugandans returning from abroad were asked to pay $100 (about sh380,000) minus meals every night they were to spend quarantined at Central Inn in Entebbe, a cost which drew widespread criticism. The charges were later reduced to $55 (sh209,000) before they were shifted to Arch Apartments in Ntinda, where Government took up the responsibility for the bills.
Jimmy Spire Sentongo is one of those who paid hotel bills before Government took over. A Central Inn receipt for March 21 showed that Sentongo paid sh418,500 for a single room for two nights. Returnees will have to pay for their travel back home, hotel fees and upkeep during the quarantine.
In his statement to Parliament on June 2, foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa said Uganda’s missions abroad have registered close to 2,400 individuals stuck in 66 countries worldwide. He said Government will permit Ugandans to return only on specially arranged flights which will be cleared for that purpose.
Sam Kutesa, however, said that by allowing Ugandans to return home, Government is not reopening the international airport to ‘regular passenger flights’ because the risk of imported cases is perhaps even higher now than before.
What is required of returnees?
The travellers will be required to provide proof of negative COVID-19 test results before they embark on their journey so as to avoid infecting each other while in transit and on the plane.
“Each country has put in place specific testing requirements before international travel. In the UK, a passenger must test for COVID-19 at least 10 days before they travel while in the United Arab Emirates, it is six days in advance of travel,” Kutesa noted.
Those who test positive for the coronavirus will have to first undergo treatment in their present locations before they can travel back to Uganda at a later date.
On arrival in Uganda, Kutesa said returnees will again be tested for COVID-19 and then taken into mandatory quarantine for a minimum of 14 days in a government-designated facility.
According to a health ministry official, who preferred anonymity, returnees “will not be allowed to interact with their relatives or amongst themselves during quarantine until they are cleared to get back into the community.
They will also be monitored and tested regularly for 14 days and those found infected, will immediately be put on treatment.”
The Homeland Newspaper has seen several letters that were sent to Ugandans all over the globe asking them to register with their respective missions for evacuation purposes.
However, Ambassador Patrick Mugoya, the foreign affairs ministry permanent secretary, explained that in countries such as Ghana where Uganda has no mission, Ugandans should register at a nearby mission, citing the one in Abuja (Nigeria) that oversees Ghana.
“We cannot be everywhere in the world. In countries where we are not, we do multiple accreditation and our website www.mofa.go.ug clearly shows where each country falls for those where Ugandan has no mission,” he said.
According to the ministry, Ugandans will come back in phases and the airport will be opened as and when they fly back and that this will depend on their readiness. The ministry did not give information on how often the flights will be coming in.
“Our view is that the first phase of these returnees should be Ugandans stranded in distant places such as Europe, America, West Africa, Eastern Asia and the Middle East.
These are more likely to be in dire need of help,” Kutesa told Parliament recently.
No access to embassies
However, there are Ugandans who have no access to the contact addresses of Uganda’s embassies in their host countries or those in countries where Uganda has no mission.
Others who have registered said they have never got any feedback from Uganda’s missions in their respective host countries to ascertain whether the details of their residence in those countries were received or not.
James Musoke and Edward Ssekirabi are stranded in Ghana and Uganda has no mission in that country.
Musoke said: “I was supposed to return home by Rwanda Air but it referred me to Ethiopian Airlines.
That was on March 22, but Entebbe airport then closed. I have called the Ethiopian Airlines and they have told me that they cannot handle my ticket because I was just referred to them by Rwanda Air. Right now, every time I call the offices of Rwanda Air, they are closed and the phone is off. Please, I need your help.”
Ssekirabi said he registered with the Uganda High Commission in Nigeria, but he has never received any feedback. Musoke and Ssekirabi registered their concerns on the Uganda Media Centre website following the posting of minister Kutesa’s statement regarding the Government’s plan to evacuate Ugandans stranded abroad.