Mr President, Lift The Lockdown

April 30th, 2020 / Hillary K Bainny
| President Yoweri Museveni

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More than 21% of Ugandans live in poverty. A few weeks ago, In a statement about the economic implications of the pandemic, the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development said about 780,000 people would be pushed into poverty in the short run while as many as 2,600,000 risked the same fate in the long run. The UN has already warned of the devastating economic impact of coronavirus on Africa, with £24bn equivalent to Uganda’s GDP last year – already lost to the pandemic.

Nobody is  exposing the social economic costs of the lockdown - domestic violence, family fights, separations, crime, desperation - what will happen to the woman who can no longer sell her sweets, or go from home to home doing people’s hair. Who is thinking about the HIV patients who cannot get their medicine!!!!!!

How are 10 people who sleep in one hut socially distancing; how are women copying up with abusive men being around all the time; how are pastoralists who know no life other than that of moving from place to place with their animals getting by??

Uganda’s economy has been hit hard due to negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Finance minister, Mr Matia Kasaija, recently said. And for this hit, the Government has decided to borrow up to $440m (about Shs1.6 trillion) from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help the economy. Government will borrow $190m from the World Bank (WB) and $250m from the IMF.

The industry and services sector are being affected by the disease. This is leading to disruption of supplies and loss of jobs.  The exports are declining and are expected to decline by 64% and the overall imports that have been affected since the pandemic broke out in Wuhan China are expected to decline by 44% in the last four months of this fiscal year. .

Since mid March, I called for total cancellations of all inbound and outbound flights from Uganda, for I knew our first cases of Coronavirus would be imported. I also called for closing of our borders and maximum deployment at our borders to deal with invaders. Government took longer to act, and I was shocked by the President's  decision to close schools and other sectors of the economy even before we had a registered case.  

You cannot shut down an economy because of a disease that kills less than 3% of persons who contract it -  Uganda has no fatality, thus our mortality rate is at 0%. These are stats from countries with ageing populations, unlike us. Save for Italy with a fatality rate of 13%. But let us face it, the median age in Italy is 46, compared to Uganda at 15.  

In the last few days, I have been a little impressed by calls to reopen the American and European economy. This has been based on the deaths and not the cases reported. Even when Aids afflicted almost 25% of the adult population in Uganda with no known cure or medication to prolong life - sex outside marriage, hotels, bars, were never banned! Life continued till ARVs were found. Imagine if all erotic music, checking into hotels for couples not married to each other, bars, sales of alcohol, short dresses, and music with sexual lyrical content were banned, the economy would have crsshed us faster than AIDS - this time though, coronavirus is crashing our economy. 

Pregnancy related complications kill 17 women and girls daily in Uganda. But as we speak, a Ugandan is conceiving! Life must go on! We are better off saving that new born baby and the mother than destroying our economy and causing anarchy! Despite having over 15,000 cases, Singapore has only 14 Covid-19 deaths!!!!! Today, with 82 cases - 52 recoveries, we have no reported deaths and all our cases were in stable condition till their recovery. 

Even in World War II, trade continued albeit at slowed down pace! We have closed schools because of a pandemic that has not even driven its youngest patient (an 8 month old baby) into ICU - Intensive Care Unit or HDU? We were told by foreign "experts" that Coronavirus would bring our fragile healthcare to its knees - but that has not been the case, and I am more than convinced, that won't happen. 

I challenge our scientists to conduct studies and come up with strategies to combat this disease. Strategies tailor made to our unique situation. Chinese, American, or European solutions cannot work! Our demographics are different! Flu alone has killed between 22,000 - 50,000 Americans in their current flu season - since November 2019, but doesn't kill even 10 in Uganda! Malaria kills close to 100,000 people in Uganda annually. Have we stopped night movements because of this? Lift the lockdown!

Hunger and anger are building in Uganda and other major African cities with little or no social safety net to protect the poor from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. The combination of widespread poverty, reliance on government-donated food and price spikes due to the epidemic could prove deadly if our government doesn't act quickly and lift this lockdown. Many Ugandans work as traders, labourers or craftsmen in the informal sector, which accounts for over 65 per cent of employment across the country, and must now stay home with no savings as a buffer.

Unfortunately, we are a community of people who take pride in what we appear to be doing rather than what we actually do. This is why we spend a million to do good and then spend three million to let the world know what we did with one million.

Frankly I would call this lockdown forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights...that's my opinion..It is and will cause great harm, to many firms. While some companies will weather the storm, there are many small companies that will not - and are already out of cash. And all of people's - everything they've worked for their whole lives has been destroyed in real time. We're going to have, and have many suppliers that are on super hard times, especially the small ones, and it's causing a lot of strife to a lot of people.

Last night, I read an insightful article from the Wall Street journal that triggered me to pen this article. It was titled, Do Lockdowns Save Many Lives? In Most Places, the Data Say No.

The speed with which officials shuttered the economy appears not to be a factor in Covid deaths. To normalize for an unambiguous comparison of deaths between states at the midpoint of an epidemic, the researchers counted deaths per million population for a fixed 21-day period. They ran a simple one-variable correlation of deaths per million and days to shutdown, which ranged from minus-10 days. No conclusions can be drawn about the states that sheltered quickly, because their death rates ran the full gamut, from 20 per million in Oregon to 360 in New York. 

This wide variation means that other variables - like population density or subway use - were more important. Their correlation coefficient for per-capita death rates vs. the population density was 44%. That suggests New York City might have benefited from its shutdown - but blindly copying New York’s policies in places with low Covid-19 death rates, such as my native Wisconsin, doesn’t make sense.

Sweden is fighting coronavirus with common-sense guidelines that are much less economically destructive than the lockdowns in most U.S. states. and other European countries. Since people over 65 account for about 80% of Covid-19 deaths, Sweden asked only seniors to shelter in place rather than shutting down the rest of the country; and since Sweden had no pediatric deaths, it didn’t shut down elementary and middle schools. 

Sweden’s containment measures are less onerous than America’s and many other countries, so it can keep them in place longer to prevent Covid-19 from recurring. Sweden did not shut down stores, restaurants and most businesses, but did shut down the Volvo automotive plant, which has since reopened, while the Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif., was shuttered by police and remains closed.

How did the Swedes do? They suffered 80 deaths per million 21 days after crossing the 1 per million threshold level. With 10 million people, Sweden’s death rate - without a shutdown and massive unemployment?is lower than that of the seven hardest-hit U.S. states. Despite stories about high death rates, Sweden’s is in the middle of the pack in Europe, comparable to France; better than Italy, Spain and the U.K.; and worse than Finland, Denmark and Norway. Older people in care homes accounted for half of Sweden’s deaths. Belarus also did not shut down - with over 14,000 cases, it has registered only 84 deaths.

We should cheer for Sweden and Belarus to succeed, not stupidly bash them. They may prove that many aspects of the U.S. and other country shutdowns were mistakes - ineffective but economically devastating - and point the way to correcting them.

Lift the Lockdown!!! Another extension is nonsensical and not Justified!!.

Share with us your thoughts.

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    Ssekandi Ronald Ssegujja April 30th, 2020

    You raise very valid arguments. The research shows that Uganda just as many other African countries ought to start rethinking their actions in this crisis other than copy pasting Western interventions. I agree that Museveni should immediately lift the loc

  • User Avatar
    Hillary Kururagyire April 30th, 2020

    Thank you for the Kind words, Mr. Ssskandi

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    MWIJUKA EDWIN May 3rd, 2020

    I totally agree,Let’s adapt and Live with The Disease just like We have lived with the harshest of them all(AIDS,CANCER). Mortality rate of 0% for our country justifies my standpoint.