Businesses to shut down as Museveni announces lockdown

President Yoweri Museveni announced lockdown measures on Monday, telling all shopping malls, non-food shops, salons, and guesthouses to close for 14 days, and stopping all people to people travel.

The president said initial measures emphasising physical distancing issued by the government to limit the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in Uganda have not been heeded by the population, hence the need for additional measures. Uganda currently has 33 confirmed positive coronavirus cases.

“After further careful analysis, we have come to the conclusion that to be on the safe side, it is better we err on the side of caution than to wait for a possible situation like of some countries where a 1,000 people are dying per day from this disease,” President Museveni said in a national address.

He said the government needs to discover how many people could have been infected after interacting with the 25 positive cases that were not identified at points of entry or in quarantine.

‘The bitter medicine of maximum restrictions’

“Measure number one is to prohibit all people to people movement by everybody including those using their private vehicles, bodabodas, tuk-tuks, etc,” Mr Museveni said.

This is because some private car owners had turned their cars into taxis, transporting strangers for a fee and, in the process, facilitating “dangerous mixing.” The ban on people to people mixing went into effect at 22:00 today.

“The second category of concentrations are the shopping malls, arcades, hardware shops, which gather a lot of people to sell and buy non-food items. These are suspended for 14 days starting with the 1st of April, 2020,” the president said.

“All the non-food shops should also close. Only food stores, stores selling agricultural products, veterinary products, detergents and pharmaceuticals should remain open.”

Other essential services not affected by the new measures include: “the medical, agriculture and veterinary, telecommunication, door-to-door delivery, financial institutions, all media, private security companies, cleaning services, garbage collection, fire-brigade, fuel stations, water departments and some KCCA staff.”

Mr Museveni said factories — and construction sites — can keep operating only if they can “arrange for the crucial employees to camp around the factory area for the 14 days.” This is to make sure that their workers don’t go home and mix with the rest of the population. If the factories cannot do that, “let them suspend production for 14 days.”

Salons, lodges and garages will also have to close for two weeks starting 1 April, he said.

The president also announced a ban on gatherings of more than five people. In addition, he prohibited all movement after 19:00 starting on 31 March; the only exceptions to the curfew are cargo planes and vehicles.

“The exemption of cargo transporters does not apply to the bodabodas, tukutukus or bicycles in the curfew hours. Those should only operate during daylight hours,” Mr Museveni said.

Moots measures to ease economic pain

The government is planning to talk to banks for temporary loan payment relief assistance during the restrictions, according to the president. In addition, it is engaging utility companies to ensure that there are no disconnections due to non-payment.

On their part, banks have waived charges and fees on certain transactions on both digital platforms and ATM machines. The Uganda Bankers Association, an industry lobby, said all banks have waived charges on bank to wallet transactions not exceeding Shs30,000 per day, and agent banking transactions as well as ATM withdrawals not exceeding Shs50,000 per day.

Mr Museveni added that the government, working with the IMF and the World Bank, will set up a fund in the Uganda Development Bank “to accelerate industrialisation through import-substitution and export promotion.” He, however, did not mention when the fund will be set up.

In all his speeches during the outbreak, Mr Museveni has emphasised the “new opportunities” it presents for industrialisation. “You have seen how the demand for sanitizers, face masks, bicycles, etc., has stimulated new industrial opportunities,” he said on Monday. “You have seen how dangerous it is for Africa to excessively depend on imports from outside. This is the time to wake-up.”

The government is also working on distributing food to people hardest hit by the restrictions, many of whom “live hand to mouth,” according to the president. “The government, after properly identifying these people will distribute food to them in the form of akahuunga (maize flour), beans, powder milk, sugar, salt, etc.”

But Mr Museveni did not set a timeline for when this assistance will be available.

He was clear on one other thing, though: opposition politicians distributing food “for cheap popularity” will be arrested and charged with attempted murder. Such efforts are dangerous because they attract big groups of people and could aid in the spread of coronavirus, argued the president.

On Sunday, opposition Forum for Democratic Change party president Kizza Besigye announced on Twitter that his People’s Government movement will provide emergency transport services for people living within the Kampala metropolitan area. The police earlier today called the move illegal.