This is a first-hand account of The Observer columnist and cartoonist, Dr Jimmy Spire Ssentongo who travelled from the UK, one of the high-risk coronavirus countries. He's currently holed up Central Inn hotel in Entebbe with about 40 other travellers.
Ministry of Health recently announced that all travellers including Ugandan nationals from category one countries; Italy, France, South Korea, China, UK, USA, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Iran, Norway, Malaysia, Pakistan, San Marino, Austria, Netherlands will be placed under mandatory quarantine for 14 days at their own expense. Dr Diana Atwine, the Health ministry permanent secretary who was on Wednesday appearing before the Public Accounts Committee of parliament said they have written to the embassies and met the ambassadors and asked them to advise their citizens not to travel, but they haven’t heeded to the call.
But at $100 per night translating to Shs 5.1 million for accommodation alone (minus meals) for the quarantine period, now some travellers are accusing government of extortion, torture in an attempt to keep the virus out of the country. Also, the travellers say, they are being herded together, irrespective of their transmission or infection risks, with the Central Inn hotel staff freely mingling with the travellers with little or no safety regard and precaution.
Even more worryingly, is the fact that the hotel staff keep on walking in and out of the premises - meaning should any traveller be infected, the hotel staff can easily contract the virus and later pass it to the other people they come in contact with outside the hotel. Uganda has no single confirmed case of coronavirus yet.
Below is Ssentongo's narration on Facebook.
Posted Thursday, March 19, 2020 at 1.40 am: Right now at Entebbe airport where we’ve been held for about 3 hours in confusion as we (about 40 people - mostly Ugandans) are told that we are going to be taken to a hotel where we shall have to pay $100 per night for 14 days! That is $1400 (5,180,000/)! It appears the said hotel is also full, hence abandoning us at the airport.
Precaution is low, risk high, the congestion careless ... One stands high risk of getting infected here. All appears to be done in random panic. Health officers don’t even care to inform the herded people about precautions to take!
2.54 am: Finally a van (Costa) comes, we are packed in tightly with all the luggage to head to Central Inn. Having come from high risk places, many were very cautious on arrival. Now that much of it has lost meaning, it’s total luck.
3.23 am: Been safely quarantined at P. M. Bachengana’s Central Inn at $60 per night, excluding meals. Cash at booking in. An average meal is $3. A 500ml bottle of water is 4000/. The presidential announcement making it mandatory came in as we were already on the way. But that doesn’t matter. Since it’s already past 3 am anyway and this is deemed unfair, no one is willing to pay; and there are no options at this hour. So we are sleeping in the lobby
7:55 am: Still camped at the Central Inn hotel lobby. It’s now been two nights awake (including a 24-hour flight), not even any refreshening. Even children are laying in the cold sofas uncovered! We protest being herded at this expensive place without any alternatives for those who may not be able to afford or willing to be subjected to the injustice, yet expected to pay cash before ordering for anything. Even a basic thing like drinking water is at 4000/! This is more of torture in the pretense of work and providing guises for extortion! What kind of quarantine is this where there is no care whether we infect each other at all! There isn’t even a single health officer here! We are just dumped here to spend on their hotel services. People haven’t even taken a shower in 36 hours! This is more about making money than quarantining, and we refuse to support the heartless scheme
11:15 am: The point in quarantining people is to control the spreading of disease. Thus far, many of us are in support of the measure. But I only support it to the extent that it can be effective.
What we are subjected to here is hostage, not quarantine. No health officer has stepped here since yesterday to see what is happening. It is hotel staff in charge, and they barely have knowledge on how to safely conduct themselves in the circumstances. They are mixing with us, many without proper protection or precaution. They are handling money and other stuff from us with bare hands and minimal use of sanitizers. Of course, their work is to extract as much foreign currency from us as they can.
They are walking in and out of the hotel gate. They all seem confused about what’s going on. One has confided in us that there was a group of Chinese here earlier that they did not know how to handle and were scared of. Talking to some of them the impression you get is that much of the knowledge they have about the disease is either at the surface or mythical. Literally, we are dumped here.
This can easily become a breeding center from which the virus could spread to the outside through workers. And all of us here are at high risk of being infected. I understand that adherence to self-quarantine may be difficult. It requires high discipline. But I’m convinced I would be safer self-isolating in a room at home than at this potential mortuary. All we have here is a good example on how not to quarantine.
At the smell of money, anything can become a commodity in this country! So we are basically here as food to some heartless vampire that saw a business opportunity in the disease. If hell has a kiln, the gluttons behind this should be the firewood.