To slow the march of the fastspreading novel coronavirus, President Museveni issued about 15 grim orders within days in March and the line minister of Health followed with the issuance of the enabling Public Health (Control of COVID-19) Rules, 2020, which outlaw among other things; public spitting and prescribe jail terms for offenders.
“No person shall spit in any public building or in any place to which the public has access,” reads subrule 10 of the statutory instrument supplement published in The Uganda Gazette No. 19, Volume CXIII, on March 24, 2020.
To control public gatherings and meetings, the rules stipulate that –schools, institutions of higher learning, prayers in churches and mosques and open air prayers, marriage ceremonies, wedding parties, vigils and funerals public meetings, including political rallies, indoor and outdoor concerts and sports events are off limits until April 20.
“Where a place or premises specified in subrule (1) is open contrary to the provision or where any activity, event, meeting or gathering specified in subrule (1) is held contrary to the provision, the person in charge of the place or the event, meeting or gathering, as the case may be, commits an offence, and is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two months.”
Arrests of errant bar owners and church leaders including Fr Deogratious Kiibi Kateregga have been made but none has been arraigned in court on any charge. Fr Kiibi was arrested in the central district of Mpigi late last month while conducting mass in the presence of seven other people, according to police.
Escaping from isolation or quarantine also attracts a jail term of two months for anyone who helps a COVID-19 carrier to vanish. When a carrier escapes, a medical officer is supposed to notify the police “to apprehend and return the person to the designated place.”
“Any person who— aids a person who is confined in a place designated for isolation or for quarantine for COVID–19, in escaping or attempting to escape from the place; or conveys anything or causes anything to be conveyed into a place designated for isolation or quarantine for COVID–19 with intent to facilitate the escape of any person confined in the place, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for two months.”
According to the rules, the minister of Health has powers to seal off an infected area.
“The Minister may, by notice in the Gazette and in a newspaper with a wide circulation in the infected area, declare any place to be an infected area, and regulate the activities that may be conducted in the infected area, where it is deemed necessary for preventing the spread of or for the eradication of COVID–19.
“And all persons residing in a declared infected area will be screened for the virus.”
It’s also mandatory for every owner, person in charge of, or occupier of premises, and every employer and head of a household, to report any suspected cases of COVID-19 on their premises or under their watch.