‘Fake news’ galore
But, hardly had Dr. Atwine smothered MP Nsereko’s claims than other rumours about her surfaced on the weekend of June 07. Twitter and Facebook went into overdrive on June 07 with photos of newly constructed houses purportedly belonging to her. Some news blogs published stories.
In a brief statement posted on her social media accounts, Dr. Atwine said she was surprised to see herself tagged in the buildings she has even never seen. “So I am being awarded wealth on social media. I own all these buildings I have never seen,” said Dr. Atwine.
On the same weekend, her senior colleague, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the minister of health was also linked to one of the biggest companies involved in medical cannabis—“Together Pharma Company” –an Israeli company that is interested in growing medical cannabis in Uganda.
In a statement released via her official social media platforms on June 07, Dr. Aceng said that it is unfortunate that certain people have resorted to misleading the public through circulating wrong information.
“I want to categorically state that I am not involved in growing cannabis and I am in no trouble over cannabis,” Dr. Aceng said, “I have not issued any authorization for cannabis growing in Uganda.”
“The Cabinet is yet to consider the feasibility of this. Until then, I request the population to ignore the wrong media posts and treat it as baseless and malicious.”
Apparently the two women are under immense pressure to give some of the multi-million dollar deals to some lobbyists yet they are under strict orders from President Museveni and Cabinet to procure PPE items like facemasks and drugs from local manufacturers.
‘We got tired of COVID-19 hype’
But Dr. Atwine and Aceng are not only facing the wrath of the lobbyists. Going by the social media commentary, a growing number of Ugandans appear to have grown weary of the government’s strategy of combating COVID-19. They often dismiss and respond to the latest Ministry of Health updates of COVID-19 infections with derision.
When, for instance, the Ministry of Health released results for samples tested on June 10 showing six new infections which brought the total number of confirmed cases in Uganda to 679, one George Mogul threw jibes at the Ministry’s technocrats.
Writing on the ministry’s Facebook page, he wondered where the ministry finds “over 2500 people to test every day.” The ministry actually tested 1,260 people on June 10 and found six Ugandans infected.
But this figure actually excluded 30 positive cases of foreigners including; 19 Kenyans, eight Tanzanians, two Eritreans and one Burundian who were handed over to their respective countries of origin.
Grace Nyakato was not amused. She asked the Ministry of Health to confirm whether President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania was lying when he recently declared his country “Coronavirus-free.” “Magufuli recently announced Tanzania as a Coronavirus free nation. Where are these coming from?”
When on May 31 the Health Ministry announced the biggest number of infections (84) since the first ever COVID-19 case was reported in the country in March, one, Kari Blues, responded to the news on the ministry’s Facebook page wondering “what the use of being in lockdown is if Uganda’s cases are almost equivalent to Tanzania which is not in lockdown.” Kari however did not take note that Tanzania last updated its COVID-19 register on April 29.
Many Ugandans admit COVID-19 is “real” but others say while it is real, it is not serious and the government needs to open the economy.
“The truth is COVID-19 is real but you guys turned into fear mongers; we got used to it, we stopped worrying. Then came the business part with all grants and loans you people received and you can’t even feed two million Ugandans, ” Phillip Samuel Mwami wrote in response to an advert posted on the Ministry of Health’s Facebook page on June 09 urging Ugandans not to drop their guard on COVID-19.
In the advert, the photo of Dr. Atwine, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health is accompanied with a statement reading, “COVID-19 is real. Prevent COVID-19 by social distancing, wear a face mask when in public and always wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser regularly.”
But Mwami continued: “We stopped giving COVID-19 the hype you all gave it, everyone in the whole world realised it is not as dangerous as it was initially hyped. Leave us alone to work; you guys can continue with your business, you can’t feed us or our families.”
Frankson Fremi added: “I now understand why you people often tell us to keep at home and do social distancing. You lose nothing, your salary is consistently coming; your children have private teachers. So why would you want the lockdown to end? Moreover, you are importing the cases.”