Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Rachael Namutebi, a student at the University of California is among many Ugandans who opted to return home when COVID-19 started ravaging developed parts of the world like the United States of America where she was based.
At that time, Uganda was a sitting duck surrounded by countries with confirmed COVID-19 cases. Namutebi returned at a time that Uganda was in the process of strengthening its prevention measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. It is at the same time that the Health Ministry declared a 14 day mandatory quarantine for all people returning from category one countries.
“We came thinking that we were going into self-isolation. On reaching Entebbe International Airport, what we found was surreal. We were unwilling characters in an action thriller as unidentified people whisked us away in vans to an unknown place,” Namutebi recalls.
Namutebi narrates that no explanation was given to them before they were taken to quarantine in Central Inn. For Namutebi and 44 other travelers life at Central Inn was characterized with challenges, terror and hopelessness. The lack of food and personal protective gear gave many sleepless nights.
“The area was expensive. Nobody was caring about us and surprisingly some people had been favored and found their way out of the place. When some of colleagues made noise on social media that is when the Ministry started caring,” she adds. Namutebi explained that while there, they were mixed with other people who had come from other places saying they feared that they could contract the virus in the quarantine.
It is after the public outrage that Ministry of Health transferred Ugandans from Central Inn to Arch Hotel and Apartments in Ntinda, a suburb of Kampala where most of them have testified that the situation is far better as they are being cared of. At first 15 people were moved and later on more were taken to the same place over time.
There have been tales of people running from their colleagues who are coughing for fear of being exposed to the virus that is transmitted through droplets. Medics have also advised people to observe social distance. For a person in quarantine coughing leads to endless fear and suspicion that one could have contracted the deadly pandemic.
When Namutebi developed a cough on Wednesday last week, she says it is the worst experience she has ever had.
Later in the day when she explained the experience to a medic who had come on one of the medical checkups, she was told that the cough was just a reflex and her temperature was still normal with no other signs. However, this is not a grantee as yet as she still has more 4 days to complete the recommended 14 days.
She notes that life in quarantine is full of worries. “Things like; what if I contracted the disease and sign haven’t just started showing up? Then the rising number of confirmed cases is another source of worry,” she said.
Another quarantined traveller Maria (not real name) at Douglas Hostel located in Kikoni in Kawempe Division in Kampala says that life during quarantine is lonely. “Apart from what we watch on news, we don’t know what is happening. We do not talk to each other. We are kept in our private rooms and only interact with health workers once or twice a day. The rest of the day, we have our phones and TVs only,” she said.
She says quarantine isn’t a good experience but it is a necessary evil. “Being away from your family for a full year and you come back to be locked up in a small room isn’t easy. But personally, I appreciate the exercise because travelling home and infecting your family is a scary thing,” she said.
Being healthy is one of the key things that doctors are urging people to be during this pandemic. According to the Health Ministry, eating the right type of foods like vegetables, plenty of water and fruits can have a big impact on how one’s body reacts once infected with the disease.
When asked what they are fed on, Maria laughs saying that they have been taken back to school in so many ways. “We are eating school food but then again, you can’t expect to be comfortable in quarantine and eat what you would normally eat at home. They are trying. They give us three meals a day,” she said.
According to Maria, their diet mainly comprises carbohydrates and proteins. Vegetable and fruits are available on few occasions. She says they eat meat, g.nut paste, beans, matooke, rice and irish potatoes. Much desired fruits and juice are served rarely.
How Do They Spend Their Day?
In the quarantine it is not like person is sick but there are limited things one can do. Namutebi shares that the first days at Arch hotel, they could keep inside their rooms watching television and calling family members which was boring.
To her the quarantine looks less than a prison. However after observing them for days, Health Ministry officials later allowed them to move around in the gardens and do physical exercises on the grounds provided they observe the four-meter-distance.
For Maria who is in a hostel, the day is boring since they don’t have anything to do. There is neither television nor any other form of entertainment at the hostel. Sleeping, eating and bathing make their day. She shares that due to lack of disruptions; one finds him/herself thinking of the possibilities of having the virus.
“Mere thinking of the virus is psychologically torturing. With all the stories we hear of how people with the virus die. The would-be escape route to the boredom is to switch onto social media but the content there is much worrying. Learning that more people from the quarantine are testing positive leaves me shivering,” says Maria.
Over 1,015 people in Uganda are currently going through Namutebi and Maria’s experience as they are either under self-isolation or institutional quarantine in hotels, schools and hospitals. Uganda has 52 confirmed COVID-19 cases.