Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Police have fired teargas and live bullets to disperse hundreds of traders in downtown Kampala who had reopened shops this morning, despite their continued closure by the government.
Arcades have remained closed since March 2020, when the government first announced a lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus disease. Although, in easing the lockdown, the government lifted the restrictions on malls, the same was maintained in arcades because of the envisaged difficulty in avoiding close contact between people.
Many of the shops in the arcades around Kampala measure about 20 square meters, are sub-rented, and have neither corridors nor parking space for vehicles, according to Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde. She said that in such an arrangement, it would be impossible to practice social distancing, one of the procedures recommended to keep coronavirus disease at bay. One needs to stay at least 6 feet from other people to practice social or physical distancing.
During a recent inspection of arcades in Kampala, the manager in charge of health inspection and education at KCCA Dr Emiliano Ahimbisibwe said buildings will only be reopened after being inspected and cleared. However, the inspection team observed that a number of the arcades did not qualify to reopen under current restrictions.
Amidst the controversy surrounding the continued closure of arcades, Kampala Capital City Traders Association- KACITA mobilized traders to disregard the presidential directive and reopen their shops this morning. In the leaflets, which were used to mobilise the traders, they were advised to observe all Standard Operating Procedures set by the Ministry of Health.
Hundreds of them heeded to the call and opened the shops around Capital Shopping Centre, Jesco Shopping Centre, Nana Centre and areas adjacent to Kisekka Market, among others. But they were countered by the heavy police deployment of police which resulted in fighting and running battles between police and traders.
Police forcefully closed the shops to the annoyance of traders, some of whom went on top of the building and started pelting stones targeted at police cars. A number of them said they are starving and cannot continue staying home when the rest of the business community is operating normally.
Several traders have been arrested and taken to Kampala Central Police Station.
A week ago, Kampala Capital City Authority – KCCA issued new guidelines requiring arcades to have a dedicated isolation room, for possible COVID-19 suspects, handwashing facilities, cleaners dressed in personal protective gear and adequate detergents to use in cleaning.
Owners and operators were advised to install closed Circuit Television Camera’s-CCTV at each entry, exit and level and a body temperature screening for clients and attendants using functional infrared thermometers, as some of the conditions for reopening of the arcades. The city authority also demands that all tenants and attendants operating in arcades should be registered and that they should wear facemasks and keep two meters away from their customers. Barriers should be put to ensure distancing.
According to the Minister for Kampala and Metropolitan Affairs, Betty Amongi the guidelines were agreed upon after a series of meetings between KCCA, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Trade and the representatives of arcade owners. The meeting followed the inspection of the premises by a team of specialised from the different government departments.