Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Operators of salons and some forms of public transport want the government to enforce COVID-19 public health standard operating procedures.
The operators who include boda-boda cyclists, taxi operators and salon owners want the government to enforce the presidential directives and Ministry of Health guidelines like handwashing, wearing of masks and disinfection of public surfaces.
They say that with the spread of the disease, the lack of enforcement is a danger to many Ugandans. The call comes less than two months after President Yoweri Museveni lifted the ban on salons and public transport. The operators says that while they made promises to adhere to particular measures in order for their businesses to be open, adhering to some of the measures has been hard. The operators now want the government needs to focus on enforcing these measures.
URN took rides in both commuter taxis and on bodaboda’s to see how SOPs are being adhered to. It was observed that in the taxis, some conductors and drivers no longer wear masks, nor do some passengers. On average, only three out of nine passengers in four taxis plying different routes that we sat in wore masks the entire journey. Most wore their masks around the neck. The half capacity SOPs is not followed during evening hours. Most taxis carry up to 12 or even more passengers in the evening hours.
Micheal Sanga, a taxi operator along Ntinda-Najjera route attributed the abuse of the SOPs to the impracticability of some of the measures.
“Some of the things that we are supposed to follow are unrealistic,” he said. “How can a taxi conductor be expected to wear a mask as they call people? How can a bodaboda be expected to collect telephone numbers or even have sanitizers?
Boda-boda cyclists are not any different. While many cyclists wear their masks, they do not disinfect their bodas or even give some to passengers. Taking the particulars of customers as a way of tracing contacts is not being carried out. Frank Mawejje, the chairperson of the Smart bodaboda riders and transport cooperative society says the lack of enforcement has left many people unwilling to follow the SOPs. He says that many people in the country need an extra shove from government or law enforcement to act on public health measures that benefit them.
In salons around Kampala, only the high-end ones like Sparkles Salon branches located at Lugogo mall and Acacia mall adhere to some of the SOPs like wearing masks. Other salons located in congested areas like Nakawa, Kamwokya and even Wandegeya markets do not adhere to the set SOPs.
A visit to eight salons located in these markets revealed that none of the salons adheres to SOPs. Most salons do not enforce hand washing or even disinfecting surfaces. The mandatory spacing between customers is non-existent. In Wandegeya market, neither the customers nor operators insist on the use of masks. Customers that wear masks look out of place. Annette Mbabazi, a customer that we found in a salon along Biashara road in Wandegeya says that use of masks in salons is frowned upon.
“The moment I entered the salon, everyone looked at me in a weird way,” Mbabazi said. “I felt uneasy. No one in the salon was wearing a mask. It was like there was no COVID. I almost took my mask off but when I remembered that this disease kills, I kept it on because it was the only protection I had. The people working on me could not even use sanitizers,” she said.
Abdul Karim, the chairman of the Association for Salons and Spa Operators say that SOPs are not being followed due to lack of enforcement on the side of government. Karim says the lack of government involvement and laziness from people to adhere to the SOPs has created a situation where both salon operators and customers ignore set public health measures.
Health experts have in the past called for re-instating lockdowns in some parts of the country. But with apparent low political will, this is unlikely to happen.
As the government now looks at opening schools and places of worship, health experts say it is important for everyone to follow SOPs on a personal level instead of waiting for enforcement. Dr Monica Musenero, a senior presidential advisor on epidemics and also a member of the national COVID-19 task force says that it is important for everyone to take care of themselves.
“People should not wait for their neighbour or the bodaboda man transporting them to follow SOPs,” says the expert. “They have to observe these measures themselves to protect themselves. They have to wear masks, wash their hands and avoid public gatherings for their own good. The government cannot be everywhere.”
Lt Col Dr Henry Kyobe in an earlier interview with URN predicted that the country would report more cases of the disease and deaths if people did not take personal care of themselves. At the time, Uganda had reported less than 2,000 cases of the disease.
“COVID exists and kills,” he said. “People need to know this and as such take precautions to protect themselves. The lockdown helped stall the spread of the disease but it could not stop it from spreading. With the disease in communities now, people need to keep safe by wearing masks, washing hands and following all public health measures.”
Karim says non-compliance to SOPs is worrying. He says that the deaths the country is reporting might increase. Uganda has reported over 50 deaths with 5.000 reported cases.