Entebbe, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Travelers moving in and out of Uganda are no longer required to have a COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, as long as they are fully vaccinated. The requirement still stands for those who are not vaccinated as well as those who took only a single jab of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The waiver was announced by the Ministry of health during a national COVID-19 situation update issued at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala today. Prior to the announcement, all departing and arriving passengers were required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test certificate issued within 72 hours from the time of sample collection to the time of boarding aircraft.
The PCR detects whether a person is carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is responsible for COVID-19 disease from the earliest stages of infection, making it the most reliable test for national and international travel and for getting together with other people without risk.
However, following the full reopening of the economy, Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng says that the test is no longer necessary. But, she says, Ugandans travelling to countries where PCR tests are a requirement will need to carry them out.
Earlier, Ugandan authorities amended COVID-19-related restrictions to allow fully vaccinated passengers to enter Uganda via lander borders without a negative COVID-19 PCR certificate. But, Aceng says the health ministry will carry out random tests on inbound travellers.
The travel industry has in recent months complained that the requirement to take PCR tests was a deterrent to tourism.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has relaxed the use of facial masks as a COVID-19 protective measure, a decision that came with a drop in the positivity rate of the disease now recorded below 2 per cent. Due to the low cases, several public places such as supermarkets had already relaxed the need for shoppers to have a facial mask before they gain entrance.
Dr Aceng said the new measure only applies to persons that are fully vaccinated. Acen said that this group of persons is allowed not to wear masks if they are outdoors.
The minister however quickly added that the usage of masks should continue for persons who are in closed spaces where a distance of 2 metres can’t be kept.
WHO guidelines state that countries could lift the usage of masks as a public health preventive measure if 70 per cent of their population is fully vaccinated. In Uganda, only 48 per cent of the targeted 22 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Last month, during an interview with URN, Ugandan scientists, called for the relaxation of wearing masks due to the decrease in cases. Dr Misaki Wayengera, the head of the ministerial COVID-19 scientific committee said that it was okay for people not to wear masks all the time, especially with low positivity rates.
“Wearing masks is a behavioural thing and the moment cases drop, the people also relax, but the moment the cases increase, they will wear masks without being reminded,” he said.
While wearing masks has been proved to prevent the spread of COVID-19 droplets which spread the disease, the prolonged usage of this particular type of personal protective equipment has been associated with temporary respiratory problems, according to research.
A 2020 study carried out in New York and published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology found that constant mask usage can lead to headaches due to hypercapnia and hypoxemia, acne located in the covered area due to the moist conditions there, skin breakdown and impaired cognition in some cases.