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How Uganda’s history of epidemics has prepared it for COVID-19

Poor health care infrastructure in some African countries is making them particularly susceptible to the novel coronavirus. But the nation of Uganda has only 58 confirmed cases so far, and experts say its experience with previous viral outbreaks, such as Ebola, meant it was already prepared for this pandemic. Special correspondent Michael Baleke reports from the capital city of Kampala.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Poor health care infrastructure in some African nations is leading to dire warnings from the U.N. about the toll that COVID-19 could take throughout the continent.

    But the East African nation of Uganda has only 58 confirmed cases so far. Experts say its experience with previous viral outbreaks, like the Ebola and Marburg viruses, mean it was already prepared to deal with COVID-19.

    Special correspondent Michael Baleke reports from the capital, Kampala.

  • Michael Baleke:

    Uganda's first confirmed case of COVID-19 landed on a plane from Dubai on March 21. More than 100 people were aboard the same flight, and the nation acted swiftly.

  • Jane Ruth Aceng:

    The passenger manifest has been retrieved. And all contacts are known, as the passports of the travelers were retained at immigration, and all the travelers were put under quarantine.

  • Michael Baleke:

    Viral disease outbreaks are nothing new here. Uganda has been in a health care emergency since 2018, responding to outbreaks of Ebola, yellow fever, measles, and the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.

    Uganda also successfully contained the deadly Marburg virus in 2017, limiting the outbreak to three deaths. Health officials say that gives Uganda an advantage over other countries in their fight against COVID-19.

  • Monica Musenero:

    We put in place measures to do surveillance because of the recent Ebola outbreak. And this virus is just coming in, so we already had measures of controlling movement in this region.

  • Michael Baleke:

    Health surveillance teams have been on duty at all border posts, land and air. Since last year, body temperature scanners have been in place at the Entebbe International Airport.

    Uganda has also built the capacity to prepare and swiftly test samples of different viral diseases at the Uganda Virus Research Institute laboratory.

  • Pontiano Kaleebu:

    As we are running now, we can do about 520 tests per day, but we have the capacity to expand that if we use all the machines and all additional technicians.

  • Michael Baleke:

    More than 1,000 Ugandans have been identified as a potential risk and have been put either in self-quarantine or institutional quarantine.

    Despite the relatively few cases, the government is already taking additional precautionary measures.

  • Yoweri Museveni:

    It is wise that we temporarily remove these concentration points by closing all the primary and secondary schools, pre-primary, as well as all the universities and tertiary institutions for one month.

  • Michael Baleke:

    The government has issued a ban on public gatherings at places of worship, restaurants, and nightclubs for 30 days.

    The country has also sealed its borders, except to cargo planes, trucks and trains. Joint security teams of both the military and police are enforcing a 7:00 p.m. curfew across the country.

    There have also been reports of refugees entering the country through illegal border points, even though the COVID-19 measures announced by the government suspended new arrivals.

  • Musa Exweru:

    Nobody is allowed to move back and forth from what we call country of origin to the settlement in Uganda.

    And we have directed all our law enforcement officers to make sure that this directive is enforced to the letter.

  • Robert Kyagulanyi:

    The bad news is that everyone is a potential victim.

  • Michael Baleke:

    Ugandan legislator and pop star Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, has released a song to raise awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The coronavirus poses a major risk to human life, and this has forced the Ugandan president to announce a two-week lockdown of the entire country, so that people can stay at home.

    Uganda's 75-year-old president has also released a video of his home workout routine, in a bid to encourage Ugandans to stay indoors. The stay-at-home order is driving many into a spending spree to stock up on household essentials. The rush to stockpile has driven up the price of commodities.

  • Judith Uma:

    Yesterday, but one, I bought a kilo of beans at 4,000. Yesterday, I came, and it was 5,000. So, I don't know what is going on. I don't know what the government is saying about it. And we are worried of the aftermath of this situation.

  • Michael Baleke:

    The Ugandan president has threatened to revoke trading licenses of businesses that hike prices.

    For "PBS NewsHour," I'm Michael Baleke in Kampala.

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