By Elizabeth Kamurungi
By Tonny Abet
Due to the coronavirus scourge and its contagiousness, this festive season will require each one of us to modify our traditional way of celebrating Christmas in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from the disease.Every activity done in celebration must prioritise safety, and ensure observation of the standard operating procedures– social distance, wearing a facemask and regular handwashing as advised by the Ministry of Health.Despite the prevailing restrictions on gatherings, travel and entertainment, however, Ugandans can still make the Christmas memorable and celebrate it safely in various ways.Online prayers: Many Christians may not have to attend church service physically due to the limit on the number of worshippers in a church. Online and media prayers, therefore, offer a better and safe option to celebrate the day that marks the birth of Jesus Christ.The Vatican has announced that Christmas mass, led by Pope Francis, will be streamed live. The faithful, therefore, can therefore celebrate it from the comfort of their homes.Many local churches in Uganda have also taken to using the media such as television, radio or YouTube to deliver prayers to their congregants. Traditionally, churches would be fully packed on this day, which this time may lead to exposure to Covid-19.Zoom parties: There is another safer option to celebrate Christmas without exposing yourself or others to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. From the comfort of your home, you can safely party with relatives and friends from here and all over the world using zoom. Families can have virtual dinner or lunch together on zoom as well as conversations and bonding to avoid loneliness in the festivities.In case of dining out, choose a place that offers service by observing the SOPs.Online entertainment: The world has adapted to virtual music concerts and socialisation as opposed to the traditional outdoor concerts or games. Families can enjoy this part of entertainment on social media or mainstream media. Being a Friday, the NTV Dance Mix will be an ideal option to wind up the day, and keep the celebration going untill Saturday with the dance party. Advertisement
Hosting: If you cannot avoid hosting guests in person, then the party should preferably be held outdoors to provide for appropriate aeration and social distance. It is important that hosts and guests agree to abide by preventive measures beforehand such as wearing masks. If the celebration is indoors, the facility should be spacious enough and with handwashing facilities. Hosts can stock up masks for their guests.The Centre for Diseases Control advises that attendees carry their own food to avoid interaction that is common during serving time.The Ministry of Health has allowed gatherings of only up to 200 people when absolutely necessary.Travelling: Although government has not curtailed travels, it has been discouraged by experts because of the concentration of the virus in urban areas. If you must travel upcountry or go for a drive, carry a limited number of passengers in the car to allow social distancing and aeration. Avoid going to crowded places and or interacting with strangers if you must make a stop.What to do in case you develop symptomsMinistry of Health says if you develop symptoms such as cough, fever, difficulty in breathing, visit the nearest health centre and stay in isolation from the rest of family members to avoid risk of transmission to the uninfected.If you are far from a health facility, Village Health Teams have been trained and are now involved in the covid-19 response.For home-based care and boosting of body immunity to withstand the virus, health experts have recommended that one takes a concoction of garlic, lemon, ginger, honey and red pepper. It is also advised to steam regularly.Other health tips include: Wash hands regularly, keep a distance of at least one metre from each other and always wear a facemask. The Health Ministry has warned against holding big meetings and parties during the Christmas holiday.The Ministry reported 489 new infections on Wednesday, taking the cumulative Covid-19 cases to 32,399. Seven new virus deaths were reported, putting the total deaths at 245 as of Wednesday, according to the ministry statistics.On Wednesday, Dr Diana Atwine, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, appealed to Ugandans to limit travelling to villages for Christmas and resist the urge to engage in events that fuel the virus spread.“As we enter into the festive season, we want to remind Ugandans that the enemy of Covid-19 is still around and it has spread beyond towns, it has gone to the villages,” Dr Atwine said.Although a number of infections have been reported in rural areas, statistics from the Ministry show that the highest prevalence is still coming happening in towns.For instance, of the 489 cases reported on Wednesday, Kampala District contributed 338 and Wakiso District 98. This is about 89 per cent of the total cases reported countrywide on Wednesday. Prof Freddie Ssengooba, a health policy specialist at Makerere University School of Public Health, previously told Daily Monitor that cities and towns will be the most vulnerable to Covid-19 because of overcrowding.Given that traditionally, Christmas and New Year celebrations in Uganda are characterised by movement of people from urban to rural areas, the infections would be transferred to villages where majority of vulnerable populations live.Last week, Dr Frank Asiimwe, a surgeon and Uganda Medical Association chief of welfare, urged government to impose a Christmas lockdown to limit people’s movements.“We know Ugandans, they are going to hit the road, however much they [health experts] say please don’t. Once the pandemic moves from Kampala to the villages, it will come back and hit us [the health workers,” Dr Asiimwe warned at a press briefing.However, the Minister of Information, Ms Judith Nabakooba, later issued a statement ruling out a plan to impose a lockdown during Christmas. A spike in infections following the unrestricted movement would further stress the country’s already overstretched healthcare system. The High Dependency Unit (HDU) and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in some hospitals are already overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients. Dr Atwine cautioned people to take personal responsibility for their health. “We also want to remind the public that although we have not put a lockdown, those that are staying in town should stay where they are and don’t travel upcountry because they don’t know their Covid status. They will take this disease and spread it to their loved ones,” she warned. Dr Atwine, however, said if people must gather for a meeting or social function, it should be outdoor. “The research shows that outdoor activities have less risk of spreading the infection, compared to indoor,” she said. About 80 per cent of people who are infected don’t show Covid-19 symptoms, according to a recent study by Makerere University College of Health Sciences led by Dr Bruce Kirenga.Although a story published by Daily Monitor on Wednesday suggested few people will be travelling upcountry from Kampala, but a big number of people have already left, according to transport operators.The director-general of health services, Dr Henry Mwebesa, in a separate interview, asked those who have already travelled upcountry to avoid family gatherings, parties and social functions.