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SIMON SSENYONGA: Its Urgent, temporary and for your own good: Unmasking the lockdown deceptions

Simon Ssenyonga is a lawyer (PHOTO /File)

That night.”Starting at 22:00HRS today 18th June 2021, I am revising and updating ALL the directives I issued on the 6th June 2021…The above measures will give us a temporally relief, however, we know that the ultimate solution to this Covid-19 challenge is to get our people vaccinated.”

Do you remember those words? You thought it could be only for a while? Let’s read between those lines now.

In early 2020, when lockdowns started being implemented around the world and specifically in Uganda, the lack of opposition to them in the general public was somewhat understandable. At the time, most people thought that the fatality rate of COVID-19 was high. Many people trusted their politicians when they told them that the lockdown would only last for three weeks, after which, there would be few restrictions.

An important part of behavior change is incrementality. People are not amenable to making a big change at once, either in behavior or in beliefs. Lockdown propagandists eased us into “the new normal” by first claiming that there will be a single short lockdown and we should acquiesce with this “new normal”.They knew people would have revolted if their plans for long-term domination were apparent from the outset.

In a few countries, the lockdown did last only a few weeks and life more or less resumed normally afterwards. Even in those few weeks, however, enormous and lasting damage was done to society — lives were lost  jobs were lost, companies went out of business, mental health was damaged, and personal, commercial, and public finance was ruined. In most of the world, social distancing became permanent, often taking the form of repeated stay-at-home or lockdown orders.

The damage done by COVID restrictions is dependent on their duration. A brief lockdown followed by a resumption of normal life would not have been as damaging as the neverending nightmare of enforced isolation that transpired.

Early in the pandemic, governments claimed that lockdowns were for a specific purpose and restrictions would end once that purpose was satisfied. For example, many politicians said the lockdown was solely meant to prevent hospitals from being overburdened with COVID patients. As he locked down Uganda,H.E.Yoweri Museveni noted that “…despite the rapid escalation of the outbreak, the hospitalization rates have remained low, and dropping (from 12 to 8% over the past weeks).

This signals intensely that the health system is beginning to get strained, we must do everything to protect the integrity of the health system.”This was further justified by the national daily oxygen consumption that strained oxygen supply; availability of oxygen cylinders and potential limited production capacity.

It became apparent after a few weeks that hospitals were not going to fill up with only COVID patients but also those who have massively suffered from the effects of the lockdowns, but the lockdown restrictions still remained.

Another reason offered for lockdowns was to buy government some time to come up with a more sustainable plan.Mr.Museveni adopted a two pronged strategic approach to justify the lockdown wherein he noted that his strategic interventions to maintain the fine balance of pandemic control would hinge on preventive health and urgent care for the severely ill.This would be achieved through firstly,urgent interruption (or minimization) of community transmission to cushion the health system, sustain the people’s economic lives and save lives using previously used containment measures which he authoritatively described as “similar measures we have used since last year at the beginning of the pandemic and in all our previous revolutionary endeavors in the past more than 50 years.”

Herein,government would aim at reducing the speed and the intensity of transmission to within the next 42 days so that number of new cases is less than the available bed and oxygen capacity in the country.

Secondly, governmnt would focus on ramping up oxygen supply to all COVID-19
treatment health facilities and optimize the
available care capacity so that it can adequately handle current and new cases over the next 42 days.However,we should remember that two oxygen plants at Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital broke down due to lack of service in FY that ended 30th June 2020.

Government contracted suppliers to install oxygen plants but this has not been expeditiously done. M/S Silver Bucks Pharmacy Ltd was contracted for the supply and installation of oxygen plants at Mulago and Entebbe hospitals at 6.4 billion USH which would include 450 cylinders, regulators, humidifier bottles and cannulas. Despite the contract being signed on 6th May and 100% of the invoice paid by 30th June, Ministry of Finance in its Annual Budget Monitoring Report 2019/20 found that delivery and installation had not commenced by September 2020.

In April 2021, 40 oxygen cylinders were stolen from Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, which serves 16 districts. Media reports(Daily Monitor, June 30th 2021,article by Yahudu Kitunzi )indicate that Mbale regional referral hospital missing oxygen cylinder was found in a private clinic, Life General Clinic and Laboratory,in Nkoma ward, Industrial City Division, located about four Kilometers away from the regional referral hospital.

Mbale referral hospital serves districts of Busia,Tororo, Butaleja, Budaka, Pallisa,Kibuku,Butebo,Bududa, Manafwa, Namisindwa, Mbale, Sironko, Bulambuli, Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Kween.

This theft isn’t novel in Mbale.In 2019, Police in Mbale arrested a laboratory technician attached to The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), over theft of about 60 HIV testing kits worth Shs2. 7 million from Bufumbo health center IV.

This above was the justification for the temporary lockdowns as government gets “sustainable plans” but it has turned out that lockdowns were their ‘sustainable’ plan. Many lockdown propagandists even claimed that lockdowns were necessary to prevent the economy from collapsing due to a huge death toll and a large portion of people being home sick with COVID. Nowhere in the world did an economic collapse occur from COVID and I don’t think it will happen in Uganda.

Economies can best collapse because of the unnecessary house arrests disguised as lockdowns that keep people in abject poverty as many lockdown propagandists loot the economy.

It’s in the first lockdown that the government went on a borrowing spree, attracting funding from both bilateral and multilateral International Financial Institutions (IFIs), such as; the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Uganda is estimated to have received US$868 million from the 3 multilateral IFIs towards combating the pandemic and the resultant socio-economic impacts. With all this “COVID-19 war booty”, we shouldn’t be anticipating a collapse in the economy.

We must rather demonstrate our civic competence by calling the leaders to account for this “lockdown loot”. Let’s ask the tough questions.

Why have many lockdown recovery projects neither been implemented nor piloted because of the unnecessary loan approvals among the many issues?

Why has the government failed to put in place sufficient institutional safeguards to prevent misuse of funds and limited measures to ensure participation of purported beneficiaries right from the onset of designing the COVID 19 response? These and many more questions must be answered by the perpetrators of these unnecessary lockdowns.

In 2021, propagandists and lockdown perpetrators have abandoned the claim that lockdowns will be short. Fewer and fewer of them now claim that they are for a specific purpose such as preventing healthcare system distress.For example in justifying the second lockdown,Mr.Museveni said “It is only through these measures that we shall in a long run protect our economy, preserve our democracy and sustain the NRM revolution.”This was his concluding remark after declaring the 42 day lockdown verdict.

Now that most people have accepted their politicians as religious masters, people no longer require any reason for restrictions other than they are their master’s will.Oh hail our masters!!

I can’t fail but to muse at the words of Marshall Soules in his writings on Media, Persuasion and Propaganda “…when it is obvious that a message is propaganda, people will respond favorably to it. Knowledge that communication is propagandistic does not necessarily neutralize people’s reaction to it, especially when a message produces resonance in an audience.”

So,let’s ask ourselves,is the lockdown still urgent,temporary,necesary and for your own good?

Let’s just #EndLockdownNow

The writer is a lawyer.

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