Millions of Ugandans who were watching President Museveni as he addressed the country through a live broadcast last night had to deal with the fact that the end of the tunnel is still far away. Despite the fact that some few businesses were given a greenlight to resume their operations, maintaining a ban on public transport is what typically defines a lockdown. And so for two more weeks, those who do not offer essential services or run a category of businesses that do not attract large crowds will stay home. And even when the two weeks are done, it will not be over.
Like the setting sun, hopes of getting back to normal slipped away for many people. Private vehicles are not allowed to move without permission from district authorities. Businesses that are allowed to open include food markets, supermarkets, pharmacies, garages, cargo transporters, hardware shops, and timber and furniture stores. The president also directed the judiciary to chose a small number of judges to work on the overwhelming number of cases. Courts have been closed since mid March.
Those who are affected are not neccesarily the poor, low income earners, but even those who operate large businesses like those in the tourism industry. Owners of hotels, through their association leadership, extended their grievances to the president before he delivered his long waited address. Most such big businesses operate on loans and huge daily operational costs like rent and utility bills, yet the country has not put favourable provisions to save them from the devastating impact of coronavirus.
The chairperson of the Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association asked the president whether the government was willing to give any waivers to resuscitate the sector. During his speech, the president said all creditors should give grace periods that will allow all of their clients to pay in future. Banks had already started restructuring loans and National Water and Sewage Corporation has not been billing water usage for more than a month now. But all those bills and debts are simply carried forward, so businesses and homes will be faced with big debts at the end of all this.
Earlier on Monday morning, the former president of Uganda Dental and Medical Association, Dr Obuku, appreciated the government’s aggressive response in fighting coronavirus. Like many other experts in the field, he was hopeful that the president would ease on the lockdown, citing his analysis that the virus would not be eradicated soon so the world would have to learn how to live with it. He added that it might take long to find the vaccine so humanity has to adapt to the virus and learn how to keep it in a controlled, low prevalence.
Despite all the public views, the president’s decision to keep the country under lockdown with 97 confirmed cases and no deaths stirs the country into uncertainty about the future. Our neighboring countries Kenya and Tanzania are continuing to announce rising statistics of the infection and cargo transportation across the borders is still active. The majority of the recent cases are truck drivers who test positive at the borders. There’s no community spread of coronavirus as of now. The president might be hoping to fully open the country when Uganda has zero active cases, but that will probably take more than a year or even many. Schools and other public gatherings including worship centers will not open soon.
Coronavirus has brought a new normal that we have to adjust to. We must not simply survive, but thrive. The Bible in Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We’re to live according to God’s will and that’s the only way to thrive. We must adjust to the new normal and know that even when everything that we have been depending on for comfort is no more, the grace and everlasting love of God surround us. There’s no food and other basic needs for millions of people around the world right now, but even without those, we will live.
I was reading Boris Johnson’s post today saying that “We are past the peak of coronavirus. But we all need to continue to behave in the way we have, so we don’t undo our hard work.” One of his followers commented that it is sad that the peak is defined by lives lost. That pricked my heart and made me realize how so many innocent people have lost their lives as though they were sacrificed for us. They’re heroes. And if God is using this situation to bring us to a new normal, then we can’t deny the fact that by His GRACE we have been saved.
We continue to pray for those who are anxious about what is going on. God has everything in His hands. And His blessings have never ceased to rain on His children. For the next two weeks here in Uganda, we will continue to press on as we pray for those that are most affected.