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Inside Uganda’s Coronavirus ‘Quarantine Prison Hotel’

10 Min Read

Persons arriving by Air at Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport are bundled up and driven to a facility known as Central Inn hotel.

It is at this place that the arrivals are expected to spend 14 days and fully pay $100 per day to stay at this hotel.

Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng arrived at the airport to make a major announcement. “The President has directed that whoever arrives on Ugandan soil must be quarantined and at their own expense,” the Minister said.

“We are going to load you on the bus and drive you to a hotel designated for your total isolation. If you don’t want book a ticket and return to your countries of origin,” Minister Aceng told surprised arrivals.

Inside Central Inn Hotel, just a few kilometers from the airport, those quarantined sleep on floors and have not bathed nor eaten anything yet.

Some have allegedly bribed their way out of the facility and joined their families in and around Kampala.

In an exclusive missive, Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, also at this quarantine prison hotel, has narrated the plight at this facility. Below are excerpts of his missive.

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Some have advised me that if I keep talking about this I might stay here longer and put myself at other risks. I wish I cared about that more than the potential national disaster the conditions here posed. This is not only about me and those of us in here.

An impression is given by some people that we in here are resisting being quarantined, and that all our concerns zero on that. I have read statements like: ‘if they don’t want to be quarantined, let them go back to their countries’; ‘they want to come out and infect us’…

This is not true at all. I understand that in times of crises like this pandemic, there tends to be a crazy mixture of truths, untruths, and myths. There may be no time for scrutiny of what we hear.

First, if I wanted to get out of here, I would be out on the first day and I have received suggestions for such help.

Some people have left this place, that’s no secret now. Some used their connections at the airport, some could have bribed.

Many of us raised it to the government officials that we met last evening that we are not here because we have failed to get out.

We have medical doctors, professors, nurses, priests, lawyers, students, etc in here. It’s not that they couldn’t mobilise a $50 bribe, even if they may be financially constrained in the circumstances.

Our major concern was with the gross mismanagement of the quarantine exercise, which partly justifies the escapes.

When you mismanage such a measure and make people feel like they must escape to protect their own lives or run from an injustice, you put society at risk.

We’ve heard of cases of people escaping from Ebola camps in DRC. Quarantine shouldn’t be made to feel like a punishment.

And, if people can’t afford, they should be helped by the state in order to avoid worse case scenarios.

If you can find huge funds to throw to political supporters and buy posh cars to lure musicians, how can you say you can’t help a small group of people that was trapped by a good policy that was passed while they were on their way!

Even when abandoning them puts society at risk? If one can’t afford and you force them into quarantine, you are providing incentive to escape and thereby putting all to danger.

Actually, even if they can afford, it is in the interest of the country to pay for them in order not to risk anything.

While here, one is not working, and then you add another ABRUPT financial load on them!

At least those who travelled after the president’s directive had information to help them prepare.

Why does the state spend on the accommodation and meals of incarcerated criminals yet find no reason in intervening here!

The minister and her PS came here with a visible bias, plus their own understandable stress of course.

I think they had been heavily misinformed about the concerns of the ‘quarantined’ group. Their opening remarks emphasised in strong words that we must be here for 14 days whether we like it or not.

This was none of our concerns! And, even if under normal circumstances one would understand their stress, the last thing you do is to scream at an already traumatised people.

I advise, that on account of the heavy load on them currently, Dr Ruth Aceng and Dr Diana Atwine should get regular counseling. Not doing so is a risk to their own health and the entire health system.

We had been herded at high infection risk and dumped here. No safety information or measures at all.

No health officer came to follow up on us until we made online noise and officials came to apologise and make promises.

No one was concerned that people were leaving! How would they know anyway since they never cared to follow up!

It’s not on such a group of people that you try to show might by parading soldiers around and saying ‘shut up’ when interrupted.

The conditions here did not meet the most basic standards of quarantine and were totally  contrary to its goals. Neither the ‘quarantined’ nor the said protected wider society was safe.

We laughed when, on the second day, an officer meeting us said we were seated too close to each other and should observe some distance.

Maybe he didn’t know that we came in here packed in a bus seated shoulder to shoulder and that he was even the first to mention a safety tip to the group ever since we arrived at Entebbe.

They still insist that the state won’t pay for the accommodation and meals, even after some people literally broke down in tears explaining the circumstances of their return to Uganda.

Some people have insensitively asked why we chose to travel at this time! Well, one student explained to the minister that she was given hours to leave the country where she was before more borders were closed.

No one wants to get trapped with a helpless foreigner when they are also unsure of their own safety.

Many of these countries and host institutions have been so good to foreigners and tried to help them travel back to their countries as fast as they could. Some of these are struggling students on scholarship.

We have a wrong impression that everyone who travels to Europe is well off and they do so by their own means.

Hence the insensitive comments and expectation that, even if some of these people are returning abruptly, they must be having money on them!

Some of the foreigners here started their journeys with the official information of self quarantining.

They had made appropriate arrangements and booked places for that. But because the directive changed while they were on their way, they were brought here.

There is no problem with Uganda passing new directives for the safety its citizens, but there should be understanding where this raises very difficult circumstances for innocent people.

A British lady also broke down and cried explaining what she has gone through as a result of these changes and why she needed an ear.

Not all these people are well off as we assume, neither are they adamant and disrespectful. Good enough their embassies are now coming in to help them.

It is the case that in the circumstances everyone is thinking about their own safety and survival, but we can still be human while at that.

Jimmy Spire Ssentongo is a senior lecturer at Uganda Martyrs University and part-time lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Makerere University.