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Article Uganda: Government Measures to Slow the Spread of COVID-19

(Apr. 29, 2020) Between March 13 and March 30, 2020, Uganda issued a number of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate related damage. The Ministry of Health had confirmed 79 cases as of April 27.

Declaration of COVID-19 as Notifiable Disease

On March 13, Minister of Health Jane Ruth Aceng issued an order declaring COVID-19 a “notifiable disease for the purposes of the Public Health Act.” (Public Health (Notification of COVID-19) Order No. 45, § 1 (2020).) The order also makes applicable to the COVID-19 outbreak provisions of the Public Health Act concerning the power to makes rules, prevent and suppress infectious diseases, and enforce precautions at the country’s borders. The order was issued based on authority granted to the minister of health by section 10 of the Public Health Act.

Requirements and Conditions for Entry into Uganda

On March 13, 2020, the minister issued a measure to restrict entry into Uganda. The Public Health (Prevention of COVID-19) (Requirements and Conditions of Entry into Uganda) Order, 2020, mandated that a medical officer examine for COVID-19 any person arriving in Uganda. The medical officer could then order anyone suffering from COVID-19 to be placed in isolation. (Conditions of Entry Order §§ 3 & 4.) The measure grouped arrivals into three categories based on their country of departure and transit, and any other relevant factors:

Category 1: Persons who, after undergoing medical examination, must be quarantined for 14 days or longer depending on the determination of a medical officer.

Category 2: Persons who, after undergoing examination, must be observed for 14 days or longer.

Category 3: Persons who, after being examined, are released with instructions on how to stay safe. (§ 6.)

A violation of any requirement the measure imposed, including giving a medical officer false or misleading information, was an offense punishable by up to three months imprisonment upon conviction. Operators of vehicles, aircraft, or vessels who violated the measure were subject to a one-year custodial sentence. (§ 8.)

Prohibition of Entry into Uganda

On March 21, 2020, the minister issued a stricter measure regarding entry into Uganda originally effective through April 23, 2020. The Public Health (Prohibition of Entry into Uganda) Order, 2020, prohibits the “entry into Uganda by any person and the introduction into Uganda of any animal, article or thing at or through any of the border posts of Uganda” from March 23 through April 23, 2020. (Prohibition of Entry Order §§ 2 & 4.) The ban does not apply to organs of the United Nations or humanitarian organizations, or to vehicles or aircraft used for transporting cargo into Uganda. (§ 3.) Given that the original expiration date has now passed, it is unclear whether this measure continues in force.

Controlling the Spread of COVID-19

On March 24, the Minister issued the Public Health (Control of COVID-19) Rules, 2020, aimed at controlling the spread of the virus within Uganda. The rules, which remain in force until the minister abrogates them, impose on all homeowners, employers, heads of household, and local authorities a duty to notify medical officers of suspected cases of COVID-19. (Public Health Rules §§ 3 & 14.)

The rules accord medical officers or health inspector the authority to enter into and search premises without a warrant “in order to search for any case of COVID-19, or to inquire whether there is or has been on the premises, any case of COVID-19.” (§ 6.)

The rules also temporarily banned the following public gatherings, meetings, and activities:

  • schools and institutions of higher learning, until April 18, 2020
  • bars and cinema halls, until April 16, 2020
  • prayers in churches and mosques and open air prayers, until April 16, 2020
  • marriage ceremonies, wedding parties, vigils and funerals, until April 18, 2020, except those in which no more than 10 people were gathered
  • public meetings, including political rallies; conferences; and cultural meetings, until April 18, 2020
  • indoor and outdoor concerts and sports events, until April 16, 2020
  • trading in live animals at places designated for this purpose by a local authority, until April 18, 2020 (§ 9.)

President Yoweri Museveni has reportedly extended these restrictions through May 5.

Access to the Courts

On March 19, Chief Justice Bart M. Katureebe issued a circular suspending all hearings and appearances for a period of 32 days; however, courts will continue to hear “certificates of urgency” and take pleas “for serious cases and bail applications.” There will be no open court appearances and whenever courts handle urgent and bail hearings, only the applicant, his or her counsel, and persons posting bond (if necessary) will be allowed in court. In these instances, the courts will have in place sanitizers and other preventive measures, including digital thermometers. (Circular §§ 1 & 3–5, 8.)

Prisoners and detainees that do not have urgent or bail applications will not be presented to courts. The circular permits proceedings to be conducted via video link where possible. (§ 2.)

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