A group of 32 Ugandans who have been stranded in Sudan following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, have finally returned home.
These were Tuesday evening received by Uganda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Henry Okello Oryem at Entebbe International Airport.
Speaking to journalists on arrival of the returnees, Oryem said the process of preparations has been ongoing and now the relevant institutions are ready to start receiving the returnees.
This week, the country expects to receive flights from Southern Africa with about 70 Ugandans, from the UAE with approximately 200 Ugandans, from Afghanistan with approximately 108 Ugandans, from the USA with about 134 and about 120 from India.
“Today in particular, we are receiving 32 Ugandans coming in on a flight from Sudan and 16 Ugandans from Belgium and Netherlands,” said Oryem.
On Monday this week, Uganda received a flight from Turkey with a few Ugandans and flights from other will soon follow, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Oryem says a work plan has been developed to allow the return of an average of 300 persons every fortnight to return home.
“We will allow 300 Ugandans to come in after fourteen days when that group has left the quarantine facilities, then we will allow another 300 Ugandans to occupy those vacated facilities after being cleaned and decontaminated. The next 300 hundred will go through the same procedure and that is what we shall be doing every fortnight,” explains Oryem.
He said in the event that any body is found to have COVID-19 after or during quarantine, heor she will immediately be taken to hospital.
SoftPower understands that arrangements have also been made to start receiving Ugandans from across the land borders.
“On behalf of Government, I wish thank all the Ugandans who are stranded abroad and their families for being very patient, as Government deals with this very difficult and unprecedented situation,” says Oryem.
Coronavirus disease broke out in December last year in Wuhan, China and a month later, several parents of Ugandan students in Wuhan, China who were concerned about the threat of the spreading new disease and the difficulties that their children faced under the lockdown started contacting authorities in Uganda to aid aid in evacuating their children.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, acting through the Embassy in Beijing quickly reached out to the students to provide psychosocial support as well as initiating consultations within the national taskforce on COVID-19, which agreed to provide financial assistance to the students and not to evacuate them as suggested by the parents since the latter would expose them to infection.
The financial package was delivered through the Embassy and the students have since resumed studies. No student has so far been reported to have fallen sick.
It should be remembered that on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel corona virus (COVID-19) a global pandemic and also expressed concern that many countries were not doing much to halt the spread.
As a measure to forestall a possible outbreak of COVID-19 in Uganda, President Museveni, on March 21, 2020, announced the immediate closure of Uganda’s international borders and of the international airport in Entebbe, effective midnight on Sunday 22nd March 2020.
Minister Oryem says that while the country’s interventions were timely and done in the best interest of the country, they also created a parallel problem whereby several Ugandans who had traveled abroad on short visits for business, medical treatment, tourism and other valid reasons got stranded either in the countries which they were visiting or in transit countries as they traveled back home.
“The Ministry immediately embarked on registering these stranded persons and by the end of March 2020, we had registered up to 2,392 persons stranded in 66 countries around the world,” he said.
“It is important to clarify that there are other Ugandans who have recently fallen into distress abroad as an after effect of the pandemic but are not necessarily stranded.
You will recall the various calls for evacuation of Ugandans from Guangdong province where the city of Guangzhou is located after reports of Africans being harassed by the Chinese”
“My Ministry working closely with other African Governments immediately engaged the Chinese authorities on this matter which had actually arisen from a miscommunication among the local authorities about how to handle foreign nationals as they control the spread of the corona virus,” Oryem told reporters at Entebbe International airport.
He says the matter was however quickly resolved through their joint effort and that the feedback they are getting from many of these Ugandans in Guangzhou is that they are not part of the registered 2,392 who consider themselves stranded and asking to be returned home.
“Many have since gone back to their work and we are grateful to the Chinese government and our African colleagues for managing this problem,” says the Minister.
According to the Minister, when his Ministry got done with registeration of the stranded persons and also taken note of the fact that the country has now built some considerable capacity to control the spread of the virus, the Ministry recommended to Cabinet to allow the stranded nationals to begin returning home in a phased manner which was subsequently approved.
Cabinet approved the return of over 2400 Ugandans stranded in 66 countries
The approval meant that all the concerned Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) would have to be ready to receive the returnees.
The airport would have to be prepared to comply with WHO and MOH social distancing standards. Testing would have to be done on arrival. Quarantine facilities would have to be prepared and all the frontline workers would have to be well equipped with PPEs, according to Oryem.
The Ministry recently issued standard guidelines to all Missions on the conduct of the exercise.
“The flights are specially arranged by our Embassies abroad for the repatriation exercise and therefore Entebbe airport is not yet open to commercial passenger flights. We are also taking advantage of flights coming into the country to evacuate nationals of other countries,” explains Oryem.
He adds that some of the returnees are also arranging for their own flights which governments is clearing and that they will be required to pay for their own travel back home. Oryem however says the fortunate bit of it is that many of the returnees already had tickets that they were traveling on when they got stranded and they would have to simply renew these tickets or top up if the fees were increased.
The next group of Ugandans to return home will be the 70 from Southern Africa who will arrive in the country on July 2.