The Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng has said that Ugandan Scientists have embarked on studies to identify threats associated with the new COVID19 variant, Omicron, first detected in South Africa last month.
She assured the country that the Government had intensified surveillance measures on most of the national entry points to curb the spread of Omicron.
While presenting a statement on the Floor of Parliament on December 2, 2021, Dr Aceng, said whereas there is no case of the variant recorded in Uganda, fears are high as the country enters into a festive season with a likelihood of hosting travellers, some from countries hit by the new strain.
She said that the Government had heightened surveillance at points of entry with particular emphasis at the high-volume entry points like Entebbe International Airport and high-volume land border points like Malaba, Busia, Mutukula, Elegu, Mpondwe and Katuna.
Omicron, the latest and reportedly “high-risk” variant of SARS -COV-2 has taken the world by storm. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”
This latest COVID-19 variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa last week and is said to have spread significantly to reach all provinces of South Africa. The new variant has reportedly spread to at least 23 other countries including Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, UK, Germany and Italy among others.
Omicron is the 12th variant of the Covid-19 virus that WHO has named on Greek alphabets. WHO has been using the Greek alphabet to name the most prevalent covid-19 variants, meaning at least 12 known variants or strains of the SARS-COV-2 virus are known so far.
The Minister encouraged the public to embrace the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and continue adhering to the standard operating procedures.
Regarding the testing of incoming passengers at Entebbe International Airport, the Minister said that the Government is testing all incoming passengers; however, they will be allowed to proceed to their destination once their sample has been removed.
“The Government of Uganda instituted mandatory testing of all incoming travellers upon arrival on October 28, 2021. To date, 48,259 samples have been tested with 228 positive cases recorded. On average, six (6) positive cases are recorded daily,” said Aceng.
She added that the testing of incoming travellers at other land Points of Entry will be conducted by the private laboratories at Government set rates.
She appealed to all the travellers, to be honest, and sincere when sharing details of their addresses and contacts.
“This is to enable prompt to follow up to prevent the spread of the virus. Giving false addresses puts the entire country in danger. The ministry of health is relying on you to help us in this exercise so that we avoid holding travellers at the airport but at the same time take precautions to avoid the spread of infection,” she added.
Responding to concerns by MPs led by Allan Mayanja, Nakaseke Central MP who said availability of COVID-19 vaccines is inadequate, the Minister said that the Government has so far received a total of 17,131,090 doses through donations and direct procurement by the Government of Uganda.
She informed the Country that 10,523,853 doses of the 17,131,090 doses received had been distributed countrywide. She added that the distribution of the remaining 6,607,237 doses is ongoing. She said that the Government will receive an additional 15,563,650 doses by the end of December 2021.
Regarding queries on the effectiveness of the vaccines being administered following the emergence of the new Omicron variant, the Minister allayed the fears saying that research was underway on the same.