Rachael Namutebi, a student at the University of California is one of the many Ugandans who opted to return home when COVID-19 started ravaging developed world economies like the United States of America (USA) where she was based.
At that time, Uganda was a sitting duck surrounded by countries with confirmed COVID-19 cases. Namutebi returned at a time that Uganda was strengthening its preventive measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. The Health Ministry had declared a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all people returning from category one countries.
“We came thinking that we were going into self-isolation. On reaching Entebbe International Airport, what we found was surreal. We were unwilling characters in an action thriller as unidentified people whisked us away in vans to an unknown place,” Namutebi recollects.
No explanation was given to them before they were taken to quarantine in Central Inn Entebbe, and while there with 44 other travelers, a life of challenges, terror and hopelessness set in, Namutebi says.
The lack of food and personal protective gear gave many sleepless nights.
“The area was expensive. Nobody was caring about us and surprisingly some people had been favored and found their way out of the place. When some of the colleagues made noise on social media that is when the Ministry started caring,” she narrates.
While there, they were mixed with other people unknown to them, raising their fears of contracting the virus while in the quarantine.
It is after the public outrage that the Ministry of Health transferred Ugandans from Central Inn to Arch Hotel and Apartments in Ntinda, a suburb of Kampala where most of them have testified that the situation is far better as they are being cared of.
There have been tales of people running from their colleagues who are coughing for fear of being exposed to the virus that is transmitted through droplets. Medics have also advised people to observe social distancing.
For a person in quarantine, coughing leads to endless fear and suspicion that one could have contracted the deadly pandemic.
Namutebi’s worst experience is when she coughed. She got worried until later in the day when she explained the experience to a medic who had come on one of the medical checkups, she was told that the cough was just a reflex and her temperature was still normal with no other signs.
But that was not a clearance for her since she was still within the virus’ incubation period which makes life at a quarantine centre quite worrying.
“Things like; what if I contracted the disease and sign haven’t just started showing up? Then the rising number of confirmed cases is another source of worry,” Namutebi said.
At Douglas Hostel in Makerere – Kikoni on the western environs of Makerere University is another quarantined returnee who preferred not to be named. Besides worrying about the possibility of carrying the virus, loneliness is her biggest challenge.
“Apart from what we watch on news, we don’t know what is happening out there; we do not talk to each other, we are kept in our private rooms and only interact with health workers once or twice a day. The rest of the day, we have our phones and TVs only,” she said.
“Being away from your family for a full year and you come back to be locked up in a small room isn’t easy. But personally, I appreciate the [measure] because travelling home and infecting your family is a scary thing,” she said.
Keeping healthy is one of the best practices being recommended by health experts as it boosts the body’s immunity against the virus. According to the Health Ministry, eating the right type of foods like vegetables, plenty of water and fruits can have a big impact on how one’s body reacts once infected with the disease.
But at this quarantine facility, the deity is not the best. They are mainly served foods that contain carbohydrates and proteins. Vegetables and fruits are available on a few occasions.
“We are eating school food but then, you can’t expect to be comfortable in quarantine and eat what you would normally eat at home. They are trying. They give us three meals a day,” she said.
How Do They Spend Their Day?
In the quarantine, it is not like a person is sick but there are limited things one can do. Namutebi shares that the first days at Arch hotel, they could keep inside their rooms watching television, and calling family members, which was boring.
To her, the quarantine looks less than a prison. However, after observing them for days, Health Ministry officials later allowed them to move around in the gardens and do physical exercises on grounds that they observe the four-meter-distance.
At Douglas Hostel, there is literally nothing to do. There is neither television nor any other form of entertainment at the hostel. Sleeping, eating and bathing make their day.
“Mere thinking of the virus is psychologically torturing. With all the stories we hear of how people with the virus die. The would-be escape route to the boredom is to switch onto social media but the content there is much worrying. Learning that more people from the quarantine are testing positive leaves me shivering,” says the female contact at the hostel.
Over 1,015 people in Uganda are currently under self-isolation or institutional quarantine in hotels, schools and hospitals.