UPDATE: On March 21, the government began paying for Ugandans subjected to the mandatory quarantine.
Ugandans are being forced to pay for their own mandatory quarantines under new measures announced by the government this week.
On Wednesday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced several measures that the country will be taking to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine for Ugandans coming in to the country from any one of 17 countries considered “high risk”.
The quarantines are happening in hotels designated by the government in Entebbe, about an hour from Kampala, but will be paid for by the citizens themselves.
Since the mandatory quarantine began, about 40 travelers have been forced to pay up to US$840 to stay in the Central Inn hotel, a cost that is excessive for most Ugandans. Witnesses have said that people unable to pay the hotel fees have been forced to sleep in the lobby of the hotel, while others have been stranded at the airport.
It is also not clear if the government is upholding basic health standards in the hotel quarantines. Travelers forced to stay in the hotel are reportedly forced to stay in close proximity to each other and the hotel staff, with some unable even to take a shower. One person posted on Facebook that no medical officer has visited the hotel and that staff have frequently entered and left the premises and worked without protective gear.
The government has taken some positive steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including banning public gatherings and Uganda so far has no reported cases of coronavirus.
During public health threats and emergencies, governments may make restrictions on rights when strictly necessary. However, these restrictions must be neither arbitrary nor discriminatory, but proportionate and necessary based on scientific evidence, respectful of human dignity, and subject to review. While quarantining people, governments should also ensure access to food, water, health care, and care-giving support.
Forcing returning Ugandans to pay to stay in hotels with fees they cannot afford doesn’t meet the criteria above and creates hardship for many people who just want to return home. During his speech, Museveni told Ugandans that if they want to avoid the “inconvenience or cost” they should stay away from their own country.
During this crisis it is important the Ugandan government respect its citizens’ rights, not create opportunities to exploit them.