By Denis Jjuuko
Over 100,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus globally. Out of those, 3,600 people had died by Monday morning. Africa had registered its first death in Egypt. Apart from deaths and lockdown of entire cities, stock markets have crashed and the global economic meltdown is expected.
Companies have revised their growth expectations as many will miss their quarterly and perhaps annual forecasts. China, being the world’s factory has been on lockdown and the likes of Apple may not be able to deliver new iPhones and computers to clients. Ugandan supermarkets and malls may soon be empty.
Holidaymakers are cancelling bookings and conferences are being postponed. Already, the G77 conference that was due in April in Munyonyo has been cancelled leading to hotels and tour companies to count losses. Some people in Kabalagala may miss some income too as a result!
Viruses aren’t new to hit and affect the world. Ebola once in a while kills a few people mainly Africans in the continent’s Great Lakes region and some parts of West Africa. HIV/AIDS caused as much panic in the 1980s and 1990s. Although still a big problem, at least people know how to avoid it and/or get medication when contracted.
Coronavirus as novel as it is, the science tells us that if we regularly wash our hands, there is a window of avoiding it. It is a great lesson for us, especially in Africa. Many people hardly wash their hands. It is not uncommon to see somebody in a public toilet leave without washing their hands.
Sometime back, there used to be a popular radio advert which said that Ugandans at parties only washed their hands after eating and the child thought that it was normal. We don’t wash hands yet we love shaking hands and hugging in the process passing on diseases from one person to another easily.
Many diseases affect us in Uganda that are communicable — basically easily passed on to others because of poor hygiene and practices that easily lead to their spread. There are many people even when water is freely available that don’t want to take a shower. Many leave a toilet without flushing it.
Last year, I visited Kasese especially the areas where Ebola had affected people. Almost nobody extended their hands to greet another and people in public places easily washed their hands. They had learnt that one can avoid contracting Ebola if they washed their hands regularly and avoided shaking hands.
I hope that Coronavirus teaches us such lessons especially the one on washing our hands regularly with soap or having a sanitizer at hand all the time. A population that washes its hands will not fall sick regularly thereby freeing up resources for other complicated diseases and keeping the population healthy which in turn grows the economy.
Also, the hotel and tourism sector which is going to be affected a lot by cancellation of trips need now to push a domestic tourism package. The long Easter holiday is here and I believe foreign tourists won’t be many coming over. Italy has already locked down an entire region thereby quarantining 16 million people. If the virus continues to spread to other parts of Europe, many countries will respond by locking down entire cities and regions.
Uganda won’t be issuing visas for visitors from some countries. The tourism sector, just like many others may experience such a difficult year.
However, there should be always a way. Uganda’s tourism sector loves foreign visitors a lot. Now that they are cancelling the trips, empty hotel rooms could be heavily discounted for Ugandans. The Uganda Tourism Board, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and other bodies such as Uganda Hotel Owners Association could launch a domestic tourism campaign now targeting the Easter weekend and perhaps run these promotions well after their preferred foreign tourists can fly again.
This will keep tourism sector workers in their jobs and offset some of the losses that are now staring in their faces due to this Coronavirus outbreak. In the long term, Coronavirus could create a sustainable domestic tourism market and even reduce the burden of disease as people continue to wash their hands. So even Coronavirus could have a silver lining!
The Writer is a Communication and Visibility Consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org
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