Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said schools, shut since March 2020 owing to the coronavirus pandemic, will reopen early next year regardless of currently low vaccination uptake.
“Be informed that the schools will be opened in January and the rest of the economy will be opened in the same month,” Museveni said on Thursday.
“Vaccination is key to the reopening of the economy,” he said, even though fewer than three million jabs have been doled out for a population of roughly 45 million.
Ugandans have shown reluctance to get jabbed so far despite Museveni stating that “right now 4.7 million vaccines” are available with a further 23 million doses expected by the end of the year.
“By the end of December 2021, 12 million people should have been vaccinated,” forecast Museveni, including vulnerable people and health and education workers.
Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, urged Ugandans to “walk to the health centres or be carried there … go by motorcycle taxi, go by bicycle or go by vehicle and be immunised”.
“Even if you don’t come out for vaccination, we will open the schools and the economy,” he said.
“If anything goes wrong, the moral responsibility is yours.”
Museveni last month lifted the bulk of COVID-19-related restrictions in the country, which has seen just more than 3,000 deaths from the virus, but he left schools shuttered.
Some students have taken up manual jobs to support their families through the pandemic.
“Sometimes you get little money like … 10,000 shillings ($2.80),” 17-year-old Mathias Okwako, who works at a gold mine in eastern Uganda, said.
Other students worry they may never catch up on the school work they have missed.
“Staying at home, sometimes you cannot even have the moral to read books. Sometimes you forget what they taught you in school,” Annet Aita, 16, said.
With their careers on hold, many teachers have also switched to other jobs to help provide for their families.
Some have said they do not intend to return to the classroom amid doubts they would be able to make a living with many schools heavily in debt. Several institutions have converted to hotels or restaurants.