Four mutated versions of coronavirus, first identified in South Africa, Nigeria, India, and UK are now circulating in the country.
This comes at a time when infections continue to rise.
Officials in the Ministry of Health say the confirmation of the variants is another blow in the fight against Covid-19 and called for vigilance as they announced a second wave of the pandemic.
There are emerging concerns on whether existing vaccines will be able to protect the world from a virus that is constantly mutating.
How did these variants enter Uganda?
Whereas travelers were required to present a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to enter or leave the country, until recently when the country registered the Indian variant, mandatory testing and quarantine had been suspended and travelers only presented a test certificate of 120 hours prior.
In an interview with Daily Monitor last Friday, Dr Misaki Wayengera, the head of the ministerial scientific advisory committee on Covid-19, said: “People were bringing in fake certificates even the Indians entered with negative PCR test but it was fake, the same thing with truck drivers.”
This was corroborated by Dr Monica Musenero, the senior presidential adviser on epidemics, who said some of the travelers knew that they were positive but still came in with negative results.
Asked whether there is a possibility that the negative tests paved way for the new variants given that there is an incubation period, yet at the time there was no mandatory quarantine, Dr Musenero said this could be possible.
“It depends on when your PCR test was done. The person can take up to 14 days when they are infected that is why we quarantine people for 14 days. It is possible that an individual can come in and they later turn positive,” Dr Musenero said.
Uganda has registered at least five Covid-19 variants which include UK, Uganda, Nigerian, South African, and India version.
Some of these variants have been reported to be more transmissible and severe.
The Covid-19 variant spreading in India is more contagious and it is feared that it could be dodging some vaccine protections, contributing to the country’s explosive outbreak, the World Health Organisation’s chief scientist said on Saturday.
As of May 7, at least five people had been detected with the Indian variant,135 with Ugandan variant, 15 people have been detected with South African, 15 with UK strain, while the Nigerian strain was detected in 13 people.
Many of the cases were truck drivers as per the Ministry of Health data.
Dr James Eyul, an aviation medical specialist at Entebbe International Airport, said they look out for authenticity of the certificates but sometimes the forgeries are hard to detect.
“We even call the laboratories, if we have doubts. We check for certificates of when you are tested for Covid. At the beginning we had problems. I remember a lady who came with a QR code that when scanned, showed some shopping mall in Dubai,” Dr Eyul said last Friday.
He added: “For the incoming, the airlines are really strict on who they put in the aircraft because when they bring somebody who has not done a PCR test or who has false documents, we fine them $3,000 (Shs10.6m) .
Due to threat of variants and in bid to prevent their spread, government has imposed measures such as suspension all passenger flights from India until further notice.
Dr Wayengera said when government is considering putting up measures against the pandemic, they look at other factors such as the economic implications among others.
Travelers from category two countries such as US, UK, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania will also be subjected to a PCR Covid test at points of entry including the airport, according to Ministry of Health.
“The Ministry of Health has identified five laboratories with the ability to test more than 5,000 samples per day and tasked them to set up testing points in Entebbe town,” Dr Ruth Jane Aceng, the Health Minister, said while presenting updates on Covid-19 recently.
Other countries that are not in category one like India, who have fully received their Covid-19 jabs and are asymptomatic, will be allowed into the country without the need for testing on arrival.
“The ongoing testing of individuals arriving through the land points of entry without test certificates from recognised laboratories shall continue,” Dr Aceng added.
As of May 9, Uganda had , 42,427 Covid cases, 346 deaths, and 41,971 recoveries.