Kasese’s Mpondwe-Lhubiriha market, which straddles the Uganda-DRC border, has been closed for failure to comply with government directives to combat the spread of the novel Coronavirus.
Kasese Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Lt. Joe Walusimbi ordered the shutdown of the market last Tuesday on grounds that vendors were in breach of the Ministry of Health’s guidelines on social distancing.
“I will not allow anyone to continue working if they cannot follow the guidelines,” the RDC vowed.
The next day (Wednesday), while addressing traders at Kisanga market (commonly known as Mawa market), he gave them a one-day ultimatum to comply with the directives or face the same fate as Mpondwe-Lhubiriha market.
Twice a week- on Mondays and Tuesdays- Mawa market attracts more than 2000 traders and tens of thousands of customers from all districts of western Uganda and from the DRC, all of whom cram into the market’s crowded space.
“From today, no weekly markets are allowed. We have levelled the inside of the market to accommodate all vendors. Those who are unwilling will not be allowed to work on streets until the directive is lifted,” he said, adding that failure to comply would lead to unilateral closure of the market.
He further ordered relocation of fish traders to an open space outside the market on Park drive in order to decongest the market.
In addition to Mpondwe-Lhubiriha, Bwera market was also closed for failure to observe social distancing and provide hand washing facilities, among other infractions.
When theCooperator visited Mawa market a day later, the RDC’s warning seemed to have taken effect, with several vendors at the market opting to work in shifts in order to observe the social distancing guidelines.
According to Richard Kimeze, the Chairperson of Mawa market vendors, the more than 600 vendors based in the market had agreed to work in shifts at 104 stalls demarcated by Municipal authorities to meet the 4-metre distance requirement.
“We [vendors] today resolved to start working in shifts so that we beat the 4-metre social distance as per presidential directive as one of the ways to control the spread of deadly COVID-19 disease,” Kimeze said.
Margret Birungi, the in-charge of hygiene and sanitation at the market hopes that the recently enforced spacing will result in improved hygiene within Mawa market.
“The market has been dirty because of congestion. We hope it will improve because of the distancing, and that traders will be better able to control their garbage,” she said.
She advised her fellow traders to observe social distance so that the market remains operational or else their children would starve during the quarantine.