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Mbale police fires teargas, bullets to disperse defiant traders over COVID-19

Police yesterday fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse traders who had opened their shops in defiance of a presidential directive prohibiting operation of commercial shops as one of several measures aimed at containing the spread of the novel Coronavirus.

Like other global leaders, President Yoweri Museveni reasons that limiting social interactions is key to combating the spread of the pandemic.

However, for the past couple of days, the number of traders operating in Mbale town has swelled, with a section of traders claiming that they only went to safeguard their shops, not to work. Majority of the offenders were based in the popular Mbale Central Market, which is home to over 3,000 vendors.

“I’ve been coming to town strictly to check my closed store and also to stay for a few hours safeguarding it from thieves,” said Fatuma Namugenyi, one of the shopkeepers. 

However, Mbale District Police Commander, Fred Ahimbisibwe, was having none of it, and deployed the police to evict the errant traders.

“We cautioned the traders to heed to the measures and directives announced by the President and the Ministry of Health but they ignored them,” Ahimbisibwe said.

Ahimbisibwe revealed that Mbale’s COVID-19 taskforce, in a crisis meeting convened to discuss the issue, unanimously voted to close the multibillion shilling market. 

Most affected were perishable foods traders who are allowed to operate per the presidential directives. By press time, not a single vendor was left at the market, including those selling food.   

“Yesterday, I stocked so many parcels of tomatoes due to increased demand in the last few days, but on arriving at the market today, I was met by gunfire and teargas,” Rogers Wandeka, a frustrated trader, narrated. 

Wandeka is afraid that his tomatoes will go bad if he cannot operate, and yet they cost him Shs. 450,000 to restock.

Like Wandeka, dozens of food, charcoal, pharmaceuticals and agriculture input sellers in Mbale restocked their shops after they were given a green light to operate by the president, but they will now have to count their losses following the drastic decision by the district’s COVID-19 taskforce team.  

Rogers Taitika, the Elgon Police spokesperson, said they had no choice but to disperse the traders who had ignored all their cautionary intervention in the days prior to the incident.   

“For the past few days we have done everything possible to call them to practice social distancing, but overcrowding remained the order of the day because, they argued, ‘there was no Coronavirus in the country’.” 

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