As the country grapples with high numbers of Covid-19 infections, scientists have warned that a new and highly transmissible form of coronavirus, delta variant, is rapidly spreading and driving hospitalisations.
The scientists say the variant was majorly imported by travellers from India, but added that they don’t rule out the possibility that it could be emerging from within the country.
Dr Misaki Wayengera, the head of the government scientific advisory committee on Covid-19, said the variant is behind the increased cases of Covid-19 hospitalisations.
“Most of the critically-ill Covid-19 patients are infected with the delta variant. It is predominant. Delta variant is highly transmissible and it does not respect age,” he said.
“We are seeing healthy young people getting infected, there are challenges but they are characteristics of the entire wave,” Dr Misaki said.
Up to 1,116 Covid-19 patients are in hospitals and more than 25,900 others are being managed from home due to limited hospital space.
This is very high compared to what was witnessed during the first wave of the pandemic.
President Museveni announced a lockdown on June 18 after a sharp rise in infections and hospital admissions, but a number of scientists say the desired effects of the lockdown are yet to be realised.
On May 11, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated Delta (B.1.617.2) as a variant of concern due to evidence of increased transmissibility.
Given the increase in transmissibility, the variant is expected to become dominant over the coming months, according to WHO.
As of June 29, up to 96 countries had reported cases of the variant, though this is likely an underestimate as sequencing capacities needed to identify variants are limited.
Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the director of Uganda Virus Research Institute, said the variant can be prevented using the “same methods as we have done for other variants” by observing preventive measures such as wearing facemasks, handwashing, social distancing, and vaccination.
“Because the delta variant first originated from India, we suspect that the biggest chunk could have been imported by travellers entering the country from India,” he said.
The head of scientists also said the variant could be emerging from within the country, especially due to low coverage of vaccines.
“It is also possible that some delta variant could be emerging because of the widespread transmission of the virus and the mutations that are happening locally,” Dr Misaki said.
He said since human beings are not so different from each other, the fact that the virus emerged from India does not mean a similar variant cannot emerge from the country.
“If you deploy vaccines widely, you stop a widespread transmission and free replication of the virus. The major driver of the emergence of a variant is the free replication of a virus in the population. The more the virus replicates, the higher the chance of generating a variant in the population,” he said.