The 2022 Ebola Outbreak in Uganda – what is the situation and is it still safe to visit?

As we come to the end of the month of September 2022 Uganda has confirmed an Ebola outbreak in the country. This comes at the time the country was picking its self up from the ruins of more than two years of the covid 19 pandemic that, like in the rest of the world, had brought life to a standstill, and has caused such havoc in the livelihoods of the people of Uganda. There could not be have been a worse time than now for another deadly virus to come knocking.

The Uganda Ebola situation so far – cases and areas affected

As of the September 28, it has been announced a total of 23 Ebola cases have been confirmed and from these 5 deaths registered. However, it has also been established that tens of people could have already succumbed to the virus from as far back as last August (last month) after the current Ebola victims from the community have revealed that their kin died from a similar illness and were buried without knowing the cause of the death.

As of September 2022, Ebola cases have been confirmed in the Districts of Mubende, Kasanda and Kyegegwa. All these are located towards the western region of Uganda.

The strain of Ebola virus causing this outbreak in Uganda has been identified as the Sudan ebolavirus. This is a less transmissible strain than the Zaire Ebolavirus that caused a recent epidemic in the eastern region (Kivu) of Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda is no stranger to Ebola outbreaks and has had several outbreaks before. Many of the outbreaks are usually a spillover from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo that has suffered frequent Ebola epidemics, and is currently still grappling with one. These spillovers into Uganda have mostly been managed and never resulted in a full-blown Ebola epidemic in Uganda.

The last Ebola outbreak in Uganda was about a decade ago (2014) and only about 100 cases were recorded with just 53 deaths registered.

From the previous Ebola outbreaks the Ugandan health system and its population have developed the capacity to manage the outbreaks. And, this gained experience from managing Ebola came in handy during the Covid 19 pandemic when the country was able to manage the pandemic and thus recording very few deaths in comparison to many other countries, including those with far superior health infrastructure.

The hope is that the current Ebola outbreak in Uganda will also be managed and the spread swiftly arrested.

Also, with the current Covid 19 SOPs (which can apply to Ebola) that many people have been accustomed to and many still adhere to, there is a lot of optimism that the current Ebola outbreak will not manifest into a countrywide epidemic.

Planning to visit Uganda, is it safe even when there is a reported Ebola outbreak?

We are coming to the end of the peak tourism (June – Sept) when many people book vacations to Uganda to go gorilla trekking, chimpanzee trekking, safari in Murchison Falls National Park, and do many other tours in Uganda the pearl of Africa. Many who are traveling to Uganda soon for their trips could be pondering if it is really safe to visit Uganda with this announcement of an Ebola outbreak? As a resident in Uganda, I can confidently say it is safe. The hotspots of the outbreak have been identified and the health system is doing well to contain the spread. The affected areas are far from the activity destinations. Ebola may also have a reputation of being deadly because of a high fatality rate, and it indeed arouses fear by the thought of it. However, it is not easily transmissible. The last outbreak in the country a decade ago had just about 100 individuals infected.

Unless if a full-blown Ebola epidemic across the country happens, which would take several months to happen, Uganda is safe to visit in the short term.

It is also easy to protect from Ebola, as only symptomatic cases can transmit, and transmission is through body fluids hence basic social distancing and washing of hands would be sufficient for protection.

A brief about the Ebola virus/disease

The Ebola virus which causes the Ebola Virus Disease, spreads when one comes into contact with body fluids from an infected person or animal. The symptoms of the Ebola virus infection present between 2 days to 21 days, and some of these are: headaches, sore throat, muscle pain, high temperature or fever, vomiting, diarrhea, yellowing of the eyes.

The Ebola virus can stay in the body for up to 21 days without showing any symptoms.

An infected individual that does not show symptoms (Asymptomatic) does not spread the virus, a contrast to the covid 19 virus where an asymptomatic person can still spread.

Why is Ebola dangerous?

The Ebola virus is dangerous because it has a high fatality rate of about 50%, way higher than that of Covid 19 disease which is about 10%.

Why you may not fear Ebola?

The Ebola virus is not very infectious as compared to the covid 19. The Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with body fluids of an infected individual. It is not airborne like the covid 19 (sars-cov-2) virus. With washing hands and basic social distance

Is there a cure to the Ebola Virus Disease?

There is no cure for the Ebola disease. It is treated by therapeutics to support one’s good immune system that would help beat the disease. Much like the covid 19 situation.

Is there an Ebola vaccine?

Yes, vaccines against Ebola have been successfully made but are not readily available. One of the vaccines include rVSV-ZEVOB produced in the USA and has recently been used in the DR Congo.

Note that the strain of Ebola virus in the current outbreak in Uganda is the Sudan ebolavirus which has no vaccine. The vaccine rVSV-ZEVOB is for the Zaire ebolavirus in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Research shows the strain Sudan ebolavirus is less transmissible than the Zaire ebolavirus, this offers a bit of relief.

Rwanda – Uganda borders fully reopen on March 7

The government of Rwanda has announced the full reopening of the land borders between Uganda and Rwanda effective on 7th of March 2022. This is perhaps so far, the best of news of 2022 for the people of both countries. For about two years the government of Rwanda closed the land borders to all travelers including tourists and local people, with the reason of controlling the spread of covid 19.

Uganda and Rwanda highly depend on each other for trade, tourism, and agriculture among others. Also, the people of the two countries are closely related with many families shared across the borders. The closure of the border therefore brought economic hardship to many people in both Uganda and Rwanda, as well as causing a lot of anxiety among the people who could not see their families for the last two or so years.

Uganda – Rwanda tours and safaris resume

Many African tour itineraries combine Uganda and Rwanda as the two destinations complement each other well in terms of a variety of experiences and activities one can have, including gorilla trekking, chimpanzee tracking, hiking and birding among others. Also, because it is so easy to travel between the countries. The popular attractions are located near the borders.

Many tourists start their tours in Rwanda and go on to visit Uganda as the primary destination of their itinerary, and vice versa. For example, many tourists start their gorilla trekking trips in Uganda from Rwanda because it is a shorter driver. Read this guide about starting Uganda gorilla tours from Kigali Rwanda.

The most popular combo is the gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda. Many tourists who want to track the gorillas two times combine Uganda and Rwanda, that is, tracking the gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park where they experience the awe-inspiring Virunga mountains, and another gorilla trekking in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where they experience a true African jungle!

Below are some of our tours and safaris combining Uganda and Rwanda via the land borders!

3 days Gorilla tour in Uganda starting from Kigali, Rwanda

4 days Rwanda golden monkeys and Uganda gorillas

5 days Rwanda chimpanzees and Uganda gorillas

10 days Uganda and Rwanda primates adventure

18 days Rwanda and Uganda birding tour

Uganda covid situation – no test on arrival for travelers (February 2022)

As the covid situation in Uganda improves, with cases of covid 19 dwindling every day, the government of Uganda is relaxing on the restrictions. The good news for travelers going to Uganda is that the government has declared there is no more testing on arrival at the airport effective from February 2022. Perhaps one of the best news as many travelers found the test on arrival at the airport the worst of restrictions. It added to the cost of travel as you had to $30 for it, and it was such a great inconvenience that caused a lot of anxiety waiting for the results while thinking of the worst outcome of a positive result. Imagining traveling all the way to Uganda to enjoy a safari vacation in the Pearl of Africa (home of popular gorilla trekking and chimpanzee trekking) only to test positive for covid and sent into isolation.

The government came to this decision to stop covid tests on arrival as fewer and fewer positive cases of covid were registered among the arriving travelers. An indication of the declining covid 19 cases worldwide. Perhaps an encouraging signal that the worldwide pandemic could soon come to an end.

What restrictions are still in place for traveling to and from Uganda?

Travelers going to Uganda are required to present a negative result from a PCR test taken not later than 72 hours to the time of arrival in Uganda.

Travelers leaving or flying out of Uganda are required to present a negative result from a PCR test taken with 72 hours from the time of flying out of Uganda. Travelers often are concerned as to whether they would be able to find a place to test in Uganda at the end of their gorilla trip and get results in time? Well, Uganda has developed a lot of capacity to test for covid 19 over the last two years of the pandemic. So many labs have been established in the capital Kampala and even out of Kampala. You can take a covid 19 PCR test and have your results in as few as 4 hours. Generally it would take 6 – 8 hours to have your results.

What is the latest covid situation in Uganda?

The covid situation in Uganda has improved a lot as of February 2022. The country experienced the Omicron surge in December last year of 2021, peaking quickly by early January and by the end of January almost every person in the capital Kampala and much of the country had had a taste of it. By end of February 2022 nearly much of the population has been “vaccinated” by the extremely contagious Omicron variant. There is little covid in the population as more recover from Omicron.

Most of the adult population above 50 years that is most vulnerable in Uganda has received the covid jabs. Uganda has a younger demographic with more than 70% of the country below 25 years. This younger demographic is one of the main factors the covid pandemic did not have a devastating effect in Uganda like it has been in countries with aged populations such as Europe.

There has been a lot of vaccine hesitancy among the young population, but the later covid variants that spread quickly through the population have caused natural immunity among the population.

Nearly all essential works such as health workers, teachers, security, tour drivers and hospitality workers have been vaccinated!

I can tell without fear that chances of picking a covid infection from Uganda are very minimal!

Latest 2021 covid 19 guidelines for visiting Rwanda – lockdown guidelines for tourists and organizing tours in Rwanda

Life in Rwanda was getting back to near normal until the Delta variant of the sars-cov-2 virus arrived in June of 2021.

Today is 23rd July 2021 and as I write this, Rwanda is facing the 3rd wave of the covid 19 pandemic because of the highly transmissible Delta variant. Rwanda was forced to reinstate the stricter guidelines to curb the ravaging Delta variant, including stopping public transport, putting curfew from 6pm to 5am. Some districts of the country that are more infected have been placed under total lockdown with no movement allowed except for most essential and no business (except essentials) allowed to operate, and one of these districts is Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. While inter district travel is forbidden throughout Rwanda.

Luckily, tourism is still open and tourists are allowed to fly into Rwanda and visit Rwanda’s different tourism destinations all of which are open (here are top things to do and see in Rwanda). So you can continue planning your gorilla trek, chimpanzee trek or wildlife safari trip to Akagera Park. But there are guidelines to be followed by all tourism players so as to ensure safety and prevent any farther spread of the virus. You may find the guidelines quite bureaucratic but this is to ensure your safety and that of the locals.

Note that nearly all tourism and hospitability personnel in Rwanda have been vaccinated against covid 19 and these include personnel at parks and other tour destinations, tour guides/drivers, tourist hotels staff.

Planning to visit Rwanda during this latest development of the pandemic and have many questions about what to expect and what guidelines you are to go through? We at Nature Trails East Africa have so far organized two birding trips in Rwanda during this pandemic time and below I shall take you through the guidelines and processes tourists go through, plus also answer some frequently asked questions:

How to prepare before traveling to Rwanda?

1. Take a covid test

You are required to take a covid 19 PCR test, and have a negative result within 72 hours (3 days) to the time of arrival in Rwanda. Note that the 72 hours is counted from the time of collecting your samples.

It does not matter whether you are fully vaccinated, you must take the Covid 19 test and have negative results.

You will print out the results that you shall present on arrival at Kigali International Airport.

2. Book a 24-hour quarantine hotel at your cost

You will undergo another covid 19 test upon arrival in Rwanda and quarantine in a hotel for 24 hours as you wait for your results. Therefore, before traveling to Rwanda you must book a hotel for the 24hrs. There is a list of designated quarantine hotels of different budgets. Book the hotel and receive a confirmation from the hotel which you shall also present on arrival. Here is a list of designated hotels. https://travel.rbc.gov.rw/travel/src/Designated%20Hotels.pdf

You will pay for the hotel at checking in.

3. Fill the Passenger Locator Form

Next, you must fill the Passenger Locator Form before taking your flight to Rwanda. Here is the link to the form: https://travel.rbc.gov.rw/travel/ The Passenger Locator Form is an online portal Rwanda will use to follow you up in case you or someone you are traveling with has developed covid 19 symptoms. You will also use this platform to track your covid 19 test results as they will posted to your registered account. To fill this form, you must have booked your flight, done your test, and booked your quarantine hotel and received the confirmation. You can fill the locator form a few hours to taking the flight.

Arrival at the airport

1. Another mandatory test on arrival at your cost

On arrival at the airport, you will be warmly received by the immigration officers, your covid 19 negative test document & hotel confirmation checked.

You will pay for your covid test which is USD60 that you can pay in cash or using your visa card.

You will then proceed to waiting nurses in nicely set up testing tents where they will collect samples from your throat.

You will be given a printed receipt confirming that your samples have been collected for the test, and the receipt also includes a unique ID number that you will use to check your results by texting a code on the phone, or logging into the passenger locater. You will be guided on how to do this.

After sample collection you will continue to the immigrations’ booths for visa clearance and you continue to the exit.

2. 24 hour Hotel Quarantine

At the exit, you fill find an airport official with a list of all arrivals and their respective quarantine hotels they booked.

Your hotel driver will be waiting, you get into the car and driven to the hotel for your 24 hour quarantine as you wait for your results.

The results come back within 24 hours, and typically by after 8 – 12 hours most travelers have received theirs. You will check for your results after this time by logging into Passenger Locater Form platform or dialing the code on your phone. The hotel will also keep checking for you.

Otherwise you are not allowed to leave your room until your results are back (negative). All meals will be provided in your room.

Once the hotel confirms your negative results you will be free to leave your room and continue with your travels.

3. 7 Days hotel quarantine for passengers coming from Uganda and India.

Rwanda recognizes neighboring Uganda, and India as countries with highest infections of the sars-cov-2 virus (especially the Delta variant) and all travelers coming from these two countries, or have been to these two countries in the last seven days mush undergo a 7 day quarantine time instead of 24 hours. This is to eliminate any possibility of the variant slipping through.

There is another set of designated 7 day quarantine hotels different from the 24 hour. They are listed here https://travel.rbc.gov.rw/travel/

This is also at your own cost.

The 7 day quarantine can take a toll on you. In case you are not ready for it and yet you have to travel to Rwanda, you can transit through another country (say Kenya) and spend a week before continuing to Rwanda. This way you will only do the 24 hours hotel quarantine

4. What happens if I test positive on arrival in Rwanda?

If your results come back positive, you will be picked from the hotel and taken to a health facility where you will be treated.

All treatment is at your own cost.

Once you test negative you will be free to continue with your travels in Rwanda.

Traveling in Rwanda during lockdown

Inter district travel is not permitted, but tourists can travel throughout Rwanda and cross the different districts after attaining a pass/permit issued by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

The requirements to get a pass are: a negative covid 19 test done in the last 120 hours, and a confirmation from your destination e.g. hotel booking or activity do in the park.

Visiting the Rwanda parks during the pandemic and lockdown

Rwanda has 4 national parks including Volcanoes National Park, Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park and Gishwati – Mukura National Park.

All the above parks are open for tours.

However, each park requires having a negative covid test result of within 72 hours before visiting the park.

The primate parks which are Volcanoes National Park (gorillas, golden monkeys), Nyungwe National Park (chimpanzees and monkeys) & Gishwati – Mukura national park (chimps & monkeys) require a PCR test which takes longer to get results coming back within 24 hours. Therefore plan accordingly.

PCR testing centers in Rwanda can be found in districts of Kigali, Musanze near Volcanoes National Park, and Rubavu district. There is no PCR testing center near Nyungwe National Park

A rapid test is enough to visit Akagera National Park. Rapid test results take only 15 minutes.

Leaving Rwanda

You are required to have a negative PCR test result within 72 hours before your departure flight.

The gorillas in the new big five animals

For a very long time the Big Five animals have been; Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino & Buffalo. This big five do not have any scientific relation. But rather it is a list of 5 animals that trophy hunters back in the day categorized as the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt, hence most prized. Since then, safari goers have had these massive animals on top of their lists of must see animals…

World photographers, conservationists and charities have come up with a another set of big five, the New Big Five, which highlights what they find as some of the most spectacular & critical species of the animal kingdom. Yet the existence of these 5 animals is threatened thus the need to draw attention to them. The conservation of these animals is key to the survival of many other species in the ecosystem.

The gorilla has made it on this list. https://www.newbig5.com/results/

The gorilla is the biggest of the great apes and yet its population has been dwindling to near extinction. Many travelers visit Rwanda for the gorilla trekking expedition for the chance to see these massive primates. Gorilla trekking can also be done in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Encountering the gorillas is one of the most epic wildlife experiences and a photo of these gentle giants brings out their amiable character that attracts more travelers thus driving the need to conserve. The gorillas share their habitat with an enormous biodiversity whose survival so much relies on the conservation efforts directed toward the gorillas.

Other animals on the new big five:

  • Elephants
  • Polar Bears
  • Tigers
  • Lions

Unlike the original big five that you could find all on your African safari, the new big five is spread across the world. The three of the new big five can be encountered on a safari in Africa. These are Gorillas, Elephants & Lions. Tigers can be found in museums. Two tigers were introduced at the Uganda Zoo.