The Entebbe Deputy Resident District Commissioner Njuki Mbabali is urging all staff and operators of public transport services including those of MV Kalangala to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Njuki says service providers such as taxi drivers, conductors, boda boda motorcyclists and crews for water vessels like MV Kalangala should get vaccinated. “In future, it could become a requirement that only those who are vaccinated will be allowed to carry passengers,” says Njuki.
He adds that people might have to pay dearly to get vaccinated in future. So I just want all these people to get vaccinated because the vaccine doses are available,” says Njuki.
As a result, Njuki says all the 25 staff of MV Kalangala should get vaccinated.
MV Kalangala has six officers under the deck and engineering room departments such as the captain, ordinary sailors, chief engineer and second engineers while the rest of the crew support the two departments in handling bookings, cargo, fittings among other tasks.
Haruna Walugembe Jjuko, the booking officer at MV Kalangala says management is encouraging staff and also passengers to get vaccinated because COVID-19 vaccines are available in Entebbe and across the country.
Some of the staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity for personal security reasons, say the ministry of works and transport already communicated late last month that all staff must get vaccinated. By the end of September 15 staff had been fully vaccinated.
“Following the directive, staff have been flocking Mayor’s Garden to get vaccinated,” one staff said, “This directive is good because we must lead by example.”
One of the staff members, in charge of cargo, suspects that the government could impose a “no jab no work and no jab no entry” directive during the festive season. “So people who intend to work on the ferry or to travel to and from Kalangala on water should get vaccinated to avoid being denied access.” He says unvaccinated people could lose out because public and private institutions could follow the example of National Medical Stores-NMS and Ministry of Health that have started blocking unvaccinated staff and visitors from accessing their premises.
Another staff member says staff are currently scared that they might lose their jobs if they do not get fully vaccinated by end of November. He noted, “Entebbe-Kalangala route is very active during the festive season and we get a lot of tips from passengers who flock the island for leisure mainly. So we suspect that only staff who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to work.”
But Apolo Mugume, the Kalangala Resident District Commissioner, just like his Entebbe counterpart Njuki, says the vaccination exercise is still voluntary.
“We cannot force people to get vaccinated against their will. But I cannot guarantee that the government will not impose mandatory vaccination for some groups of people in order to fight against COVID-19,” said Mugume.
MV Kalangala charges Shillings 10,000 and 14,000 for the ordinary and VIP passenger seats respectively. The trip takes three and a half hours.
With the capacity to carry 100 passengers, 165 tons of cargo and 4 buses, the vessel is one of the major vessels plying from the mainland in Entebbe to Kalangala. It operates one return trip between Entebbe and Kalangala, departing Entebbe daily at 2 pm and returning the next day at 11 am. However the ferry operates more trips during the peak season when hundreds of visitors flock Kalangala to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.
In comparison, private vessels MV Natalie and MV Vanessa that ply the same route charge Shillings 35,000 Shillings for a single trip to Kalangala and Shillings 70,000 for a return journey during the week.
Meanwhile, Augustine Kibaya, the Operations Manager for MV Natalie and MV Vanessa, says all the seven staff who work on both vessels have got their first jab. “When the Entebbe Deputy RDC announced that public transport operators should get fully vaccinated last month, I told all our seven workers to get jabs. Only two of them are not fully vaccinated. By by end of November, all of us will be vaccinated,” says Kibaya.
Hassan Ssendaula, a regular traveler to Kalangala supports the move, saying public service operators should embrace vaccination. The businessman and resident of Nakiwogo landing site says the general public should get vaccinated so that the economy is re-opened fully next year.