The Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) halted the wages of hundreds of thousands of employees of education institutions privately-owned by the Catholic Church due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, local media reported Friday.

“You need to notify your staff and mutually agree on unpaid leave, especially those on active contracts,” the Daily Monitor news website quoted a letter to all diocesan and archdiocesan education officials by Ronald Okello, the national executive secretary for education at the UEC, as saying.

Okello went on to say that the decision would affect teachers and instructors in government-supported institutions who are not on government payrolls, according to the report.

The Catholic Church in Uganda owns more than 6,000 education institutions that employ hundreds of thousands of staff and support workers, with some funded by the Ugandan government.

On the reason behind the decision, Okello said most schools run by the Catholic Church were funded via charity and tuition fees — now cut off for over four months leaving the church hard-pressed in salary payment.

Some 1,056 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Uganda so far, with no deaths recorded, according to figures compiled by the US-based Johns Hopkins University.

Since first appearing in China last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 188 countries and regions. The US, Brazil, India and Russia are currently the countries hardest hit in the world.

The pandemic has killed nearly 591,000 people worldwide, with more than 13.8 million confirmed cases, according to figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University. Some 7.7 million people have recovered from the disease.

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