Uganda’s schools reopened to students Monday, ending the world’s longest school disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The reopening caused traffic congestion in some areas of the capital, Kampala, and students could be seen in the streets carrying mattresses to their boarding schools, something not witnessed there for nearly two years.

Uganda’s schools have been fully or partially shut for more than 83 weeks, the world’s longest disruption, according to figures from the United Nations cultural agency. The shutdown affected more than 10 million learners.

The East African country of 44 million people first shut its schools in March 2020, shortly after the first coronavirus case was confirmed on the African continent. Some classes were reopened to students in February 2021, but a total lockdown was imposed again in June as the country faced its first major virus surge.

For many parents, the reopening was long overdue.

“Inevitably, we have to open up schools,” said Felix Okot, the father of a 6-year-old kindergartner. “The future of our kids, the future of our nation, is at stake.”

The country's schools cannot “wait forever” for the pandemic's end, he warned.

The long school lockdown was controversial in a country where measures aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus were ignored by many. Vaccine skepticism, even among health workers, remains a problem. Reports of fake coronavirus vaccination cards sold in downtown Kampala have increased recently.

Many students returning to school are believed to have had no help during the lockdown. Most public schools, which serve the vast majority of children in Uganda, offered no virtual schooling.

Critics pointed out that the government of President Yoweri Museveni — who has held power for 36 years and whose wife is the education minister — did little to support home-based learning. Museveni justified the lockdown by insisting that infected students were a danger to their parents and others.

“There are many things which can’t be predicted right now. The turnout of students is unpredictable, the turnout of teachers is unpredictable,” said Fagil Mandy, a former government inspector of schools working as an independent consultant. “I am more worried that many children will not return to school for various reasons, including school fees.”

Welcoming the reopening of Uganda’s schools, the Save the Children organization warned that “lost learning may lead to high dropout rates in the coming weeks without urgent action,” including what it described as catch-up clubs.

The aid group warned in a statement Monday of a wave of dropouts “as returning students who have fallen behind in their learning fear they have no chance of catching up.”

It remains to be seen how long Uganda’s schools will stay open, with a sharp rise in virus cases in recent days. In the past week, health authorities have reported a daily positivity rate above 10 percent, up from virtually zero in December. Museveni has warned of a possible new lockdown if half the beds in hospital intensive care units are filled.

Hoping for a smooth return to school, authorities waived any coronavirus test requirements for students. A reduced curriculum also has been approved under an arrangement to automatically promote all students to the next grade.