Kenya adopts more draconian measures to fight COVID-19

Special from our Correspondent
Michael Backbone
Nairobi, 23th March 2020

The Government of Kenya announced yesterday a slew of additional measures for fighting the Coronavirus pandemic.

The measures were decided after eight new infections were detected, bringing the total number of cases to 15. The new cases are brought by 5 Kenyans and 3 foreigners, 2 from France and one from Mexico.

Luckily enough, most of the cases were detected upon entering the country a sign that suggests the screening measures in place seem to be working, but the level of awareness of the spreading is still rather low, since the case  that made the news affected the Deputy Governor of Kilifi, Gideon Saburi (a county between Mombasa and Malindi), who was returning from an official travel from Berlin and could not be bothered to observe the compulsory quarantine that the Government had imposed since one week to all incoming passengers.

Kenyan health workers screen passengers after they arrive from China, at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi [Courtesy Daniel Irungu/EPA]
What is worse is that the same official attended when back in Country at gatherings and meetings prior engaging into medical screening, with the effect the potential spread of the virus could have been avoided.

Whether the same situation affected the two French nationals visiting the country it is at the moment unknown, but it might denote of the same level of ignorance on the spread by those affected patients.

It remains that the decisions taken by the Government are now gearing towards avoiding the local transmission as much as possible.

Further containment measures are since March 20th in force, limiting for example the capacity of the matatus (the local public transport system) down to 8 passengers instead of the 14 standard capacity, bars are now closed everywhere,  restaurants are allowed to operate only on deliveries, and offices work primarily through remote working whenever possible.

All major Non-Governmental institutions observe a work from home pattern, the town has turned into a very silent environment and some of the leading income generators for the Country are struggling: Tourism and Hospitality  experienced important cancellations and it is fair to say the 2020 summer season is doomed. The same applies to the main source of Agricultural income, as flowers, coffee and tea are low in demand.

Will the Government be leaning towards a total lockdown? It is unlikely this might happen, because the informal economy that keeps the Country running cannot be stopped: the risk of leaving without a job and without food on the table more that 30% of the Kenyan population is a risk the Government certainly cannot take.

The last decision in terms of containment has been the one of banning all religious gatherings: these have been the last in complying to the measures imposed by the Government: the Kenyan population tends to put on the same level whatever the voice of their God through its Ministers says with what the Government asks. As such there have been Police interventions to disperse gatherings still during this week-end, terming the faith-based congregations the weakest link in the spreading of the virus.

As of this coming Wednesday March 25th, all airports will be closed to incoming traffic from abroad, Kenya Airways already did ground most of its flights and the only air transport that shall be available will be the Cargo freight.

The Minister of Health, Mutahi Kagwe seems to be handling for the moment the situation rather well: his communication is direct, his directives are being increasingly observed and his reputation is on the rise; for a man who only two months back was in the political backburner it will be a tough call anyhow to balance the provisions of a partial lockdown with a population that is on a risky curve, having an increasingly hard time in bringing food to the table given the Kenyan crumbling economic situation.

Michael Backbone
michael.backbone@gmail.com

Corrispondente dall'Africa, dove ho visitato quasi tutti i Paesi