Political rallies may trigger surge in Covid-19 cases

Monday, October 25th, 2021 00:00 | By

Presidential hopefuls have stopped all pretence about the so-called meet-the-people tours ahead of next year’s contest. They have moved full throttle into campaigns.

They are crisscrossing the country, drawing massive crowds wherever they go. It’s almost as if Covid has somehow disappeared miraculously.

This is ominous. If Kenyans can recall, the burst of campaigning that took place in the early part of 2021 when there was a series of by-elections, laid the basis for a devastating surge of infections and deaths that has only now started dissipating. 

If the country does not take appropriate steps to mitigate against Covid given the current wave of campaigning, then expect an even more devastating surge of Covid infections in the next four weeks.

Who has let down the ball?

First, the government. Despite the ban on all political and other large gatherings, the government has just sat on the sidelines as the current wave of electioneering tears its way across the country.

Instead, it has opted to make feeble appeals to Kenyans to “stay away from the rallies.” No prizes for guessing how Kenyans have responded to that call.

Secondly, the presidential hopefuls. They have thrown all caution to the wind. They are now in an all-out campaign mode.

One can say this is expected of politicians anyway anywhere, but it does demonstrate politicians cannot be expected to do the right thing. They must be reined in.

Since it seems like nobody is willing to let the foot off the gas pedal, it behoves the government to move with speed to mitigate the expected surge in infections due to political activity.

This should be informed by the fact that the next months leading up to the August poll will witness nonstop campaigning—a potential disaster.

There are several things that need to be done. 

Ramp up vaccination. Vaccination is not going viral enough, if the figures from the Ministry of Health are anything to go by.

The government must go all out to vaccinate at least 15 million people by December. That will be at least 75 per cent of the expected 20 million voters. 

Further, vaccination must be spread in all regions since political campaigns will be across the country.

The ministry will have to think outside the box. One of the best mobilisation tools it can take advantage of are those political rallies.

The ministry should reach out to the presidential campaign secretariats, and partner with them on vaccinations.

As their supporters mass, presidential candidates should exhort them to get vaccinated to facilitate campaigns and elections that will be safe for all.

The ministry should provide personnel and the vaccine doses during the events. Well organised, millions will be easily reached and vaccinated by December during the campaigns.

The cost of facilitating the vaccination can be shared between the ministry and the presidential aspirants for their events. This is in their own self-interest. They need their voters alive.

The government must also prepare for a possible surge in Covid infections in the next few weeks.

Hospitals need to start being equipped with capacity to produce oxygen, ventilators, ICU beds, drugs and isolation facilities. 

Governors must ensure key hospitals are well equipped for any possibilities.

But they must push the ministry to boost vaccinations in their areas, as well as undertake aggressive outreach programmes to boost vaccination rates.

Finally, where is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in the Covid discussion?

IEBC needs to urgently integrate Covid preparedness into its electoral strategy.

Covid is the single most critical dynamic that will be impacting 2022 elections. Yet, IEBC does not seem to pay Covid preparedness much mind. 

IEBC can put together the most efficient election machine, but be completely sidetracked by Covid. It must put Covid at the centre of its preparedness urgently. [email protected]

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