Courts stare at crisis as 200 DPP staff test Corona positive

Thursday, August 6th, 2020 00:00 | By
Intensive Care Unit beds and other general health facilities at a hospital in Kerugoya, Kirinyaga county. PD/FILE

Githinji Mwangi, Evans Nyakundi and Robert Ochoro

Hundreds of courts across the country face closure after at least 200 prosecutors attached to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji tested positive for coronavirus (Covid-19).

The prosecutors were found to be positive after mass testing, forcing Haji to scale down operations at his office on  NSSF Building and Kibera, Milimani and Makadara law courts.

An Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions is among those who tested positive on a day that one of the magistrates involved in plea taking was also confirmed to have contracted the disease.

By last evening, sources said Haji and his senior officers were mulling suspending prosecutions across the country because of the large number of employees who had tested positive since the management began mass testing on July 30.

Sources said the worst affected were the murder and anti-corruption sections  where most employees tested positive for the virus.

Haji has already shut his offices in Kakamega town, and should the headquarters resolve to suspend prosecutions in the wake of the surge of Covid-19 cases, more offices across the country are expected to follow suit.

The affected ODPP staff, whom sources said were all asymptomatic, were immediately placed under home-based care for 14 days. 

Specialist doctors

Sources said Haji had retained some specialist doctors to help those confirmed positive while arrangements had been made with Aga Khan Hospital for those whose condition may require medical attention.

“The office is trying to help the affected staff. They have been referred to specialist doctors for medical re-evaluation,” said a senior official at the ODPP who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

A similar scenario was playing out in Kakamega where Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions in charge of Western region Patrick Gumo announced the temporary closure of criminal proceedings at the local courts.

“This is to inform you that our staff at the Kakamega County office underwent a Covid-19 test.

A number of them including prosecution counsel have tested positive,” Gumo said in a letter dated August 5, addressed to the Kakamega Chief Magistrate.

As a result of the development, all the ODPP staff in the Kakamega County office have been placed under self-quarantine for days.

“Consequently, criminal proceedings at Kakamega law courts will be disrupted during that period due to unavailability of prosecutors,” Gumo said.

Haji declined to comment yesterday, saying he was in a meeting. “Can you call me later after my meeting please,” was his terse response.

Suspension of services in Nairobi will negatively impact delivery of justice in the country as it serves as the nerve centre of majority of the cases.

Matters would get worse if the city situation is replicated in other towns, as courts may be forced to free suspects on police bonds.

This will also lead to a backlog of cases that would have stalled as a result of lack of prosecutors.

Nairobi has about 600 employees who include prosecutors, clerks, secretaries, accountants, drivers and human resources people.

Sources said there was confusion in the offices yesterday, with contradicting orders on the way forward.

While ministry of Health officials wanted those who had tested positive to proceed to quarantine centres, medics from Lancet laboratories  who conducted the tests urged the affected employees to self-isolate at home.

Some felt the victims were being “thrown under the bus” yet they had contracted the disease mainly in the line of duty.

Yesterday, Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho in a radio interview acknowledged the impact of Covid-19 infections on government services.

“The effects are being felt in all government departments and are being addressed accordingly.

The impact is there, but as a government, all we can do is to isolate those who test positive in order to save those who are negative,” he said during an interview on our sister station, Milele FM.

The PS spoke as the government suspended operations at the Kianyaga police station in Kirinyaga County after several suspects and police officers were confirmed Covid-19 positive.

The affected officers were admitted to the Kerugoya County Referral Hospital while the suspects were being attended to in police cells by medical officers in personal protective gear.

Addressing a press conference at the station, Kirinyaga Deputy Governor Peter Ndambiri disclosed that four police officers had been infected. He said 12 suspects had tested positive.

He said urgent measures had been taken to contain the situation before it could spread to the locals.

“The county Covid-19 response team has declared the police station a hotspot. Our only fear at the moment is that the 12 suspects are still being detained in the same cells with 25 others who tested negative.

Those confirmed should have been isolated from the rest,” said Ndambiri.

And in Siaya, all county staff were ordered to work from home after several of their colleagues tested positive for the virus.

A memo from County Secretary Joseph Ogutu to all County Executive Committee members dated August 4, ordered that they work from home in view of a surge in virus cases.

“You are advised to continue working from home while you observe all the protocols and guidelines stipulated by the Ministry of Health and the county health department on prevention and spread of Covid-19,” he said in the memo that was copied to Governor Cornel Rasanga, his deputy and chief officers.

In Nyamira, the County Assemblysuspended its sittings for the next 21 days pending further evaluation of the situation after a member of staff tested positive for Covid-19 bringing the total number of positive cases to eight.

Staff members

In the neighbouring Kisii, the County Director of Public Health, Dr Richard Onkware was forced to recall 22 staff members whom he had directed to go for self-quarantine for two weeks after they interacted with a staff who was believed to have died of Covid-19.

Dr Okware who issued the directive on Tuesday, said samples of the deceased had been tested and returned negative, hence there was no cause for alarm.

Since mid-July, several government offices have been forced to suspend their activities for at least 14 days as the number of civil servants testing positive continues to rise, with medics warning the situation could deteriorate in the coming days as community transmissions increase.

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