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State: Maintain social distance or we suspend ferry services

By Reuben Mwambingu
Thursday, April 2nd, 2020
Passengers embark from a ferry at the Lokoni Crossing Channel last month. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU
In summary
    • The government directed that pedestrians will not be allowed to cross ferry, and advised all commuters to board public service vehicles (PSVs) if they must cross channel.
    • Direction was however put on hold and pedestrians allowed to cross following new arrangements that saw operations at the ferry taken over by GSU.

The government is now asking ferry users to brace for suspension of services because achieving the social distancing requirement has clearly proved to be the most elusive piece of the Likoni Channel at the height Covid-19 scare.  

Mombasa County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo says clinching the element of social distancing has remained a daunting task at the channel.

This is despite the operations at the channel now appearing to be more organised compared to the past where chaotic scenes were the norm. 

However, the Friday’s chaos occasioned by police brutality that was witnessed during the first day of the dusk-to-dawn curfew have helped bring in some sort of sanity.

According to the commissioner, the ferry users still squeeze tightly together at the waiting bay, a situation he says could become a fertile ground for mass contraction and subsequent spreading of coronavirus.

It is against this backdrop, Kitiyo says a proposal has now been tabled to shutdown the ferry services and therefore urged ferry users to prepare adequately as the clock ticks.

 “We are so far happy that Likoni residents are now accustomed to the tough restrictions that have been laid. They are now observing the curfew timings and they are boarding the ferry in an organised manner while observing the required distance. However, our worry is that the waiting bay is still too congested and that is too risky for spread of the virus,” the County Commissioner said in a telephone interview with People Daily yesterday.

Pedestrians allowed

Last week, the government through the ministry of transport and infrastructure directed that pedestrians will not be allowed to cross ferry, and advised all commuters to board public service vehicles (PSVs) if they must cross channel.

A letter signed by Transport CS James Macharia dated March 24 and addressed to the Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) managing director Bakari Gowa, stated that pedestrians will not be allowed to board ferries in the next 30 days.

“In view of the challenges experienced in maintaining the recommended social distancing in the ferries, it is directed that with effect from March 24, 2020, passenger service vehicles (PSVs) be allowed to ferry passengers on board provided that they strictly adhere to the guidelines issued by the ministry of health with respect to the fight against coronavirus outbreak,” reads the letter.

The direction was however put on hold and pedestrians were allowed to cross following new arrangements that saw operations at the ferry taken over by GSU.

Waiting bay

According to Kitiyo with the current situation at the waiting bay, a single positive case of  Covid-19 can result in mass spreading in Mombasa, Kwale and other counties in the region.

He said efforts to coordinate appropriate distancing inside the ferry and while boarding will be futile if the waiting bay remains congested adding this is why suspension of the ferry operations is the best approach to avoid the danger of mass spread of the virus.

“The virus is already here. Already we have five positive cases in Mombasa and several others have started showing symptoms and have already taken tests and are awaiting results.

So if we continue this way, we shall have no other option but to close the ferry. Because of this serious situation, we are asking people who care for their lives to stay at home if they have nothing else to do in town,” the commissioner cautioned.

The news however does not augur well for a number of residents who said the move will cause a lot of inconvenience to a majority of residents from the mainland side of Likoni who live from hand to mouth.

“I live in Likoni but my daily hustle is at the Port of Mombasa, what do they mean by saying they will close the ferry services. Do they want us to starve to death in our houses?” asked Benson Mwanyasi, who is a janitor at the Port of Mombasa.

Closure of ferry services

Similarly Mumba Machenda is concerned that closure of ferry services will automatically mean that he stays in his house in Likoni without food.

“If they close the ferry and provide us with food no problem…but if they abandon us just like that, then it will be another disaster in waiting,” said Machenda.

He however told the residents not to panic as both levels of government have plans to distribute food and water to needy residents who will be affected in case of the shutdown.

“Already the County Government has pledged to distribute food… the national government will also distribute food. The reason for this is to help Kenyans….” he said.

After the first Covid-19 case was reported in the country, concerns have been raised over operations at the Likoni Ferry crossing where over 300,000 ferry users cross daily. 

Despite World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ministry of Health advice on social distancing, ferry users still struggle to avoid close contact as all ferries are always packed.

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