Office operations hit as employees asked to stay away

Thursday, July 16th, 2020 00:00 | By
Pumwani Hospital in Nairobi. Photo/PD/JOHN OCHIENG

Operations in several government departments and leading corporations have been scaled down or halted altogether after hundreds of employees tested positive for Covid-19.

Hardest hit include the National Treasury, the Ministry of ICT and the Public Service Commission (PSC), where several members of staff tested positive, forcing the two ministries to scale down services and embark on mass testing of employees.

The virus has also struck at Harambee House which houses the Office of the President, where a senior official has been forced into self-isolation for several weeks after testing positive for the disease.

Also affected are leading corporate organisations including financial institutions and communication service providers as well as private and public hospitals, which has forced dozens of employees into self-isolation and adversely affected delivery of services to the public.

They include Safaricom, the University of Nairobi, Pumwani Maternity Hospital, the Aga Khan University Hospital and the Central organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) headquarters.

More tests

And in a tragic turn, the UoN reported three deaths as a result of the disease while the ICT ministry confirmed one fatality, painting a grim picture of safety at the workplace.

At the National Treasury, 10 employees out of the 50 tested last week turned positive, translating to 20 per cent of the workforce.

“We have requested the Ministry of Health to conduct testing for all the staff of National Treasury.

The testing will commence on July 14 and it will go on for three days, they will test 200 cases daily,” read a memo from the National Treasury Principal Administrative Secretary’s office.

Fears were rife that as more people are tested, chances are high that more will turn positive owing to workplace interactions.

At the ICT Ministry, Principal Secretary Esther Koimett also issued a notice scaling down operations and services.

“Following a reported fatality due to coronavirus on third floor of Teleposta Towers and subsequent mass testing at the State Department of Correctional Services, it has revealed a number of coronavirus positive cases,” said Koimett in a statement to senior staff.

To minimise potential risk of further infection within the building, the PS said all operations and services at the ministry’s headquarters will be scaled down with effect from yesterday to Friday next week.

“In this regard, all staff or interns will be required to work from home. During this period, access to the offices will be restricted except where there is clearance by respective Principal Secretary,” said Koimett.

In addition, the PS said fumigation and sterilisation of the offices will be done to eliminate contamination of surfaces, an exercise that will be repeated on a regular basis.

Extreme measures 

At the PSC, operations were halted after 10 employees tested positive for the virus.

“All operations and services at the commission will be scaled down temporarily with effect from July 13 – 24. In this regard, all staff and interns will be required to proceed on self-isolation in their respective homes.

During this period, access to commission office will be restricted except where there is prior clearance by the Secretary,” read a memo issued last week.

At UoN, Vice Chancellor Prof Gitahi Kiama yesterday confirmed the institution had lost three of its staff to the disease, among them renowned engineer and lecturer Prof Maurice Mang’oli, who had taught engineering at the Electrical and Information Engineering department for 35 years.

Kiama said the university was taking extreme measures to ensure lecturers, other staff and students are safe.

“We cannot bring back our people to the university especially now (that) we have been told that the numbers will peak between September and November,” he told People Daily.

“Where the dean of a school feels students are required for practical sessions, which are a critical part of learning, they will have to take extreme precautionary measures to ensure that only a small number assemble at a time,” he directed.

As the infection rates among public servants surged, the government moved to close all Huduma Centres in Nairobi for fumigation which started on Tuesday.

“Taking into account the rising number of coronavirus cases in Nairobi in the past week and the high number of customer traffic we are experiencing, we will be temporarily closing Nairobi Huduma centres for fumigation,” read a notice from the Ministry of Public Service and Gender.

Leading mobile service provider Safaricom was among the first corporates to report cases of staff testing positive for the disease, forcing the temporary closure of its branches at the TRM Mall on Thika Road in Nairobi and Meru town.

Self isolation

At the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, the situation was grim after 46 members of staff in the catering department tested positive for the disease, forcing the administration to close the wing and order food from a five-star hotel in the city.

Among those who tested positive were three chefs and several waiters and waitresses, with sources who sought anonymity saying some nurses had also contracted the virus. 

At the Cotu headquarters, five employees tested positive last Monday, forcing several top officials to go into self-isolation.

Operations have also been affected at Pumwani Maternity Hospital after 41 workers tested positive early this week.

The employees have been put under home-based care, according to acting Director of Health Dr Patrick Amoth.

The government also launched an isolation unit at the facility to accommodate those who do not meet criteria for home-based care.

The Director of Health Services Nairobi Metropolitan, Josephine Kibaru revealed that those who tested positive at the hospital were in the housekeeping unit, isolation centre, kitchen, labour ward, laboratory, new borns’ unit, the NHIF offices, theatre, and Wards 2 and 6.

The disease has previously struck State House and the Department of Defence (DoD) headquarters, sending panic across the country due to the sensitivity of the two institutions.

To mitigate further spread, access to State House was limited after four members of staff tested positive last month.

A majority of staff have been working from Harambee House, the Kenyatta International Convention Center (KICC) and the NHIF building.

The number of those who tested positive at the DoD was never made public with Defence spokesperson Col. Zipporah Kioko revealing that 700 soldiers had been tested.

The sudden surge in Covid-19 infections has left the human resource departments in both government and the private sector searching for answers.

Human Resource Consultant Charles Otieno yesterday advised employers to put the health of employees ahead of any other consideration in the wake of the fast-spreading virus.

“We have the traditional policies like 8am to 5pm schedule, coming to the office and dress codes among others but that appears to be thrown out of the window because one overriding principle has taken over and that is the welfare and safety of employees,” Otieno stated.

He urged employers to identify and isolate positive cases while tracing their contacts for self-isolation. This, he advised, must be done with utmost care to avoid stigmatisation at the workplace.

He also stated many human resource departments are struggling with the question of managing capacity should several employees be quarantined.

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