Thousands stranded as travel ban takes effect

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 00:00 | By
A man uses alternate route after Mombasa Road was blocked at the Small World barrier. . Photo/Mathew Ndung'u

Frustrations and confusion marked the first day of the government ban on movement of vehicles in an out Nairobi metropolitan area to prevent the spread of coronavirus, with thousands of inbound passengers blocked at major entry points.

Among those affected were travellers from the Mount Kenya region, those travelling to the city  from Ukambani, Rift Valley, Western Kenya as well as those from the Coast region after police mounted roadblocks and ordered them to return to their points of origin.

This happened even as the government warned of dire consequences for those who will defy the travel directive.

Long-distance transporters, especially bus companies grounded their vehicles, leaving desperate travellers stranded across the country and drastically affecting businesses, in a move that may see some enterprises close shop.

Issuing the travel directive on Monday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said movement in and out of Nairobi Metropolis, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties had been banned for 21 days starting that Monday evening for the city, and beginning today for the other three counties. Nairobi Metropolis includes Kitengela, Athi River, Ongata Rongai, Ngong and parts of Kiambu county.

The three counties have been singled out as the hotspots of the coronavirus, with Nairobi accounting for more than 80 per cent of the 172 cases so far confirmed in the country.

Yesterday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told a media briefing that the measures announced by the President, though painful, were necessary in the fight against Covid-19.

As the travel ban took effect, public service transporters were forced to ground their vehicles, causing a major inconvenience to travellers.

Paul Otieno, a manager at Easy Coach, which operates a fleet of buses mainly plying the North Rift, western and Nyanza regions from the city, said they had been forced to ground their buses in line with the government directive, leaving costumers stuck.

“We support government efforts to fight coronavirus, but we are going to suffer massive losses because we have grounded all our vehicles. We have also been forced to send all our staff on compulsory leave,” Otieno said.

There was pain at three major roadblocks in Kiambu County, at Uplands on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, at Blue Post Hotel on the highway from Nairobi to Nyeri Road and at Landless on the Thika-Garissa road, which converges travellers from western Kenya, Rift Valley, Mount Kenya, North Eastern and Ukambani.

 Some travellers alighted before the heavily-guarded roadblocks and used pathways otherwise known as “panya” routes to enter Nairobi metropolitan area. Many of the affected people accused the government of being insensitive to their plight while others lamented the short notice.

Thika Town MP Wainaina wa Jungle complained that the enforcement of the travel ban on the Thika-Garrisa road, one of the busiest roads in the area, had been done poorly and had caught travellers off-guard, leading to a major inconvenience.

“It is regrettable that somebody chooses to place a road block at ICT Landless contrary to the gazetted border of Nairobi Metropolitan at Makutano in Kilimambogo. I regret the inconvenience caused,” he said.

 At the Chania River bridge area near Blue Post Hotel on the boundary of Nairobi Metropolis, police mounted a roadblock that effectively barred commuters from accessing Thika and Kenol towns, most of whom were traders. They were stranded from as early as 5.30am. 

“I live on Maporomoko Road but I have a business in Thika town, which I have to open to make essential supplies, and also have my employees earn their daily bread.

We are not interfering with the Nairobi Metropolis’s partial lockdown activities, why can’t the police allow us to pass?” posed Ankur Shah of Ankur Traders.

At  Small World Club, near the junction to Daystar University, there were two huge roadblocks on the dual-carriage highway barring commuters out of Nairobi, and on the opposite side, restricting those who were heading to the capital city.

Esther Musenya, who was travelling from Voi in Taita Taveta county, is a breast cancer patient who has a scheduled hospital visit to Kijabe Mission Hospital today.

But since it was a pre-arranged appointment, she had to explain herself with hospital letters to be allowed into the city, but another headache for her was how to get to Nairobi, then Kijabe.

Those turned back at Small World included 60 passengers who were travelling from Kakamega to Mombasa.

 At the boundary of Nairobi county and Machakos on Kangundo Road where Nairobi Metropolitan area ends, police from Matungulu and Ruai stations had mounted a roadblock that saw people seek alternative routes.

Hundreds of commuters were forced to terminate their journeys after police turned back the public service vehicles (PSVs) at different roadblocks in Machakos county. 

Michael Otieno is a carpenter at Mowlem, Dandora, in Nairobi but lives in Kantafu, Machakos county where he moved to three weeks ago.

Otieno was trying to reach his furniture shop when he came face to face with policemen. He was forced to take an alternative route, crossing a river through a thicket.

“I have made a decision to move back to where I used to live in Dandora to continue with my furniture business because my family has to survive.

I have to move back to Mowlem until the 21 days are over,” Otieno told People Daily.

On the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, the situation was not any different. 

Most bus operators in major towns were forced to refund money to passengers who had booked to travel at a later date since all trips in and out of Nairobi were barred.

 The President’s directive, which took effect on Monday evening, saw hundreds of travellers from Western Kenya and Rift Valley spend the night at Mutarakwa and Uplands roadblocks. 

At Mutarakwa, on the Nairobi-Mai Mahiu road, one of the gateways to the North Rift and western Kenya, hundreds of public and private vehicles as well as trucks were blocked with travellers unsuccessfully pleading with police to allow them to enter the city.

Rahab Gakiri, a trader from Eldoret, said she may close her clothes business after her Sh5 million stock, which she was going to collect, was stuck in Nairobi.

“The travel ban has really hit my business because I am running out of stock. I might be forced to close my shop until the situation normalises,” she said.

She was among hundreds of clothes, hardware traders and dealers in pharmaceutical products who were unable to transport goods worth billions of shillings from Nairobi and Mombasa following the government’s travel order.

Pamela Mukobi, a university lecturer in Eldoret, had booked with North Rift shuttle to travel to Nairobi yesterday only to be given a fare refund.

“I had booked my ticket to Nairobi in advance to avoid the push-and-pull owing to the big number of people travelling to and from Nairobi,” she said.

In Kisumu, PSV operators plying the town and Nakuru and Naivasha routes experienced a boom in business while those plying the Nairobi route remained parked.

However, operators plying the Kisumu-Mombasa route picked passengers and left the lakeside city early Tuesday hoping to reach the coastal town before the Wednesday lockdown takes effect.

“Nairobi buses have not showed up at the bus park but Mombasa buses packed their vehicles and set out early in the morning.

I don’t know how they will navigate to the coast but they did leave and they got passengers,” Tom Oriko, a Kisumu Bus Park official told People Daily.

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