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Kenyans will pay heavy price for Covid complacency

By Gathu Kaara
Monday, October 26th, 2020
A resident of Kawangware estate is tested during a mass testing exercise in the area two months ago. Photo/PD/John ochieng
In summary

The country  is on the cusp of a second wave of Covid-19 infections. 

Ignore the academic postulations of what constitutes a second wave technically.

What is without doubt is that Kenya is in the grip of a secondary wave  of Covid-19 infections that, by all indications, will be worse than the first outbreak.

Let’s call it the second rush, and Nairobi, Mombasa and Kilifi are its harbingers.

These three towns bore the brunt of the primary infections that started in March 2020, and had tough movement restrictions imposed on both entry and exit.

The sum total of those measures saw good outcomes in reducing infection rates, and ultimately flattening the curve.

Nairobi, previously the epicentre, saw its caseload of infections come down drastically, until its Covid-19 hospital beds and isolation centres became idle. In Mombasa and Kilifi, Covid-19 hospital beds became empty.

There is an almost shocking reversal of fortunes in these towns, especially in Nairobi and Mombasa. Media reports indicate that hospitals in Mombasa are almost full.

In Nairobi, some hospitals have converted wards into Covid-19 treatment facilities, and are opening new centres, including field hospitals.

Kilifi is experiencing infection numbers last seen when it was put under cessation of movement.

During the first wave, infections nationally never hit 900, and the highest positivity rate posted was at 13 per cent.

In the past one week, the average number of new cases has been 1,000, and the positivity rate has also averaged 14 per cent.

What went wrong? In a word, complacency.

Bars are jampacked with merrymakers drinking for hours. Gatherings are back in force.

The Government relaxed the restrictions for all manner of gatherings, and now funerals, churches, family gatherings have thrown all caution to the winds.

Masks have been thrown overboard, or are simply adorned wrongly. In Mombasa’s Likoni Ferry crossing, hundreds have been arrested for not wearing masks or wearing them wrongly. 

Governors like Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Amazon Kingi (Kilifi), who were proactive during the primary infections crisis, simply went AWOL.

The most insidious of these gatherings have been the political rallies and meetings that have now become the norm.

Politicians have fanned out across the country and are behaving as if Covid-19 was never in Kenya, bringing together surging, excited crowds, many with no masks. It is a dangerous trend, and Kenyans will pay a heavy price.

Worse, Covid-19 has now spread across the country, and there are new epicentres such as Nakuru, whose hospitals are already overwhelmed in a short period of time.

The coming crisis is one of overwhelmed hospitals, where Covid-19 patients needing critical care cannot get ICU beds or ventilators, the very eventuality that the containment measures were meant to prevent in the first place. A spike in deaths is sure to follow.

What is more worrying is the seeming Government indifference over the surge. It’s almost as if nothing is happening. The Ministry of Health seems to have abandoned its leadership role in this crisis, and joined the rest of Kenyans in their complacency. Who’ll sound the alarm?

Several things must happen urgently. The National Emergency Response Committee (NERC) needs to meet and discuss the current situation immediately.

The President should then address the country if only to bring Kenyans to attention. The least the President should do is to order strict enforcement of the existing measures.

Some restrictions must be tightened - the number of people attending  funerals and family gatherings must be severely restricted.

Political gatherings must be banned until further notice. Re-opening of bars must be reviewed. Bars were reopened haphazardly, unlike the very careful and monitored phased reopening of restaurants.

Bar staff were not required to be tested for Covid-19. Reduce the hours for bars and put them under the same protocols that restaurants were subjected to. And enforcement is key.

The Government must forestall that eventuality by acting now![email protected]