Governors have urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to impose a lockdown during the Christmas and New Year festivities, citing fears of an increase in coronavirus infections.
The Saturday Nation has learnt that the Council of Governors yesterday proposed a lockdown in the coming two weeks, as the festive season begins and Kenyans start mass travel.
There are suggestions of movement restrictions in and out of the Covid-19 epicentres. Counties leading in new infections are Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kajiado, Uasin Gishu, Busia, Machakos, Kisumu and Kilifi.
The governors, who met the President after the groundbreaking of G47 Ugatuzi Towers and launch of the County Covid-19 Socio-economic Re-engineering and Recovery Strategy in Nairobi yesterday, reportedly presented the proposal to Mr Kenyatta.
But the President’s decision, according to sources, will largely depend on the National Emergency Response Committee (NERC), which will meet on Monday to discuss the proposed stringent measures and other matters.
Sources close to the Council of Governors meeting told the Saturday Nation that county bosses are worried he festive season would lead to an exodus of town dwellers to villages, making the already bad situation worse.
Hospitals in rural areas are struggling to deal with the fast rising coronavirus infections.
“Many people are travelling to their villages. Those who are Covid-19 asymptomatic will infect more people, especially the elderly,” the source said.
“This could wipe out families and even villages. If hospitals in towns are not well-equipped, imagine the situation in rural counties.”
Infections have been increasing rapidly in the last six weeks, with November being the worst month since the country recorded its first coronavirus case in March.
Last month saw double the number of cases and deaths recorded in October and September combined, registering 28,124 infections and 456 fatalities.
The numbers are still rising, with the country recording more than 1,000 cases and a double figure in deaths daily.
The number of people in need of intensive care is increasing by the day yet hospitals are not adequately equipped to handle the cases.
A hundred and fifty patients were severely ill and needed oxygen on Thursday.
Many Kenyans, including health workers, have died from coronavirus-related complications because there was no ICU bed or oxygen.
Worse still, health care workers in many counties have threatened to go on strike from Monday, protesting poor working conditions.
Health stakeholders have urged the government to do all it can to avert the strike.
There are concerns that if a lockdown and other Covid-19 tougher measures are announced before Christmas, it will affect movement of students and pupils in schools.
Learning institutions are expected to close by December 23.
Meanwhile, the US Centres for Disease Control has told Americans not to travel to Kenya, which it placed on the “Do Not Travel” Level 4 category.
The US State Department yesterday raised the “Do Not Travel” advisory to Kenya and other East African nations partly due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
The new alert urges prospective visitors to reconsider travel to Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda after classifying the countries as having very high levels of the virus.
Of 7,815 samples yesterday, some 866 turned positive.
This brings the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Kenya to 87,249. A total of 1,195 patients were in hospital yesterday.
Even with the grim figures, Kenyans are on the move, gauging by the huge number at bus terminals and railway online bookings.
Going by the President’s appraisal of the impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy, a national lockdown may not be on the cards.
Mr Kenyatta said the dusk-to-dawn curfew and restrictions on movement from high-risk counties, which was later removed, hit the country’s economy, with growth dropping to 0.6 from 5.4 per cent in 2019.
“The measures put in place… devastated economies worldwide. This has led to a drop in our tourism and education. As leaders and policy makers, we must grapple with delicate questions of guaranteeing public health and the need to secure livelihoods,” he said yesterday.
“The pandemic has been a learning point. We need to come up with strategies to evaluate how ready we are in the event of a similar emergency.”
Health experts say Kenyans need to be cautious during this festive season because the situation is getting worse.
Said Kenyatta National Hospital Infectious Disease Unit head Loice Ombajo in an earlier interview: “Covid-19 patients are not just admitted for a day. That means if your beds are full, they are likely to be occupied for days. Unfortunately, many people are being admitted to hospital every day. We have to think about what to do to ensure that we are not overwhelmed.”
Filling up hospital beds
“The aim is to ensure that we still have space to take care of the sick. If too many people are filling up hospital beds, some may die as we are not able to take care of them. We need to do things differently.”
Prof Omu Anzala, a member of the NERC and lecturer in the Department of Medical Microbiology at the University of Nairobi, said the above 10 per cent positivity rate the country is experiencing is bad sign.
“We are doing all we can to bring down the rate to less than five. This can only happen when we communicate out the risks effectively,” he said.
He, however, is opposed to lockdowns. He suggests stringent measures such as reviewing the curfew hours to the initial 7pm, reducing the opening hours of bars, banning the sale of alcohol in restaurants, reducing the number of people attending social events such as weddings, funerals and church and putting a stop to political rallies.
“We have to accept that the virus is here and that it is happening in other countries too. Locking down will not change anything,” he said.
“Some counties have common markets and roads so who will police them? We have to ensure that we reduce the risk by identifying super spreaders and communicate to Kenyans on the risk they are taking when they are in crowded places.”