Curfew eased, bars open but schools remain shut
President Uhuru Kenyatta last evening extended the nationwide curfew for another 60 days as he eased some of the containment measures in a bid to reopen the economy.
However, the eagerly awaited reopening of schools will not happen as the President noted the sector was not ready as far as safety protocols for learners are concerned.
In a much welcomed move, the Head of State relaxed some protocols put in place to control the spread of Covid-19 as he lifted the ban on bars operations and raised the number of guests at funerals and weddings from 100 to 200.
Places of worship have also been allowed to host up to a third of their capacities.
Bars and eateries will, however, strictly have to be closed by 10pm in readiness for the dusk-to-dawn curfew that will now run for five hours, starting at 11pm and ending at 4am effective tonight.
“The nationwide curfew enforced throughout the territory of the Republic of Kenya is extended for a further 60 days,” Uhuru announced.
The President, in his 12th Covid-19 address to the nation, expressed his reservations on schools’ readiness to resume physical learning, noting that the institutions will only be opened when the situation permits.
“Learning institutions should only be reopened when we have and can sufficiently guarantee the safety of all our children.
Let us not focus on when schools will reopen but on how they will reopen,” he said.
He said Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha will announce the reopening calendar once an agreement on safety measures is reached following discussions by all stakeholders.
The President’s decision to veto proposals by stakeholders in the education sector to reopen schools effective October 5, now leaves the fate of millions of learners in limbo. Teachers had reported back to school yesterday.
A meeting of education stakeholders convened by Magoha last Monday had recommended a phased reopening of schools with Class Eight and Form Four candidates scheduled to report on October 5 and other learners resuming learning in phases until October 26.
President Kenyatta’s announcement of reopening of social places, particularly bars, restaurants and eateries starting today, won him wide applause from alcohol lovers, some of whom have had to endure challenges since March when the first containment measures were announced following the confirmation of the first Covid-19 case in the country.
“Mnaweza kunywa pombe sasa, (You can now take alcohol),” President Kenyatta said as he announced the reopening of social places.
Bars and liquor stores were among the sectors hardest hit by the restrictions, eventually leading to wide-scale layoffs and unpaid leave as the joints remained closed for the last six and half months.
But while reopening the bars the President urged caution, stressing the need to exercise personal responsibility particularly in adhering to safety protocols outlined by the Health ministry.
The President said that in the spirit of creating a “new normal” with advice from the National Emergency Response Committee and other stakeholders, attendance in places of worship has been increased from 100 worshippers to a third of the institutions’ sitting capacity.
“As I give these directives, I underscore the need to continue adhering to the health guidelines and protocols to avoid losing the gains that we have made so far.
To also say again that I will not hesitate to escalate these measures if the cases rise again,” the President warned.
Further, the maximum number of people attending funerals and weddings has been increased from 100 to 200 people.
Yesterday’s conference at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre was attended by Cabinet Secretaries, Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament, Justin Muturi and Ken Lusaka, Chief Justice David Maraga, senior government officials, opposition chiefs Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi as well as key stakeholders, and the clergy.
Deputy President William Ruto, who had been invited, did not show up.
To protect Kenyans hard hit by the under-performing economy as a result of the pandemic, Uhuru directed the National Treasury to retain the VAT at 14 per cent until July 2021.
Further, the Income tax and Resident tax will remain at 25per cent until January 2021.
Low-income earners will continue to receive 100 per cent tax relief until December 31, 2020.
The Head of State expressed optimism that the fight against the pandemic had borne fruits but warned against laxity.
“Experience has taught us that we are most vulnerable and fragile at the moment we think we have won… if we have won one battle against Covid-19 we have not yet won the war, the possibility of a second wave of this pandemic is real as we have seen in other countries,” warned Uhuru.
The President warned should the infection rates rise again, the restrictions will be implemented again.
For the last seven months, the country has been in a season of uncertainty as experts monitored the virus trends.
The infection rate stood at 13 per cent in June, seven per cent in August and now at 4.4 per cent.
However, experts have warned that Kenya’s virus testing has been low and may not give a clear picture of the pandemic.
Yesterday, Uhuru warned Kenyans against dropping their guard. “I am not saying this to belittle our achievements, but lean on the side of caution,” the President cautioned.
He hailed those in charge of the health sector and county governments, saying there have been successes in terms of the country’s preparedness and the development of the sector in general.
“Today there are more than 300 ICU beds and 7,411 isolation beds nationally, all achieved in six months,” Uhuru said as he commended the counties for the achievements.
He, however, questioned whether the expanded infrastructure in the health sector is adequate to ease the country’s restrictions set in place to contain the pandemic.
During the pandemic, Uhuru admitted that disruptions and innovations especially by the youth emerged and need the government’s support.
“The primary purpose here is to look at lessons learnt as well as best practices but fundamentally ask ourselves whether we organised our resources in the most optimal way and whether we have mechanisms of ploughing back lessons learnt in future undertakings,” the President said in his opening remarks.
Seven months since the first case of the disease was reported in the country, coronavirus has claimed 700 lives and left 38,168 others infected.