Guarded fear as hundreds travel after lockdown

Thursday, July 16th, 2020 00:00 |
A public Service Vehicle (PSV) bus plying the Nairobi - Emali route being loaded at the famous Machakos Bus Station. Operators have reported brisk business since President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the cessation orders. Photo/PD/GERALD ITHANA

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s move to relax some of the protocol measures set to tame coronavirus disease spread by allowing free movement of people across the country has led to concerns that the infections could be exported to rural areas en masse.

Since Uhuru made the decision on July 6, Nairobi’s Metropolitan Area and Mombasa county which had been put on a three-month partial lockdown after they turned out to be hotspots of the sickness have witnessed an exodus of people heading to other parts of the country.

Majority of those travelling to various upcountry destinations are those who lost their sources of livelihoods as a result of the pandemic while others are taking the opportunity to visit their loved ones in rural areas after being confined in the two areas for over three months.

 “It is as if everyone wants to leave Mombasa. Most of the passengers we are getting are those that are travelling upcountry,” said Fred Kenga, a staff at Modern Coast Bus service in Mwembe Tayari within the Mombasa’s CBD.

An almost similar scenario is replicated at Mash East Africa booking offices where officials say passengers are turning up to “full capacity.”

Full capacity

“We have so far been recording full capacity as per Ministry of Health (MOH) requirements of observing the social distance.

By full capacity under the new normal standards, we mean half the capacity whereby a 42-seater carries 21 passengers while a 40-seater carries 20 passengers and so on.

We are still monitoring the situation to see how it unfolds with time,” explained the Bus Company’s General-Manager Lennox Shallo.

The government is now being asked to consider embarking on mass testing of travellers to ensure the pandemic is not exported to the rural populations given the challenges most county governments are experiencing in containing the disease.

For instance, Nakuru Town which is a stop-over for those travelling from Nairobi to the North Rift, Nyanza and western counties, locals now want the government to set up testing centres at the main bus terminus to tame transmissions. 

James Kimani, a market trader in the town yesterday told People Daily that though the resumption of travels would boost their businesses, infections were likely to surge if authorities do not put in place adequate containment measures.

“We are worried about being found positive once mass testing is rolled out in Nakuru, I am observing all guidelines set out by the Ministry of health but how sure can we be that the virus is not with us because we have thousands of people coming here or passing through the town,” he wondered. 

Kemri testing

Susan Nyachae, also from the county, asked the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) should work with the counties to set up satellite testing laboratories to allow early containment of the virus within counties. 

“Some families are hiding their kin who traveled from Nairobi and it is a huge risk to all of us, we cannot determine whether they are Covid-19 positive or negative yet they are still mingling with us,” she said.

Duncan Ndung’u who travelled to Nakuru after spending four years working in Mombasa, said he had no option but to leave after he lost his job as an attendant at a local hotel.

“I tried as much as I could not to travel home but I was left with no option. If I continued to say in Mombasa, I might have ended up dying there... I intend to isolate myself from family members although it is difficult to keep a social and physical distance in a family setting. I will try as much as I can and see what happens in the next two weeks hoping all will be well.”

As of yesterday, Nakuru County had recorded 134 positive cases even as the devolved government moved to adopt and domesticate home-based care for coronavirus patients to decongest health facilities.

Counties in the Mount Kenya region also experienced an influx of travellers Nairobi as demonstrated by the heavy traffic along the Thika Road, the Kenol-Sagana-Nyeri road as well those leading to Tharaka Nithi, Meru and Embu counties.

A spot check at the Murang’a main stage revealed a beehive of activities compared to the previous days when the place was largely deserted.

Martin Wairimu, the director of Murang’a Shuttle Services told People Daily that their vehicles were making about ten trips to and from Nairobi daily due to an increase in the number of passengers plying the route.

One of the travellers, Jane Njuguna who has been working at a private school in Nairobi said she opted to relocate to her rural home in Kangema where she will stay until schools reopen in January next year.

She explained that she had lost her income once the government closed schools in mid March, forcing her to relocate to her rural home with her three children.

“Life in the rural areas is quite relaxed, although we continue taking precautions to avoid contracting the virus,” she said.

A spot check by People Daily in Kiambu County revealed normal interactions between persons who have been living in urban areas and the rural dwellers.

Moses Kariuki who travelled from Nairobi to Gatundu North constituency said; “I came home a few days ago and I did not encounter any challenges interacting with my people here. I was neither quarantined nor isolated although I know I am negative.”

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