Panic as 17 legislators test positive for coronavirus

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe addresses the media at Afya House in Nairobi. Photo/PD/FILE

Hillary Mageka @hillarymageka

Panic and anxiety has gripped Parliament after at least 17 legislators and a number of parliamentary staff tested positive for coronavirus.

And last night, sources intimated that there are fears the numbers could increase as more MPs and others are expected to receive their results today  and tomorrow.

The tests are being done by Lancet Laboratories on behalf of  the Ministry of Health.

The MPs and staff were among the 52 members of the Senate and National Assembly who received their results yesterday from the ministry after taking the voluntary test last week.

The National Assembly, through its Clerk Michael Sialai, had submitted the lawmakers’ names last week for testing.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka was reluctant to confirm or deny the reports of members testing positive.

He, however, said that results for individual legislators who took the Covid-19 test were private and confidential.

New infections 

“You know testing was voluntary and very confidential; the doctors give results to individual members even for the testing,” said the Speaker.

He added: “I can only talk of myself because I did the test here, together with my family and security; I know my results, that I am negative but for the rest of the members, they have been given results individually.

“The only person who would know the status of who was tested is the individual and the Ministry of Health. I cannot speculate or say it has happened.”

However, People Daily has reliably learned that on Monday Lusaka and his National Assembly counterpart Justin Muturi were forced to call off sittings scheduled for this week  to avoid new infections after receiving the reports.

Yesterday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe confirmed 14 more new cases, bringing the total of those infected locally to 172.

So far six people have succumbed to the disease while four have recovered.

Among those who were subjected to testing and mandatory quarantine are members of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) and the Delegated Legislation Committee.

Cessation of movement 

The two committees with a combined membership of 38 held a joint sitting on March 17 in the presence of Rabai MP Kamoti Mwamkale, who has since tested positive.

Others were those who attended the burial of Msambweni MP Suleiman Dori two weeks ago and came into close contact with Kilifi Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi, who has recovered from coronavirus and has been charged with ignoring government directive for a mandatory 14 day self-quarantine.

In the Senate, members of the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) who had travelled outside the country in the past 30 days were tested and given back their results.

They include Senators George Khaniri (Vihiga), Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho) and MPs Adan Keynan (Eldas), Naomi Shaaban (Taita Taveta), Clerk of Senate Jeremiah Nyegenye and host of staff.

Others were Senators Charles Kibiru (Kirinyaga), Christopher Langat (Bomet) and Mwangi Githiomi (Nyandarua).

On March 17, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, while moving an adjournment motion, revealed that some parliamentarians, who serve as commissioners of the Parliamentary Service Commission and staff were in the same flight from London to Nairobi with a person who had been confirmed to have tested positive for Covid-19.

“The decision to adjourn the House was reached by PSC which is recommended to both Houses but it is not binding on us. We are not a conveyor belt to accept everything that comes from the PSC.  But there is a story behind it,” he said.

He added: “The commission itself has scaled-down staff, there is also information that many people had travelled and there was a lot of information in their coming back and self-quarantine.”

Among those who had travelled, he said, were members of the Senate and National Assembly.

 On Monday, in a joint statement sent to newsrooms, the two Speakers said they had deferred parliamentary sittings until further notice in line with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s announcement on cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties.

“In the circumstances, it has, therefore, become necessary to inform you that it will not be possible to hold the sittings of the Houses of Parliament as scheduled, until further notice,” they said in their message to all Members of Parliament.

They added: “The leadership of the two Houses is consulting and shall advise on the means by which urgent business that is before the Houses of Parliament shall be transacted remotely and members shall shortly be advised on this.”

A nominated senator who spoke in confidence told People Daily that the sittings were called off as precaution measure to avoid other members from contracting the deadly virus.

“There are suspected 17 Members of Parliament from both Houses who have been tested and turned positive,” the senator said. “However, the information is not clear but it’s members and staff,” he added.

But Senate Minority Whip Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior (Makueni) discounted the claims, saying he had no idea why the sittings were suspended.

“We only received a notice last evening (Monday) saying that because movements were limited in Nairobi, the National Assembly and Senate are suspended.” 

More on National