Partial lockdown as public offices scale down operations

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 00:00 |
People stranded at the Immigration Department in Nairobi in after agency suspended some of its services, yesterday. Photo/PD/Timothy Njenga

The country yesterday experienced a major reduction of official activities as public institutions scaled down their operations in a bid to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The scaling down followed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Sunday directive as the country fights to tame the spread of the deadly virus after two more cases were confirmed.

And last evening, Government spokesman Colonel (Rtd) Cyrus Oguna announced that at least 20 Kenyans have been admitted to hospital with suspected symptoms of the virus.

Three of the patients are awaiting test results while 14 have been isolated before being tested. Two patients have so far been discharged testing negative for the virus, Oguna said. 

“Apart from the three confirmed cases, the country has not reported any further case. Out of the three cases, two are import cases while one is a local one that was in contact with the first case,” Oguna said.

As part of the measures to contain the spread of the virus, Oguna said health facilities in 35 counties have been elevated to a status that they are fully prepared to deal with the virus.

Operations in courts across the country remained largely paralysed following Chief Justice David Maraga’s directive suspending judicial proceedings countrywide.

The directive took effect yesterday when courts remained closed, with the public not being allowed into the compounds.

Serious cases

Cases involving traffic offences, fraud, theft, assault, corruption, creating disturbance and incitement to violence were handled at respective police stations.

The more serious cases of murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, robbery with violence and sexual offences were placed before duty judges and magistrates for mention.

“It is not one of the best situations we have found ourselves in, though we have to adhere to the directive.

Otherwise nothing is moving and several cases have not been heard,” Law Society of Kenya (LSK) president Nelson Havi said.

At the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi, hundreds of people who had jammed the place for cases listed for hearing and mentions at 8am were stranded at the main entrance.

They protested Maraga’s decision to suspend operations “without issuing specific directions”. (See story page 4)

Elsewhere, Kenyans generally avoided government offices, with departmental heads announcing suspension of services for two weeks while the private sector grappled with ways to cope with the disruption.

A spot-check on various government offices, notably the Directorate of Immigration Services, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Huduma Centre found many of the offices unusually deserted.

The normally crowded streets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Nakuru and Kisumu were largely empty after many people kept away for fear of contracting the virus, or were grappling with the sudden closure of schools.

Immigration Department Director General Alexander Muteshi told People Daily they had suspended most of their operations, adding that issuance of passports and immigration controls were no longer necessary after the President banned non-essential foreign travel. “Our services are out of offer for the next 30 days,” he said.

Lands and Physical Planning  Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney ordered the closure of all land registries for 28 days beginning this morning.  

“Any emergencies will handled by our customer care desks. The closure will allow for further consultation and design of appropriate measures to protect staff and members of the public, ” Karoney said on her Twitter account.

 At the same time, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) announced the scaling down of its activities and operations for the next 14 days.

The EACC chief executive Twalib Mbarak said the anti-graft agency had suspended all its services at Huduma Centres across the country.

The situation was replicated in many government offices where services were scaled down by about 50 per cent, with only those employees providing essential services being retained.

On Sunday, President Kenyatta while outlining measures to be taken after announcing that the country had confirmed two more corona cases to bring the number to three, urged government departments, businesses and companies to allow some employees to work from home.

“Where possible, government offices, businesses and companies are encouraged to allow employees to work from home, with the exception of employees working in critical or essential services,” the President stated.

He also encouraged Kenyans to embrace cashless transactions such as mobile money transfer and credit cards to avoid contamination.

Cashless transfers

Yesterday, telecommunications operators heeded the President’s call and lowered mobile money transaction fees in a bid to encourage uptake of cashless transfers.

“Safaricom PLC would like to thank the Central Bank of Kenya Governor Dr Patrick Njoroge for hosting a meeting with Safaricom and other industry players to discuss the evolving situation around the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Safaricom CEO   Michael Joseph and announced an increase of daily M-Pesa transactions limit.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed directed the Kenya National Library Services and all public libraries, National Museums, Kenya National Archives and Documentation Service, Kenya Cultural Centre and the Kenya Academy of Sports to be closed to the public for 30 Days.

“All public sporting facilities will also remain closed to the public, for the next 30 days,” the CS said.

County assemblies also suspended sittings with the County Assemblies Forum directing staff to work from home, except for crucial matters and the service department.

“All County Assemblies across the country suspend House sittings as well as the sittings of their committees and other operations from tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, 2020 for the next 15 days in a bid to arrest the spread of the virus,” the forum said in a statement.

In western Kenya, the Kakamega County government ordered the closure of public mortuaries as a measure of reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Governor Wycliffe Oparanya asked locals to collect kins’ bodies from Kakamega County mortuaries for immediate burial.

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