State mulls stiffer virus rules during Christmas

Monday, December 7th, 2020 09:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The government is mulling imposing stiffer protocols to contain the spread of Covid-19 during the long festive season ahead of re-opening of schools in early January.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is this week expected to outline reviewed guidelines amid pressure from governors on the government to consider imposing partial lockdown in areas perceived to be hotbeds of the virus.

The meeting that had been slated for today was pushed to either tomorrow or Wednesday due to the unavailability of Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, who is out of the country on official duties.

The President is scheduled to chair a National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus (NERC) and thereafter spell out some of the revised measures.

During the NERC meeting, stakeholders are also expected to come up with strategies on how to deal with the scourge in the event of  doctors going ahead with their intended strike starting today to demand for medical insurance cover and protective gear.

Death of  doctors from Covid-19 due to neglect and hospital congestion, has sparked anger and pushed the medical fraternity to the edge.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) is calling for a strike starting next month for its 7,200 members, who represent majority of the country’s doctors.

For  a majority of Kenyans, the strike notice is the latest warning that this could be the worst Christmas season ever in their lives.

Fear is heightening among some senior government officials and the Council of Governors (CoG) that unrestricted movement of people during the festive season may worsen the Covid-19 situation in the country, and as such, lead to cancellation of  reopening of schools scheduled for January 4, 2021.

Last Friday, CoG in a meeting with President Uhuru, presented a memorandum, that among other things, called on the government to restrict movement into and out of at least 10 counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kajiado, Uasin Gishu, Busia, Machakos, Kisumu and Kilifi apparently believed to be Covid-19 hotspots.

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.

“It has been a tradition in this country, like any other place in the world for a mass exodus of urban people into rural areas.

This is likely to exacerbate the spread of the virus. It is better to have heartbreaking conditions that save lives than waiting to regret later,” CoG chairman Wycliffe Oparanya told People Daily.

Sources in NERC confided to People Daily that though the government is unlikely to consider the governors’ proposal to restrict movements in some regions, several cards are on the table that, if imposed, could see Kenyans celebrating Christmas like no other.

But the governors can still have their way as they can revoke the Public Health Act to ban inter-counties movement, particularly in regions they perceive as hotspots.

Of more concern to medics and government authorities is the fact that schools are scheduled to fully reopen on January 4, a few days after the two-week long festivities, a scenario that could abet the spread of the virus if tighter restrictions are not put in place.

Among  reviewed measures the government is reportedly considering include  reviewing curfew hours from currently 10pm to around 8pm and drastically reducing the operational hours of bars.

And in tandem with a recent decision by the inter-faith council that reduced the number of guests allowed to attend a wedding ceremony to 50, the government is considering limiting the number of people to attend social gatherings in worship places, funerals, restaurants and a complete stop to political rallies until after the reopening of schools.

Restaurants could also be prohibited from selling alcohol while wines and spirits outlets could be restricted to only take-aways.

Sources say churches would remain open, but the reduced curfew timelines could mean the traditional midnight mass is unlikely to happen.

This could also affect the new year celebrations in which millions of Kenyans gather at worship places and entertainment joints to usher in the new year in style.

Dr Githinji Gitahi, the Amref Health Africa Group CEO, says the need for a review of the existing measures has been determined by the rising number of new cases, daily deaths and other indicators like the positivity rate.

Dr Gitahi urged the government to heighten the protocols on wearing masks, hand washing and sanitising during the coming days.

He warned that the country risked “losing control, casting aside the hard-won gains and forcing the country to go back to the drawing board to contain the high infections that could arise.

Tighter controls 

He said the public may need to reduce unnecessary social contact throughout the festive period.

“Coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts t we have, to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible,” Dr Gitahi said.

KMPDU Secretary General Dr Chibanzi Mwachonda while agreeing on the need for tighter controls, opines that the welfare of the doctors is the utmost priority at the moment than anything else.

“We will not call off the strike until our demands are met. That includes hiring more doctors.

We gave the relevant government and county government authorities three weeks for engagement but they did not honour the plea,” Mwachonda told PD.

The government is considering imposing harsher measures at a time the World Health Organisation said vaccines will be no “magic bullet” for coronavirus as countries across the globe geared up for a massive rollout to tackle the surging infections.

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