Strong social ties the weak link in Old Town’s Corona prevalence

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 00:00 |
A street of Old Town in Mombasa. The government yesterday placed the area under lockdown. Photo/PD/BonFACE Msangi

Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu

Old Town’s residents love for social gatherings and their strong social ties have been blamed for the soaring Covid-19 cases in the area.

Yesterday, the government sealed off the neighbourhood in Mombasa to tame the spread of the virus. Eastleigh in Nairobi was also placed under similar measures.

Nestled at the edge of the Mombasa Island, the heavily populated town has become an epicentre of the disease.

Yesterday, 18 new cases were reported, bringing the total to 57 of the 201 cases in Mombasa County.

Samiha Babilo, an elder in the area, said the local community values the culture of staying together and sharing, something which he said makes it difficult for them to adhere to the set restrictions of social distancing.

“People here are used to staying together, sharing, eating together and chatting.

covidOn an ordinary evening, men gather for kawaha tungu (black coffee) and miraa chewing. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to expect them to wear masks and maintain social distance,” Babilo told People Daily.

Narrow streets

Old Town is a congested area with houses close together and separated by narrow streets.

“These narrow streets are also used by motorists,” Babilo says.

Yesterday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe declared cessation of movement into and out of Old Town.

“They have locked us down but I really don’t know how it will work. We can only wait and see,” said Babilo.

The old town areas of Kibokoni, Kuze, Bondeni and Mlango wa Papa were last month mapped out as key hotspots behind the spiking of cases in Mvita sub-county which is now leading with number of infections in Mombasa County.

The area is uniquely characterised by a collection of historical buildings dating from the 18th century which combine African, Arabic and European influences.

Many of these buildings still exist, in beautifully carved doors as well as elegantly styled balconies attached to their turn of the century facades.

In these ancient houses, it is common to find big extended families living together. And during meal times they eat together.

For instance Biryani a popular meal in Mombasa every Ijumaa (Friday) is served on huge aluminium dishes from which up to four people can eat together.

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