Uhuru delivers stern Covid message to weary Kenyans

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the nation on Covid-19 pandemic from State House, Nairobi yesterday. Photo/PSCU

Emeka-Mayaka Gekara

Recklessness by Kenyans who had lowered their guard and resumed normal routines, as if the war on coronavirus had already been won, forced President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday to extend the countrywide curfew for another 30 days and order indefinite closure of all bars.

The President, who blamed the rising spread of the virus on disobedience of protocols set by the Health ministry especially on social distancing, signalled stricter enforcement measures in coming days.

These would mainly revolve around adherence to the 9 pm-4am curfew and ban on sale of alcohol.

Uhuru also warned that stern action would be taken against politicians who have been cited as among key violators of health protocols especially the ban on public gatherings and curfew rules.

“We all have to step up to being responsible. This is especially the case with leaders, particularly the elected ones.

All measures announced today shall be applied to all citizens regardless of their social or political standing,” he ordered.

“The Inspector General of Police shall ensure that his officers spare no mheshimiwa, or individual, regardless of social status or rank, who is either out after curfew or who flouts the health protocols without being an essential worker. The rules are for all of us, and rank or status does not exempt you from them,” he said. 

Largely ineffective

It understood that the general thinking in government is that police have been largely ineffective in enforcing the protocols, especially on the curfew and sale of alcohol.

For the past month, Kenyans seem to have resorted to their normal activities including operating post-curfew hours and holding parties in clubs in violation of social distancing guidelines.

In his address after chairing an extra-ordinary Summit of the National and County Governments on Covid-19, Uhuru warned that senior police officers would be held responsible for violations in their areas.

The President indicated that the latest measures were based on the behaviour of Kenyans for the past 21 days after he lifted restriction of movement into and out of Nairobi and Mombasa, and called for greater personal responsibility.

He pointed out that the surge in Covid-19 cases since July 6 was a strong demonstration that Kenyans had not only failed to heed his call, but engaged in reckless behaviour that aided spread of the virus.

“The surge of the infections has continued for the last 21 days, and in some areas accelerated sharply. The virus has now infected Kenyans in 44 counties,” he said.

“Contact tracing of the recent surge of infections indicates that our socialising without regard for protective behaviour, particularly in environments serving alcohol, is becoming a high risk factor,” he noted.

Face masks

Other than drinking alcohol and interacting freely, some Kenyans have stopped wearing face masks and adopted business as usual attitude.

A considerable number have also been holding huge gatherings during funerals, especially in the rural areas.

According to the President who also held consultations with health experts and church leaders, some Kenyans had become comforted by the country’s relatively low mortality rate at 1.6 per cent.

“Those are the people who have interpreted the de-escalation of the measures as a greenlight to pay no heed to the guidance by our health authorities. Their reckless actions are endangering those around them, and our whole country.”

He warned that countries that had let their guard down had been completely overwhelmed, noting that the virus had claimed 280 lives in Kenya, including a medic, Dr Doreen Lugaliki.

“Unfortunately, there will be more. The only question is whether we shall emerge with a low number of deaths or shall suffer a catastrophe. The harsh reality is that we are at war.

In war, survival is key. Self-preservation is the priority for all in a theatre of war,” he observed.

Besides the curfew, the other measures touching on public transport, limited number of people attending places of worship and funerals will remain in force.

To address shortage of specialised workers in the fight, the President directed the ministry of Health to develop a protocol to temporarily retain retired anesthetists and ICU staff to support medical staff assigned to dealing with serious Covid-19 cases in the counties. 

Learning institutions

And probably in a signal that learning institutions may not be re-opening soon, Uhuru directed that all public installations including schools, sporting facilities and stadia be made available for use as isolation and quarantine centres.

The President first declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew on March 23 and restricted movement into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera counties.

However, on July 6, he extended the curfew by 30 days and lifted the cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Mombasa and Mandera counties.

But he emphasised the order to re-open was conditional and subject to Kenyans’ behaviour, warning that he will not hesitate to close the economy if the cases increased dramatically.

“In the next 21 days, we shall study patterns of interactions and the spread of the disease.

Any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic, we will have no choice but to return to the lock-down at zero-option,” he warned then.

As one of the conditions of increasing preparedness for a possible spike in August and September, the President also directed counties to ensure they set up 300 isolation beds.

Council of  Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya, who co-chaired the summit, said that 70 per cent of counties had complied.

Yesterday,  Uhuru extended the measures as the Health ministry declared Kenya’s Covid-19 caseload at 17,975, indicating that  440 more people had tested positive for the disease.

Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe reported the testing of 3,197 samples in 24 hours, raising the total number of tests carried out in the country to 279,612.

Among the infected was one-year-old and the oldest 84, while female patients were 154 and 286 male. 

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