Uhuru dilemma on lockdown as infections soar

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 00:00 |
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe at a past briefing. He has cautioned Kenyans not to drop their guard on Covid rules. Photo/PD/File

All indications point to a second lockdown. But given the impact of the first lockdown on the economy and people’s lives, to what extent will the second measures go?

Ordering for the closure of business premises like bars and eateries, grounding all international five-star hotels and urging people to work from home was hard enough the first-time coronavirus hit the country in March.

The very thought of having to do it all over again, is something President Uhuru Kenyatta may not even want to contemplate.

But reality seems to be dawning very fast as the figures of new infections and those dying from the disease continue to perplex top government officials and medical experts in equal measure.

Fresh waves

From Britain to the US, and from South Africa to Greece, irrespective of how well the virus was contained, governments and experts all acknowledge that fresh waves of the deadly coronavirus are in the offing, and that policy tools to mitigate the damage are limited.

As the President prepares for the crisis meeting with governors and other health stakeholders on the latest spike of Covid-19 cases in the country tomorrow, one question could be bogging his mind... whether to lockdown the country or not

Uhuru is expected to make a tough balancing act, whether to impose tough restrictions on an economy that had started to pick up or leave the “fate of Kenyans in their own hands.”

On Sunday, while addressing faithful at All Saints' Cathedral, as the Anglican Church of Kenya marked 50 years since its inception in Kenya, the President fell short of blaming Kenyans for having failed in their responsibility, by disregarding the laid down health protocols.

He admitted there have been discussions on the best measures to take in the wake of the increasing number of infections and deaths from the virus.

“We are going through that difficult time where we are now wondering what to do. Do we close up? We shall be coming back to that. Not today, but soon,” Uhuru is reported to have said.

According to the President, Covid-19 has become such a serious problem in the country with the numbers growing over the last one month.

When he eased down most of the restrictions in September to reopen the economy, the President advised Kenyans to take personal responsibility in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

“But that advice has not been heeded, as most people have not adhered to the basic rules such as social distancing, sanitising and wearing masks.

People are living recklessly as if nothing unusual is happening,” Prof Omu Anzala — a virologist and immunologist at the University of Nairobi says.

The rollout of the BBI roadmap with public outreach and signature collection phase starting yesterday, further complicates the extent of the measures taken given the tight schedule the proposals have to become laws.

And in his daily briefing yesterday as he announced the death of 14 more people and 724 new confirmed cases, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe warned Kenyans to brace for tougher restrictions on Covid 19 containment.

Kagwe said the government may be forced to take stringent measures, hinting at a possible lockdown, to contain the spread, in the wake of the second wave of the virus.

“The rate of infections in the second wave tells you we will need to rethink some of the measures, because we cannot continue to wait as people die of the disease,” Kagwe said yesterday in Malindi.

Last month alone, the country recorded 16,663 new infections — 30 per cent of the total number of confirmed cases. And during the same month, 285 deaths were reported, which accounts 28 per cent of the total fatalities.

Stricter measures

Between July and today, Kenya has lost a number of prominent personalities among them Huruma ward MCA (Uasin Gishu) Peter Chomba, Kakamega based orthopaedic surgeon Dr Daniel Alushula, Kakamega County Chief of Staff Robert Sumbi, 2017 Jubilee gubernatorial candidate Mabel Muruli, a nurse in Kirinyaga Joseph Njenga Chege and Dr Doreen Adisa Lugaliki, popular actor Charles Bukeko alias Papa Shirandula.

Yesterday, Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha said a programme manager at the Kenya National Examinations Council, whose name he declined to disclose, had become the latest victim of the virus.

It is believed 56 per cent of the total deaths in the country occurred in the month of October, which was about two months after Uhuru lifted some of the measures in the three virus epicentres of Mombasa, Nairobi and Mandera.

While governors are calling for fresh stricter measures to contain the situation before it spirals out of hand, medical experts and government bureaucrats are divided whether the president should heed health concerns and move to lockdown the country.

A virtual meeting by the governors that ought to have taken place yesterday to take stock of the latest developments in the devolved units was rescheduled to this morning ahead of the Wednesday meeting.

But Council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya says the county chiefs want the government to close bars and eateries, extend the curfew hours and outlaw all political gatherings.

“From the available statistics, it is all clear that the disease in counties is being spread from social joints such as bars, eateries and political rallies,” Oparanya told the People Daily on telephone.

Yesterday, Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai warned that Police have heightened the crackdown against individuals flouting the protocol measures.

“Not wearing a mask in public is criminal and anybody arrested is liable to a fine of up to Sh20,000,” Mutyambai stated on his twitter account yesterday.

According to Dr Moses Masika, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, the problem with Kenyans is indiscipline.

Churchil Ogutu, a lead analyst at Genghis Capital says though the number of new deaths are worrying, the Kenyan economy cannot withstand  a second lockdown.

“But our expectations are that unlike in the previous lockdown that lasted between March and September, tomorrow’s restrictions are likely to be targeted at super spreaders like bars and political rallies,” Dr Ogutu says.

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