Why government is reluctant to impose complete lockdown

Friday, May 8th, 2020 00:00 |
A deserted street in Old Town, Mombasa, yesterday after the area was sealed off on Wednesday to contain the spread of Covid-19. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Eric Wainaina @EWainaina

The government is in a dilemma on whether to impose stricter measures to tame the spread of coronavirus, as the existing ones are proving inefficient, going by the rapidly rising number of cases.

Since the first case was confirmed on March 12, the government has been hesitant to impose a total lockdown and other tough measures to deal with the disease whose cases yesterday rose to 632 following the confirmation of 29 new infections.

The State has been reluctant to go the whole hog with the containment measures “because it will subject Kenyans to deeper economic suffering”.

However, this hesitance, coupled with  indiscipline among Kenyans, has seen the number of Covid-19 cases dramatically rise in the past few weeks. 

Last month, the government banned movement into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Mandera counties. 

But the ban, together with the nationwide curfew which has been in effect for more than a month, seem not to be yielding the desired results. 

The latest measure was Wednesday’s lockdown of Nairobi’s Eastleigh and Mombasa’s Old Town estates, two areas which have recorded an alarming number of cases in the past week. 

Fears over possible unrest, a spike in crime and shortage of food are said to be some of the reasons the government is reluctant to impose tighter measures such as a complete lockdown of the entire country.

But disaster management experts are warning that the “sympathetic” approach by the government can only prolong the pandemic as well as the consequent economic suffering.

Prof Ken Okware, the Dean at the School of Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance at Masinde Muliro University, said a total lockdown of the country immediately the first case was confirmed would have been the best approach.

Okware said that while tougher measures would have caused Kenyans suffering, it would have enabled the government suppress the pandemic in a shorter period as it happened in China. 

He warned the current approach could lead an Italian or a United States situation, in reference to the huge number of infections and deaths in the two countries. 

“We are a very indisciplined people who don’t want to follow simple instructions. We are so materialistic that were prefer the economy than hour health and that is why we want a situation that will allow us continue with our lives uninterrupted despite the risks,” he told People Daily yesterday.

People Daily has learned that the government is concerned about the repercussions of a total shutdown of the economy, especially for the thousands of families living in slums, most of whom are low wage earners working in the informal sector.

“Lockdowns resulted in food riots in Italy, India and South Africa.  We are not sure we are ready to handle such a situation,” said a government official familiar with the State’s thinking.

Study cases

But even as the government remains adamant against extreme measures, Okware said it would eventually be forced to do so, saying the increasing number of cases was a sign of bad things to come. He warned that further delay would see cases shoot up to a point where hospitals would not have the capacity to handle them.

“I’m foreseeing a situation where the government will be forced to do what it has been avoiding: Impose a total lockdown,” he said.

While China, the origin of the deadly virus, is a study on how to control the spread of the disease through imposing strict measures, Italy and USA are a showcase of how not to tackle the epidemic. Their blunders, including waiting until it was too late to declare lockdowns, badly exposed their populations to disease which resulted in thousands of deaths.

Last month, Uhuru said it was not the intention of his government to lock down the entire country, but the option remained on the cards should Kenyans continue defying the behavioural protocols.

Gladys Chania, an adult and child psychologist who has dealt with disasters, having worked with Kenya Red Cross, said while stricter measures could cause a lot of suffering to many Kenyans, they would help government end the crisis faster.

“The government should impose a total lockdown. It is true people will suffer socially, economically and otherwise but it will go along way into helping tame the spread,” Chania said yesterday.

Chania said the current measures have loopholes that aid the spread of the disease, and warned that if the status quo remains, it will cost the country dearly because the numbers would increase to unmanageable levels.

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