The worst of coronavirus is over, experts say

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020 09:00 |
Kenya Ports Authority staff during mass testing for Covid-19. Photo/PD/BONFACE MSANGI

As the country marks exactly six months since President Uhuru Kenyatta outlined the first measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, experts say the worst is now over.

However, the declaration comes with a warning that life will not go back to normal as fast as many are hoping.

Medical experts say that though the country seems to have flattened the Covid-19 curve, Kenyans must be ready to continue with the “new normal” way of life.

Since the first case was announced on March 13, Kenyans have seen their lives turned upside down. Almost everything has been impacted and every aspect of their lives affected.

“The outbreak of Covid-19 has completely affected the way we live and interact with each other, how we work and communicate.

It has been a game changer that will transform our future forever,” says Dr Githinji Gitahi, the Amref Africa Group CEO.

Gitahi observes that going forward, Kenyans will have to live with several of the containment measures already in place, such as social distancing, sanitising and washing of hands and wearing of masks for some time.

Both Gitahi and Prof Omu Anzala of the University of Nairobi concurred that Kenya has finally emerged from the pandemic and it is now safe for the President to reopen everything.

“Kenya is now safe. We have overcome the virus. But Kenyans must now brace themselves to deal with the aftermaths of the virus,” Prof Anzala, a member of the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus, said.

As the experts exuded confidence that Kenya has already overcome the virus, the Ministry of Health yesterday reported 48 cases from 1,081 samples tested within a period of 24 hours, marking the lowest caseload recorded in recent months.

By last evening, the caseload since March rose to 36,305 with 624 deaths. Kenya has recorded 23,243 recoveries from the virus so far.

While addressing a press conference from State House on March 15, President Kenyatta told a stunned nation that two new cases reported that day had originated from 27 people who had made contact with the first victim who had traveled from the United States whose case had been confirmed three days earlier.

“We have received confirmation of two more cases of the coronavirus. The two have tested positive as a result of coming into contact with the first patient.

Our health officials have moved them from the Kenyatta National Hospital isolation facility,” President Kenyatta made the announcement that would kick in motion a series of measures that saw thousands of Kenyans losing their jobs and several others remaining holed up in their homes for months.

Presidential decree

First on the cards was a presidential decree banning all travellers from  countries that had reported coronavirus cases.

And all Kenyans returning from abroad were to be subjected to a 30-day mandatory quarantine.

But it was the announcement to close all schools with immediate effect that jolted Kenyans most.

Companies were also encouraged to allow their employees to work from their homesteads.

To date, the government is still grappling with when to reopen schools, amidst fears that more than one and a half million candidates who were scheduled to sit their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations may lose out.

As in the words of Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha, 2020 has been a lost academic year.

The secretary general of the Kenya Union of Post Primary Teachers (Kuppet) Akelo Misori warns pupils and students already left behind will likely bear the brunt of the pandemic’s impact, whether through missing out on life-saving vaccinations, increased risk of violence, or interrupted education.

“The interruption in the education sector will likely take some time before things return to normal.

But even when schools reopen, everything shall be conducted under the new norm with pupils and students being forced to wear masks and take the issue of personal hygiene being emphasised,” Misori stated.

Not taking chances, the government encouraged Kenyans to use cashless transactions like M-Pesa, money transfer, and cards.

Two weeks after spelling out the first set of containment measures, President Kenyatta on March 26 took Kenyans by surprise when he announced stiffer measures aimed at containing spread of the virus that had already raised the caseload of 28.

On this day, the President announced a nationwide overnight curfew, suspension of all international flights to and from Kenya, strict regulations on cargo flights and closure of all border points with neighbouring countries.

A week before the President’s announcement, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, whose name and voice had become synonymous with Covid-19, had left beer lovers bewildered with an order to close all bars and eateries. Restaurants were only allowed to sell take-away meals as Kenyans were encouraged to stay indoors.

And as beer lovers mourned in their homesteads, so were church and mosque goers after the government closed all places of worship.

New measures were also put in place to regulate burials with people who had succumbed to the disease being buried under strict health guidelines, attracting protests from a cross-section of Kenyans.

Like lightning, things appeared to move fast for Kenyans as the government spared no efforts to save their lives.

By April 6, the government had imposed a 21-day ban on movement into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale.

Marsabit and Mandera counties and Eastleigh in Nairobi and Mombasa’s Old town were later added onto the list.

All entertainment joints were closed, visits to local markets regulated as water points for hand washing became the most common feature everywhere.

Masks have since become mandatory, thermal screening takes place at the entrance and shopping carts are regularly wiped down with disinfectant in all supermarkets.

Appropriate distance

At the supermarket and bank registers, markers on the ground indicate where customers must stand to keep an appropriate distance.

And since the days of former Transport minister, the late John Michuki, the matatu sector found itself caged, with the number of passengers controlled in regard to social distancing.

Yesterday, Ms Rachel Anyona of Amani Psychosocial Wellbeing in Nakuru said the way Kenyans used to bury their loved ones is likely to change for good after the virus.

“The coronavirus has not only created fear and dread worldwide, but it has changed some deeply ingrained traditions such as the way funerals are conducted in various parts of the country, a cultural practice that would have taken many generations to change,” Anyona told the People Daily.

As Kenyans eagerly await the President’s next national address on the pandemic, expectations are high that the remaining doors will finally be opened and the prolonged school holiday will come to an end.

But hand washing, masks and social distancing are likely to hang on for some time.

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