Under normal circumstances, roads in Kirinyaga County would at a time like this be teeming with trucks packed with rice, with residents of Mwea smiling all the way to the bank.
This year, however, rice traders and farmers have been hit hard by desert locust and snail invasions in paddies. The Covid-19 pandemic has made matters worse.
The future looks even more bleak following lockdowns in parts of Mombasa and Nairobi – the country’s main rice markets.
Though the Kirinyaga County government has attempted to address the situation, residents are a worried lot.
Locals say the devolved government may not be in a position to handle a large number of Covid-19 cases. No case has been reported in Kirinyaga.
“We are kept waiting for hours at hospitals when seeking treatment. Some people even go home without medicine. I don’t think the health workers have been trained to handle coronavirus emergencies,” Mr Jackson Kirogo, a resident, said.
Ms Mary Wanjira, another local, hailed the devolved government for distributing personal protective equipment but said health workers could be the stumbling block in the Covid-19 war.
The Kirinyaga County government has set aside Sh19 million to fight the deadly virus.
The county assembly recently approved Sh4 million to be used in setting up an isolation ward, procuring sanitiser, masks, hand-washing equipment and other measures.
A 14-bed Covid-19 isolation ward has been put up at Kerugoya Referral Hospital. It has an oxygen concentrator and four ventilators.
The county, which in August 2019 had 610,411 residents, does not have an intensive care or high dependency unit. There is one ICU bed in the whole county.
The isolation unit is manned by six doctors, four clinical officers, eight nurses, two laboratory technicians and a clinical psychologist.
Six secondary schools in Kirinyaga have been identified as isolation centres.
Medical workers have defended themselves against accusations of laxity, saying they are ready to handle Covid-19 cases.
A medical officer dismissed claims they are not taking the pandemic seriously.
“Contrary to the impression created, the workers are cooperative and prepared to deal with Covid-19,” he said.
He added that health workers have been paid their March and April salaries, which delayed.
He hailed the government for fumigating towns and having masks distributed to locals.
The Health department says the region has 45 medical officers and specialists, 135 clinicians, 453 nurses and eight consultants ready to deal with the pandemic .
About 420 community volunteers have been sensitised on Covid 19.
The county government has conducted around 1,100 coronavirus education sessions, reaching about 200,000 people in hospitals and market centres.
It has also distributed masks and sanitisers to vulnerable groups and individuals, including the elderly, market traders, the disabled and boda boda operators.