Kenyans are on their own in the fight against coronavirus pandemic. Caught between two choices, economy and health, the government opted for a safe balance. It announced a partial lift of the lockdown that has been in place since March. But in so doing, it pushed the burden of curbing infections to the citizens.
Controlling infections begin with individuals before it scales up to the national level. Thus, the onus is on the citizens to maintain high personal discipline, change behaviour and the mindset. Coronavirus is an invisible and unprecedented threat, and with no cure in sight, the only salvation is prevention.
The key highlight of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address Monday was ending ban on travel in and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera, which counties, especially the first two, having the highest cases of infections and therefore a threat to others.
Nairobi and Mombasa are the main economic hubs of the country. Yet they have become the epicentre of the pandemic. According to statistics, the two cities account for more than 70 per cent of the recorded infections.
CESSATION OF MOVEMENTS
Cessation of movements in and out of those cities, however painful, has arguably contained the infections and in particular, prevented spread of the virus to the villages where majority of the old and vulnerable live and where medical facilities are sorely lacking.
Besides, President Kenyatta announced reprieves for various other sectors. Among others, he allowed resumption of worship but under stiff regime that includes limiting congregants to 100 to guarantee social distancing. For a good measure, the directive locks out children under age 13 and adults above 58 years old as they are at high risk of infections. Local air travel resumes mid this month while international flights commence on August 1. Public transport will also resume with strict regulations.
All these measures have been taken to open up the country and stimulate economic recovery. At the heart of the matter is fact that the country has experienced painful shocks since the lockdown was imposed in late March. Various sectors of the economy such as tourism, hospitality, transport and aviation have grounded to a halt.
Experts projects that the economic growth will shrink to 2.5 per cent this year, compared to 5.3 per cent last year. In fact, the worst case scenario is that the economy could go to the negative. The ensuing economic meltdown has translated into massive job losses as industries and businesses collapse.
And that has spawned equally grim social problems such as increased domestic violence cases, mental depression and rise in teenage pregnancies.
Even so, lifting of the restrictions is replete with perils. Fears abound of a potential spike in infections due to ease of the movements. This is borne out of the emerging reality where in the past few weeks, infections have surged and created a heavy burden on healthcare services.
Already, most isolation wards and facilities are full. And whereas counties were tasked to expand their health facilities and have at least 300 beds, only 23 of them achieved that target. What this means is that should the infections soar, the country would not be able to cope.
Another major challenge that remains unresolved is making decisions on reopening schools and other learning institutions. Learners have borne the pain of Covid-19, staying out since schools and colleges were shut down in March.
Academic programmes have thoroughly been disrupted and the fate of national examinations remains uncertain. Yet, reopening is such an intricate matter. Precisely, reopening schools is risky given the large numbers of learners and particularly for lower classes where they are young children who cannot observe the health protocols on their own.
Related to that is the question of testing teachers and support staff to establish their health status to guard against infections. Given the circumstance, reopening should be gradual beginning with Standard Eight and Form Four candidates. However, universities and tertiary institutions can reopen since they handle adults who can take care of themselves.
Notably, President Kenyatta stressed that the reliefs were conditional and that the government would monitor the situation and should matters deteriorate, it would be forced to reintroduce the restrictions. This is the reason why citizens have to enforce the protocols, including social distancing and personal hygiene.
Specifically, it would not be useful to make unnecessary travels across the country at this time when things are still fluid. These are difficult moments and we all have to make hard decisions and sacrifices to survive the pandemic.