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Five towns along Northern Corridor identified as Covid-19 hotspots

Tuesday June 23 2020
trucks

Trucks parked at Kikopey along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway. At least five urban centresfrequented by truckers along the Northern Corridor could be Nakuru County's Covid-19 hotspots. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ERIC MATARA

At least five urban centres along the Northern Corridor could be Nakuru County's Covid-19 hotspots if mingling of locals with long distance truck drivers remains unchecked, the Nation has learnt.

The places which serve as stopovers for truck drivers include Mai Mahiu, Naivasha, Gilgil, Kikopey and Salgaa.

Independent investigations by the Nation have revealed that people in the areas continue operating in total disregard of the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 guidelines.

Despite the most recent Covid-19 positive cases being traced to the areas, little has been done to contain a possible rapid spread of the disease at the stopovers, most falling along the busy Nairobi-Nakuru-Eldoret highway.

EPICENTRES

The highway is part of the Northern Corridor and is the most important road to Western Kenya and the artery that connects Kenya and the landlocked countries of Uganda, Southern Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi.

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The road is used for transporting most of the west-bound cargo that originate from the port of Mombasa and  Nairobi, which have been identified as epicentres of the coronavirus.

The Naivasha Inland Container Depot (ICD) is already boosting movement of goods into the region at a time when differences over response to the coronavirus pandemic have hit road transportation.

However, it has been seen as a transfer of the coronavirus headache from the Mombasa Port to Naivasha in Nakuru County.

The Naivasha depot was opened early last month by Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia.

TRUCK DRIVERS

According to the Nakuru health authorities, truck drivers pose a major threat to the war against the virus.

"At the county government level, we have done our part including providing health workers to the mobile testing laboratory in Maai Mahiu. I call upon the national government to support us with enough testing kits and any other support to deal with this virus," said County Health Executive Gichuki Kariuki.

It has emerged that despite the high numbers of truck drivers in need of testing, the Maai Mahiu testing laboratory does not have enough testing kits, leading to delayed processing of results.

Last week the Ministry of Health intervened to reduce congestion and testing period for Covid-19 for truckers using the Naivasha ICD.

RESULTS IN 12 HOURS

Drivers will now get their results within 12 hours, from three days previously, following concerns from the Nakuru County government.

Maai Mahiu is located about 25 kilometres from Naivasha town.

This is where truck drivers mingle with commercial sex workers and residents as they wait to pick cargo from the ICD.

Interviews with some locals, painted a picture of a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

"It is rare seeing people in this place wearing face masks or observing social distancing. It is like people are tired and have resigned to fate, oblivious of the danger," said Tom Opanga, a resident.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

It is business as usual in Maai Mahiu town even as Kenya continues to record increasing numbers of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Interestingly, eight positive cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in Nakuru and all are truck drivers.

Truck drivers, motorcycle riders and commercial sex workers in the five stopovers have been identified as the weakest link in the fight against the spread of the virus.

Commercial sex workers, determined to eke out a living, are said not care much about the health status of their clients – the truck drivers.

If the truck drivers are not in Maai Mahiu they rest in Naivasha town where they interact with residents.

The situation has left the Nakuru County government mulling over measures it will employ to curb an otherwise surging number of Covid-19 cases in the region.

RD FLAG

Governor Lee Kinyanjui, MPs Samuel Arama (Nakuru Town West), Kuria Kimani (Molo) and Gilgil's Martha Wangari have now raised the red flag over the five stopovers.

"I urge residents of Gilgil to be cautious and to adhere to the MoH guidelines as they continue with their daily businesses," said Ms Wangari.

Governor Kinyanjui has warned residents of Naivasha saying the ICD, which is meant to be a blessing to locals, could end up being an epicentre of the virus.

The county chief cautioned that despite the huge opportunities the Maai Mahiu ICD will bring as trucks, especially from neighbouring countries, pick cargo from the area, truck drivers and residents need to adhere to MoH guidelines, including social distancing.

"The dry port is a major investment in the region that will help generate revenue and job opportunities for the youth. But it poses a great danger to Nakuru if people continue behaving normally," he said.

RISING INFECTIONS

This month, worrying numbers of new infections have been recorded in the country and a number of the cases are linked to long distance truck drivers ferrying cargo from Mombasa, Nairobi and now the Naivasha ICD.

The Nakuru governor said the department of health is on high alert to ensure proper measures are taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

"I urge residents especially along the Northern Corridor – Mai Mahiu, Naivasha, Gilgil, Kikopey, and Salgaa – to be extra vigilant and take seriously guidelines by the Ministry of Health," he said.

On his part, Mr Arama said the long distance drivers are potential victims of Covid-19 and may easily spread the virus along the stopovers in county.

"We have noted the risk of exposure of people living in the areas frequented by truck drivers, including commercial sex workers. I urge residents to adhere to MoH protocols,” he said.

TARGETED MASS TESTING

Already, Nakuru County health authorities have rolled out targeted Covid-19 mass testing of high risk groups of people in the region in a bid to tame the spread of the virus.

The upscaling of testing capacity is part of a grand scheme to enhance surveillance and combat the disease.

As of Sunday, more than 400 truck drivers had been tested for Covid-19 at the Maai Mahiu Health Centre.

The county has also tested 224 health workers and at least 1,500 food handlers and staff from the hospitality industry.

Dr Kariuki, the county Health executive, revealed, that the testing targets high Covid-19 infection risk zones and categories of people including truck drivers, health workers and hotel and restaurant staff.

"It has become very important to conduct the targeted mass testing so that we are able to get crucial data faster, which will in turn help in making quick decisions to help tame the spread of the coronavirus pandemic," Dr Gichuki told the Nation.

Testing of truck drivers using the Nairobi-Nakuru-Eldoret highway started last month at the Maai Mahiu Health Centre.

Local leaders now fear that the presence and operations of truck drivers in the region could turn Nakuru to a major Covid-19 zone, just like it happened in Busia and Mombasa.

So far Nakuru County has recorded over 20 positive Covid-19 cases.

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