President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday took the bold step of re-opening the economy after three months of a partial lockdown, but shifted the burden of responsibility in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic to Kenyans.
In a move that saw the economy, for the first time, win over the health crisis, it will now be upon individual citizens to protect themselves, their families and their communities from surging coronavirus infections.
The decision is likely to see an exodus of Kenyans from urban centres to rural areas, transporting the disease to the villages, as they escape the pain of spiralling joblessness in towns.
In his address to the nation, the Head of State lifted the order on cessation of movement in and out of three counties.
This, he said, was arrived at after wide consultations with critical stakeholders on attaining a certain level of preparedness, and on the advice of the National Security Council and the National Emergency Response Committee of coronavirus.
The President said although the irreducible minimums had not been met fully, there was a consensus among stakeholders that Kenya had reached a reasonable level of preparedness to allow for a phased reopening.
Consequently, President Kenyatta, with caution, announced that the cessation of movement order imposed on Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Mombasa and Mandera lapses at 4am Tuesday. However, the daily nationwide curfew between 9pm and 4am remains in place for another 30 days.
Given the two conflicting rights over the Covid-19 crisis, the president chose livelihoods over lives even as cautioned that the lifted restrictions would be reinstated should there be a spike of Covid-19 infections in the next 21 days.
“The order to re-open is given conditionally, should the situation deteriorate and pose a challenge to our health infrastructure, it shall be clawed back,” he said.
“Any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic, we will have no choice but to return to the lockdown at zero-option.”
He cautioned that re-opening of the three counties posed more risk to all Kenyans “than we were when the restrictions were in place.” “We must, therefore, exercise cautious optimism, and avoid reckless abandon,” he said.
The President said it shall be possible to control the numbers from surging further if Kenyans take responsibility, cautioning that it is not time to have “unnecessary” contacts and trips upcountry, where the old people stay.
Research has shown that people aged 60 years and above are more vulnerable to Covid-19 infections, whereas young people are capable of spreading the virus involuntarily because many who get infected are asymptomatic.
“My intention is to re-open and to remain open. The ‘claw back’ option is not on my wish list at all. To re-open and remain open, you must become your brother’s keeper,” he said.
He was hard-pressed on whether to re-open or not given a rising number of Covid-19 infections in the country and a deteriorating economy, which has caused thousands if not millions to lose jobs in different sectors.
The President further directed that places of worship should also begin a phased re-opening, where congregants must not be more than 100 people per service.
Church and mosque services should be held in accordance to protocols and guidelines developed by the Inter-Faith Council, and should not last more than one hour, the President said.
He directed that Sunday schools and madrassas should remain closed and “in-person worship shall not include congregants under the age of 13 years or above 58 years; or persons with underlying conditions.
He directed the Education ministry, in consultation with stakeholders, to notify the public on the resumption of the 2020 academic calendar for basic education and tertiary institutions, latest today.
Also, public service vehicles will be required to comply with protocols developed by the Health ministry before they can be allowed to ferry passengers to Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera.
“To operate public service vehicles, the operators will require mandatory certification from the Ministry of Health in consultation with Ministry of Transport,” he said. It was a big relief for airlines as Kenya lifted the ban on air travel, locally and internationally.
Local flights are expected to resume flights on July 15 while international flights will resume on August 1.
The President extended the ban on political and social gatherings for another 30 days. It is the same order for bars where people can only do ‘take-aways’, as well as weddings and funerals.
The President directed the ministries of Health and Trade to establish protocols for the resumption of the importation and sale of imported second-hand clothes.
Meanwhile, 181 cases were reported on Monday from a sample of 2,131.