The government yesterday stepped up the fight against coronavirus with an array of stricter measures amid new cases and a rising death toll.
The new measures, which fell short of declaring a national lockdown, will put about a fourth of Kenya’s population under containment, with movement outside their counties restricted.
In the measures by the National Security Council chaired by President Kenyatta, “there shall be cessation of all movement by road, rail or air in and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area and the counties of Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa.”
The new regulations were effected as from Monday 7pm in the Nairobi Metropolitan Area and as from tomorrow in the other affected counties.
“The movement within the Nairobi Metropolitan Area and the Counties of Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa shall continue subject to the nationwide curfew,” President Kenyatta said.
The movement in and outside the affected four counties, which will be restricted and supervised by the National Police Service, affects other areas outside Nairobi City County, which fall under the Nairobi Metropolitan Area.
The areas that fall under the Nairobi Metropolitan Area include part of Kiambu County up to Chania River Bridge (Thika), including Rironi, Ndenderu and Kiambu Town; sections of Machakos County up to Athi River including Katani; portions of Kajiado County including Kitengela, Kiserian, Ongata Rongai and Ngong Town.
In a lengthy speech delivered from State House, President Kenyatta termed the virus as an “invisible, relentless enemy,” which had threatened Kenya’s national interest like nothing else before.
“Yet because it cannot be seen or smelt, it is an enemy that can easily convince you that life can continue as normal,” the President said.
The new measures come after 16 more people tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 158.
The decision was arrived at after Health CS Mutahi Kagwe declared the Nairobi Metropolitan Area and the counties of Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa as Covid-19 infected areas.
The majority of the persons — 96 per cent — who have contracted the disease are residents of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area and the Kenyan coastal strip.
The few confirmed cases outside Nairobi and the coastal strip can be traced to persons who have travelled from the affected regions, the Head of State added.
The new measures mean that bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, automobiles, vehicles, vessels, railway wagons or aircraft shall not be allowed in and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area and the counties of Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa for the next 21 days.
However, President Kenyatta said that the movement of food supplies and other cargo will continue as normal during the declared containment period through road, railway and air.
“Any cargo-carrying vehicle or vessel shall be charged to a single driver and designated assistants; all of whom shall be designated as such in writing by the owner or operator of the said vehicle or vessel with reference to that vehicle or vessel,” the President said.
Following the directive, Kenya Railways Corporation managing director Philip Mainga announced the immediate withdrawal of SGR passenger operations between Nairobi and Mombasa.
“The SGR freight service and the meter gauge railway will continue uninterrupted and according to the 24-hour schedule. The Nairobi Commuter Rail Service to Ruiru, Embakasi, Syokimau and Kikuyu stations will continue to operate normally,” Mr Mainga said.
Out of the 16 new cases, 10 are male and six are female with eight having tested positive from different quarantine facilities.
This brings the total number of those confirmed to be positive from quarantine facilities to 68.
During yesterday’s briefing, the President said that 4,277 people have been tested so far and six people have died from the virus.
“We as a nation pray for the quick recovery of those undergoing treatment as we condole with the families and friends of the six that we have regrettably lost to the pandemic,” he said.
The Head of State said that wearing masks and washing hands will save lives. “Having received advice from our medical professionals and experts, Kenyans should wear face masks whilst in public places,” he said.
Kenya now joins a host of African countries which have imposed stiff measures in dealing with the virus.
So far, more than half of Africa’s 54 countries have imposed lockdowns, curfews, travel bans or other measures in a bid to prevent local transmission of the virus. They range from South Africa, to Uganda, where the informal sector accounts for more than 50 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The imposition of lockdowns, curfews, travel bans and containment measures have met different reactions across Africa.
After Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced that food markets could remain open under orders to decongest crowded areas, some fruit vendors were assaulted by armed men and had goods confiscated.
In Rwanda, the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to impose a lockdown, police have denied that two civilians were killed for defying the new measures.
Zimbabwe, where police are widely criticised by human rights groups for deadly crackdowns, has begun a three-week lockdown.
On Monday, Nigeria announced 14-day lockdowns of the states of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun and has deployed a $38.5 million relief package to help mobilise public services to prevent the spread in areas with poor living conditions.
Ghana’s two most populous cities, Accra and Kumasi, also went into lockdown on Monday after they confirmed 195 cases.