Six counties are emerging as Covid-19 hotspots as the Health ministry raises the alarm over massive spread of the virus outside Nairobi.
“The virus is now domiciled across the length and breadth of our republic — from down south in Kilifi to Mandera in the north. And from the west in Vihiga to Kitui in the east,” Health Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi warned on Tuesday.
By Tuesday, a number of residents in 21 counties had tested positive for the virus that has infected more than 1.9 million people and claimed over 121,700 lives globally.
The patients are spread in the counties of Nairobi (101), Mombasa (34), Kilifi (10), Kiambu (7), Mandera (6), Machakos (6) and Nakuru (5).
Kitui, Kajiado, Laikipia, Kakamega, Murang’a, Nyandarua, Siaya and Uasin Gishu have two cases each while Kisii, Homa Bay, Nyamira, Nyeri and Kwale have one case each.
But it is the number of infections in Mandera, Kiambu, Machakos, Kilifi and Mombasa that is worrying the national committee combating the disease.
Of particular concern is Mandera, which was not among the 14 counties identified as coronavirus high-risk areas.
While it trails Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu and Kilifi, a look at the situation on the ground reveals a sorry state of affairs that is likely to fuel infections.
A portent mix of lawlessness, ignorance, defiance, cultural and religious beliefs and practices are likely to propel the county that borders Somalia to the east and Ethiopia to the north onto the list of the most affected regions.
Yesterday, the county government revealed that 32 people — who had travelled from Nairobi last week — disappeared from a quarantine facility in Elwak under unclear circumstances.
A bus driver who ferried them in a Makkah bus was not charged as expected and no one seems bothered.
“I write to register our displeasure with the manner in which 32 people out of 66 passengers disappeared from quarantine facilities under the watch of police officers,” a letter by Public Service executive Ahmed Sheikh to Mandera South Deputy County Commissioner Abdihakim Dubat reads.
“It appears a few elements within the security system are yet to understand the seriousness of this campaign against the coronavirus.”
But Mandera County Commissioner Onesmus Kyatha denied the allegations, blaming “a shortage of quarantine facilities in the county”.
And as authorities discourage social gatherings, the situation in the county has remained the same.
Here, it is common to find people under shaded verandas chewing miraa and sipping tea or coffee.
“We are used to gatherings and you will find small groups of men under a tree or at a market place taking tea and none is bothered with the coronavirus threat,” said resident Ali Hassan.
Additionally, prayers are still conducted in groups despite the closure of mosques.
Some locals have been crossing the borders into Somalia and Ethiopia for the Friday prayers.
Sharing meals is another way the disease could easily be transmitted.
Yesterday, Governor Ali Roba said the county is on “high alert” following the confirmation of six cases.
“Mandera is 1,200 kilometres away from the nearest testing facility and it takes four days turn around to have results from samples. We have 80 people in quarantine and we need them to be tested as soon as possible,” he said.
Mr Roba said the use of schools as quarantine centres is a big challenge.
“This is not feasible due to the high risk of spreading infection through shared toilets and lack of cubicles,” Governor Roba said.
Since Mombasa recorded its first case — a 20-year-old male who travelled from London — the number of cases continues to rise, with Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) staff losing two employees so far.
A cleaner working at KPA has been put in isolation after he tested positive.
Officials say the delay in implementing the curfew, a crucial tool in the fight against the coronavirus, could have put the coastal county at a disadvantage.
The county experienced a delay in behaviour change, especially crowding on ferries and putting a stop to public gatherings.
Kilifi, which was identified as a high-risk county in the initial stages because it is a seaport county, has 10 reported cases, with the first that of a 63-year-old male.
Some of the individuals who contacted the virus spread it to others in the county.
The increasing Covid-19 cases in Kiambu and Machakos counties have been linked to their proximity to the capital and delays in implementing measures such as social distancing.
The Health ministry yesterday said it is focusing its energy on fighting the virus in the emerging hotspots.
“We must work even more closely with our county governments to tighten our control measures, harmonise our responses and mobilise our people to take an active role in this fight,” Dr Mwangangi said.
She announced that the government will deploy 1,000 testing kits to Mandera and Siaya counties based on the risk of transmission identified by monitoring teams.
“In Mombasa, we are also deploying 1,000 testing kits to the Kenya Ports Authority based on the risk of transmission identified by our monitoring teams,” she said.
Reporting by Nyambega Gisesa, Manase Otsialo and Nasibo Kabale