Facing a bleak two weeks in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that is slowly shutting down the world, the government Friday announced a raft of measures that will significantly change the way Kenyans live.
The measures include spaced-out seating in passenger service vehicles and trains, crowd control in supermarkets and retail shops and early closure of bars and entertainment joints.
These come just a few days after the government directed the closure of all learning institutions and the scaling down of government services. For a week now, non-core government officers have been working from home.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said at a press briefing in Nairobi Friday that, in order to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus in the public transport system, operators should reduce the number of passengers, depending on the capacity of the vehicle.
Fourteen-seater matatus will now carry eight passengers only at a time while 25-seaters will carry 15, signalling a possible rise in commuter fares to cushion the operators from higher running costs.
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Buses whose seating capacity is 30 and above will maintain a maximum of 60 per cent seating capacity, and this rule applies to commuter train services too.
This, Mr Kagwe said, will help passengers adhere to the 1.5-metre social distancing requirement. “We encourage as much as possible that persons stay at home unless they are on essential business. We have asked matatu operators to observe a high level of hygiene,” he said.
He said the measures may be cause inconveniences, but assured that they are necessary in the grand plan to protect millions of Kenyans from the Covid-19 pandemic. He, therefore, called for “self-discipline and active goodwill in this endeavour”.
As of Friday, more than 250,000 Covid-19 cases had been reported around the world, with over 10,000 deaths and 89,000 recoveries. Kenya has confirmed seven cases, and so far the virus has been reported in 183 countries.
Mr Kagwe also ordered all entertainment joints, bars and other social spaces to close their doors to the public by 7:30pm every day until further notice, effective Monday next week.
“During operational hours, the management should define the maximum number of persons within their premises at any given time to conform to the social distance requirement. Where possible, they should introduce delivery measures to support the initiative,” he said.
He also cautioned all supermarkets to limit the number of shoppers inside their premises at any given time, and to determine the number of shoppers based on the size of their outlets.
They should also ensure that a queue management system is in place to manage crowds outside the premises, with preference given to the elderly, the disabled and expectant women.
In a bid to control panic buying, the CS encouraged supermarkets to remain open 24 hours a day, promising to have the relevant authorities provide security services.
There have been no new cases reported in the country for two days in a row, and Kenyans were rather perplexed that Mr Kagwe was announcing what was essentially a mini-lockdown. However, the CS was categorical that the low infections could be the lull before the storm as tens of unsuspecting Kenyans could be incubating the virus before and explosion of confirmed cases.
Following successful contact tracing, the ministry is now monitoring an additional seven people and has released 44 others who were isolated for the last 14 days.
Four more suspected cases are admitted to the Mbagathi isolation unit, and while one of these has already tested negative, the remaining three are awaiting laboratory results.
The next two weeks are critical for the country as experience elsewhere has shown that this is the time the numbers shoot up.
“If you look at the figures from the worst-hit countries, we are likely to report more numbers, and we are preparing for it. We should be ready for any eventuality and prepare for the worst,” he said.
“Our actions continue to be guided by the trends that we have seen in other countries. Evidence indicates that the number of infected persons increases dramatically in the second week following the confirmation of the first case.”
He called upon everyone to play a part in the nation’s attempts to reduce the numbers.
“If there is a moment in our country’s history when we need to embrace the Harambee Spirit, it is today and now.
“Our actions this coming week will determine whether we shall go into a full-blown crisis with grave human and economic consequences, or whether we shall limit the adverse impacts of this disease, save lives and reduce the impact on our economy,” Mr Kagwe said.
Restaurants and other eateries will remain open provided they adhere to the rules, while open-air markets must be disinfected regularly.
Employers, meanwhile, have been asked to allow their employees to proceed on leave, and cautioned that they will held responsible should their staff contract the disease.
Factories will operate on a 24-hour shift rotation regime while ensuring safety and hygiene, while hospitals were directed to limit ward visitors to family members.