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Coronavirus: Why Kenya’s forced quarantine is a sham

Tuesday March 24 2020

Coronavirus isolation wards

An isolation room at Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NATION REPORTER
By NATION REPORTER
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A plan to quarantine all passengers arriving at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on international flights turned into a sham and a nightmare for the travellers after it emerged that the government was ill-prepared for the exercise.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe had announced the measure on Sunday, among others taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, when he revealed that all 15 confirmed cases had been imported into the country through the main airport.

He ordered the suspension of all international flights from midnight Wednesday and directed that any passengers arriving in the intervening period would be quarantined at designated premises.

However, the harrowing tales of some of the passengers reveal a hasty decision, made without the necessary preparations or due consideration for the passengers’ welfare.

FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS

A passenger who arrived on a morning flight told the Nation that she and her fellow passengers had just completed all clearance with port health and immigration departments and was wheeling her luggage out when an official ran towards her and asked her to wait.

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Two police officers then asked the group to board a National Youth Service bus and wait for further instructions.

“That was at 8.15am and we sat in that bus, under guard, and with the doors locked until noon. It had no sanitiser and we were seated close to one another, unlike on the plane where we were spaced out,” the passenger said. The passengers’ asked where they were being taken and were told that they were going for a briefing.

At noon, they were driven to Boma Hotel in Nairobi’s South C area and ordered to disembark in two minutes and make the difficult choice: Boma or Mbagathi (the isolation unit of Kenyatta National Hospital where persons suspected of having contracted Covid-19 are being held).

The cost per room was given as Sh12,500 and they were expected to make a deposit of Sh62,500 to cover at least five nights. Some 22 of them signed up and the rest, who could not raise the deposit, were bundled back into the bus and driven to Mbagathi.

“At about 2.00pm, the bus returned with them and we were informed that they had refused to get off the bus at Mbagathi,” the passenger said. The second group was later taken to the Kenya School of Government.

GATES LOCKED
Later, another lot of travellers was brought to the hotel. They had arrived on Sunday, hot on the heels of the CS’s directive and, after being detained for more than four hours, they were allowed to go home and report at the Kenya Medical Training Institute Monday.

“When they got there, they gates were locked and they were bussed here. Most of them are young people, mostly students,” our source said. She complained that the exorbitantly priced rooms were dusty and the hotel, which had reportedly been earlier closed, had only three members of staff attending to more than 200 people.

“What is more worrying is that there’s no quarantine here. People are interacting freely and it is even a concern that there are so many young people here without their parents,” she added.
She pleaded with CS Kagwe to visit the hotel and confirm her story for himself. “I don’t think he has the full picture. He needs to come here,” she said.

At Monday’s press briefing, Mr Kagwe apologised to parents of the young people and passengers under the mandatory quarantine for the inconvenience they suffered.

However, he said better systems were now in place, and that arriving passengers would now be asked to choose a hotel or a government facility.

He also appealed to hotels participating in the programme to reduce their charges by as much as 75 per cent.

QUARANTINE

The enforcement of the forced quarantine comes after the government announced that the self-quarantine, which relied on the goodwill of individuals did not guarantee compliance.

It is well established that the government may confine people against their will if those individuals present a danger to themselves or others, even if the person being confined has not committed a crime.

According to the Public Health Act, an individual who is forcefully quarantined does necessarily have a right to be released from that quarantine but has a right to demand some sort of adjudicative process to determine whether the quarantine is justified.

The Act states that a person can be placed on the place of isolation and detained there until, in the opinion of the medical officer of health, he is free from infection or able to be discharged without danger to the public health.

Should they fail to do so the charge could result in a maximum fine of Sh30, 000, imprisonment of not more than three years or both.
By 10pm Monday, passengers who landed at the JKIA at 2pm were still held there.