You will be arrested from today should you be found in public without a face mask.
That is the message to Kenyans who have been taking lightly the requirement of wearing masks as one of the precautions against the spread of coronavirus.
Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai Tuesday said the grace period for adjusting to the regulations given by President Kenyatta has expired and that anyone violating them will be taken to court.
During the weekend, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe gazetted a list of hefty penalties against violators.
“Users of public or private transport and public transport operators shall wear proper masks that must cover the mouth and nose. They should also maintain a physical distance of not less than a metre,” Mr Kagwe said in the Kenya Gazette Supplement No 41.
Given enough time
“A person who commits an offence under these rules shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding Sh20,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both.”
Yesterday, the Kenya Police Service said the public has been given enough time to acquire masks and that it will begin enforcing the rules.
“Police officers have been asking Kenyans to wear face masks. We’re going to take another step to make sure the law if followed,” the IG said after receiving a donation of 200,000 masks for the service from the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and Ahadi Kenya.
“But before police enforce the regulations, I appeal to Kenyans to take the initiative to wear the masks. It is no longer an advisory …as the rules have been gazetted.”
The use of masks has been credited for helping to slow down the spread of the virus in Japan, South Korea, China and parts of Europe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the droplets emitted by people when coughing, talking or sneezing may contain the virus, which can remain in the air for several hours.
People who walk into these micro droplets risk infection.
Masks, studies show, also greatly reduce the chances of catching the disease by people who come into close contact with the infected.
The government says it is mandatory for one to have a mask as soon as he or she steps out of the house.
Huge human traffic
Employees of businesses with huge human traffic like barber shops, salons, public service vehicles and supermarkets must have masks at all times, the regulations say.
The public has raised questions about the availability of masks and their affordability.
The cheapest single-use mask costs Sh70 while the most expensive and effective N95 version that medical personnel prefer, ranges between Sh200 and Sh1,500.
There are growing concerns about the unregulated manner in which masks are being sold, especially by traders and hawkers, who have taken advantage of the growing demand.
There have been cases where a customer is allowed to try a mask but ends up not buying it, thus increasing the spread of the virus.
Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina on Friday said Kenyan garment companies have enough material to produce six million face masks.
Kitui County Textile Centre is mass-producing masks, while Eldoret-based Rivatex East Africa Ltd has also begun doing so.
Kenyans have been calling on the national and county governments to give them masks for free before the new regulations are implemented.