The confirmation of the first case of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Kenya by Health Cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe Friday effectively stopped the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) rallies’ reggae, which had raised political temperatures.
Addressing the country, Mr Kagwe banned all forms of public gatherings as part of the measures to contain the virus now spreading across the globe.
“All public gatherings, rallies, crusades and meetings of national nature have all been banned. This includes BBI rallies. Interschool activities like drama, music festivals and sports have been also been banned,” he said.
But churches will continue to operate as usual as long they provide hand sanitisers to their congregants, the minister added.
Reacting to the development, ODM leader Raila Odinga, who with President Uhuru Kenyatta created the BBI task force, welcomed the move and praised the government’s efforts to protect the population from the pandemic.
“The confirmation and the systematic disclosure of information indicate the existence of a clear plan by the government to provide citizens and visitors with timely and accurate information on the evolving situation.”
“We are pleased with the government’s approach to handling the threat and protecting the health of Kenyans. We further appreciate that the government is leveraging all of our resources to respond to the threat,” he added.
The ODM leader supported the cancellation of rallies, a position also taken by the chairman of the BBI task force Yusuf Haji.
“A raft of measures have been announced by the government, including the suspension of interschool events, prison visits, church crusades and all other public gatherings. These measures will definitely cause disruptions across our country. But we must adhere to them as the best scientific advices that we can rely on to overcome the danger,” he said.
Mr Odinga asked the public to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Let us keep reminding ourselves to do the basic things that will make all the difference. In particular, let’s observe basic hygiene. Let’s remember to wash our hands and avoid shaking hands,” Mr Odinga said.
Mr Haji, who is also the Garissa senator, said: “We must exercise caution. In the light of the confirmed case, it cannot be business as usual. The rallies will expose more to danger.”
Meanwhile, Deputy President William Ruto asked Kenyans to be vigilant and follow instructions given by the government following the confirmation of the virus in the country.
Speaking in Mosop, Nandi, the DP said the new coronavirus had turned into a global crisis and that the government will act to keep Kenyans safe.
“This is a global crisis. It is a big challenge for all of us. Everyone should follow the instructions given by the government so that we can prevent the spread of this disease,” he said.
He observed that the government will provide guidance on how to keep safe from Covid-19.
“I’m requesting all of us to follow the instructions so that we can control it before it turns into a national disaster,” said the DP, who was in the county to launch development projects.
He asked citizens to observe the directions given by the Ministry of Health.
“The President had a meeting yesterday and the Ministry of Health will be giving directions on what we need to do so that we avoid any [incidents] where this global tragedy does not become a big problem in our nation,” the DP added.
Before the announcement of the first coronavirus case, the Nakuru BBI rally, which was to be held next Saturday, was already promising fireworks, forcing President Kenyatta to host all governors from the Rift Valley to express his concerns and chart a way forward.
Allies of Mr Ruto had threatened that they would not allow outsiders to lecture them at the event. The others had indicated that they would take charge of the programme, developments that saw Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya fire a warning shot to politicians.
“Any leader who will attend the rally to incite residents or spread hatred will be arrested forthwith. I, therefore, urge politicians to come and present their views peacefully, without threatening the peace and stability in the region,” Mr Natembeya had earlier told the Nation before the Health ministry announced the first case of Covid-19.
The same tensions had prompted the government to call off a rally initially planned for Eldoret, the DP’s backyard.
By yesterday evening, the virus had infected 139,068 people and killed 5,116, according to the data from the World Health Organisation.