Are we going to see a spike in Kenya of the coronavirus?

Monday March 30 2020
WARPIC

Tourists stay away from Jomo Kenyatta public beach, and other social places, after the government suspended public gatherings to curtail the spread of coronavirus, on March 21, 2020. PHOTO | LABAN ODHIAMBO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By GITAU WARIGI

Covid-19 is a disease truly driven by globalisation.

That is why it has spread everywhere so fast. An increasing number of African countries — South Africa, Rwanda, Tunisia, Uganda — have moved to full lockdown.

Others are in various stages of partial lockdowns, or curfews, as in Kenya. Towards the end of last week, a third of the global population was in lockdown.

India drove the numbers when it ordered its 1.3 billion population to go on full lockdown. For Africa, the best lessons to learn about how to suppress this pandemic come from South-East Asia.

That is where the most effective measures have been implemented, including timely lockdowns, curfews and travel bans.

Sure, there’s a difficult trade-off we must make between ruthlessly combating coronavirus and the functioning — however minimally — of our economies.

Two of Kenya’s top foreign exchange earners are tourism and horticulture. They are both on their knees, with thousands of jobs suspended. Yet the choice is stark.

GREAT EQUALISER

Our economies will go to waste unless this virus is eliminated. We had better endure the temporary pain of economic stagnation for the sake of our lives.

The deadly blows to tourism have sent hotel bookings hitting rock bottom, especially at the Coast.

Cancelled flights and the closure of the flower auctions in the Netherlands have hit flower exports equally badly.

Also, many small and medium-sized businesses in Kenya rely on imports from China, whose factories will take some time to rev up to full capacity.

In any case liquidity is short, with trading now much reduced in our towns. Coronavirus is clearly an equal opportunity scourge.

It doesn’t discriminate. Not even royalty is immune. On Wednesday, it was reported the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, had tested positive for the virus.

So had Prince Albert of Monaco. Alas, even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson got infected. The Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, Carmen Calvo, too.

FRUSTRATED WORKERS

Australian Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton has been in self-quarantine. Iran’s top ranks have been particularly hard hit.

A vice-president, two Cabinet ministers, and nearly two dozen MPs got infected this month.

People engaged in information and related professions will not be too severely affected by a lockdown.

With a laptop and internet link, they can work uninterrupted from their homes. The only hindrance is the Kenya Power Company and its annoying and frequent outages.

Those with fixed jobs will weather the coronavirus storm as long as their employers tide them over.

Unfortunately, the likes of “mama mboga” won’t be so lucky. She lives on her daily sales. She has to get her everyday provisions from grocery markets which have become unreliable.

It also means using public transport which, besides having a very high likelihood of sharing infections, is undergoing its own restrictions and hiked fares.

Too bad the only cushion for “mama mboga” is her small merry-go-round “chama”, which cannot sustain her and her family for long.

SOCIAL PLACES

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is appealing for two billion dollars to help poor countries fight coronavirus.

That amount, if it ever materialises, can only mitigate. Poor funding, lack of equipment and insufficient healthcare workers afflict the entire continent.

A catastrophic spread of infections would be very difficult to control in Africa, and would cause unprecedented economic damage.

As of March 25, only Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Lesotho, Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone and South Sudan had yet to report a coronavirus case.

Still, the situation continues to be very fluid. Not all religious organisations have heeded the call to curtail services.

Crowds provide a most convenient medium for coronavirus to spread. The churches should put the safety of their followers ahead of the need for “sadaka”.

Who says the Lord won’t hear prayers that are done in the privacy of homes?

POVERTY

Bars and clubs are also not enforcing social-distancing rules. Without self-discipline, we won’t conquer coronavirus.

This virus could turn our lives completely upside down — permanently. Think of Italy and Spain, where fatalities have been so high that everything there is at a standstill.

Will these societies be the same ever again? I was reading in the paper a savage story of a poor Indian worker on lockdown who was enjoying a meal inside his shack.

Then some fellow swooped in from nowhere, grabbed the plate and disappeared. Such could become routine in our own slums.

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Last week I wrote that malaria is cured by antibiotics. Not quite. Malaria is caused by a parasite, not bacteria.

It’s treated by antimalarials. Thanks to the medics who emailed me with the correction.

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