Kenyans renew vigilance against COVID-19 after government tightens rules

NAIROBI, KENYA - OCTOBER 12: Students wearing masks sit on their desks, keeping social distance within the coronavirus (COVID-19) measures at their classroom during a lesson as grades 4, 8 and 12 started to receive in-person education in Nairobi, Kenya on October 12, 2020. (Photo by Billy Mutai/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
NAIROBI, KENYA – OCTOBER 12: Students wearing masks sit on their desks, keeping social distance within the coronavirus (COVID-19) measures at their classroom during a lesson as grades 4, 8 and 12 started to receive in-person education in Nairobi, Kenya on October 12, 2020. (Photo by Billy Mutai/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Shopkeepers, supermarkets, motorbike taxi riders, public transport vehicle operators, fashion stores and vegetable sellers are among businesses that on Thursday rushed to enforce anti-COVID-19 measures after the government called for strict adherence to health rules.

Similarly, individual citizens picked up the cue, with a majority in the capital and its environs wearing face masks and sanitizing.

It was a change of practice across the east African nation after weeks of flouting COVID-19 protocols leading to a faster surge in cases, which have currently turned out higher than in the previous months.

On Thursday, 1,008 people tested positive for the virus, from a sample size of 6,038, raising the total caseload to 59,595, according to the Ministry of Health.

This was a sustained rise from Wednesday, where the number of positive cases stood at 1,494.

The ministry said as of Wednesday, some 1,262 patients were admitted in various health facilities countrywide, the highest number ever, while 5,189 were on home-based isolation and care.

“Out of the patients in hospitals, 62 were in the Intensive Care Unit, 26 of them on ventilatory support and 31 on supplemental oxygen,” said the ministry, an indication of how the disease was ravaging the country.

To stem the surge, President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday outlined new measures that he said would be strictly enforced.

Among them was the extension of the dusk-to-dawn curfew by an hour, starting from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

The president also banned political rallies for 60 days as he announced that the police and other government agencies will deal severely with those who flout rules.

The renewed resolve to fight the disease by the government has sent the correct signal among citizens, with those who had dropped their guard changing course.

On Thursday, handwashing points that had disappeared at many business premises made a comeback.

A majority of businesspersons also ensured that those who entered their premises sanitized their hands and wore face masks.

“We don’t want to spread the disease. We should protect ourselves, please wear a mask,” a conductor in Kitengela, south of Nairobi, informed a man who was trying to get into the bus without a mask.

The public transport commuter buses, commonly known as matatus, have been flagged as hotspots for COVID-19 spread.

Most of the vehicle operators had reverted to old habits of carrying excess passengers, not enforcing mask-wearing, handwashing or sanitization.

Kenyatta asked the businesspersons not to serve those who do not wear masks.

“No masks, no service,” he said as he rallied the country to ensure every citizen wore the protective gear that many Kenyans had ignored.

His announcement of the strict enforcement of the rules by a unit comprising the police and county officials to track down those flouting COVID-19 rules has also pushed citizens to renew their vigilance.

The inspector-general of police Hillary Mutyambai on Thursday said enforcement officers will take stern action against COVID-19 rules breakers, with anyone caught flouting the laws paying up to 20,000 shillings (185 U.S. dollars) fine.

“I better place the handwashing point at my shop, even if no one would use it than pay the fine,” said Beatrice Atieno, a shopkeeper, who added she had removed it because no one was using it.