Kenya’s quest to reopen economy hobbled by rising COVID-19 cases

Source Xinhua

The decision by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to extend anti-COVID-19 containment measures like curfews and partial lockdowns in the hotspots, highlighted the dilemma facing the country as it moves towards reopening the economy amid risks to public safety due to rising number of infections.

Kenyatta said during a televised address to the Nation on Saturday that extending curfews, lockdowns and ban on public gatherings for an additional 30 days, was informed by the need to protect the public from the viral respiratory disease despite pressure to resume full economic activities.

“As we contemplate easing restrictions that are in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, there is overwhelming scientific evidence indicating that doing so without proper mitigation measures in place would lead to a second wave of infections,” said Kenyatta.

He confirmed an additional 126 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 2,600 while reaffirming that Kenya was yet to flatten the curve despite the roll-out of stringent measures to contain the disease.

President Kenyatta spoke to the nation amid mounting pressure to lift partial lockdowns on five counties designated as COVID-19 hotspots alongside dawn to dusk curfews that were deemed injurious to free enterprise.

He nevertheless struck a middle ground by lifting lockdowns to coastal counties of Kilifi and Kwale that had managed to control new infections and adjusted curfew hours to give room for uninterrupted business activities.

Kenyatta said that reopening of schools was expected in early September and will be guided by public health guidelines like social distancing, wearing of masks and installation of handwashing booths to prevent COVID-19 infections among learners.

The Kenyan leader admitted there had been an overwhelming pressure to reopen an economy that had taken a beating thanks to nearly three months of shutdowns linked to COVID-19.

He clarified that Kenya was yet out of the woods as COVID-19 infections continued to surge while threatening to overwhelm an already fragile healthcare system.

“We are yet to attain the threshold required to pave way for reopening the economy fully. We are witnessing an increase in the number of infections while our healthcare infrastructure is not adequately prepared to handle that outcome,” said Kenyatta.

He stressed that total easing of anti-COVID-19 measures to facilitate the resumption of economic activities, would be informed by a robust surveillance, treatment and contact tracing regime.

“We must be ahead of this pandemic and our capacity for surveillance and contact tracing must be placed before reopening the country’s economy,” said Kenyatta.

He said that devolved units had been directed to develop protocols that would guide reopening the economy with a major focus on expanding bed capacity in local health centers.

Kenyatta said the ministry of transport was also working on protocols to guide resumption of domestic air travel that had been suspended in early April to curb the spread of coronavirus.

He said the government was pumping 300 million shillings (3 Million U.S. Dollars) weekly to cater for the most vulnerable members of the society whose livelihoods had been disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts said that recent projections indicated that Kenya was not yet ready to lift all the anti-COVID-19 containment measures despite mounting consensus that they were hurting economic growth.

Omu Anzala, a virologist and member of a national COVID-19 taskforce said that lifting curfews, lockdowns and a ban on public gatherings, would lead to a spike in infections and undermine economic growth.

“Our desire is to flatten the curve, limit infections, deaths and disruptions to the economy as well as livelihoods,” said Anzala.

He said that timely roll-out of anti-COVID-19 containment measures averted catastrophic outcomes like mass infections and fatalities despite ensuing economic downturn.