POWERFUL SEAT

Kagwe's sweeping powers to contain coronavirus

The Public Health Act grants CS control over people's movement, use of premises, and public transport facilities

In Summary

• Those who break quarantine rules after testing positive for coronavirus risk a Sh30,000 fine to three years in jail or both.

• CS also has powers to bar the entry of any persons suspected to be contagious at any of the country’s ports of entry.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe during conference on the update of coronavirus at the Ministry of Health headquarters, Afya House, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe during conference on the update of coronavirus at the Ministry of Health headquarters, Afya House, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Image: DOUGLAS OKIDDY

You can't leave your home if Health CS Mutahi Kagwe thinks it poses a risk of disease infection to other Kenyans. 

Kagwe can also ask you to destroy furniture or goods or any other item if it is a health risk. 

If you're quarantined, Kagwe has the final say whether you leave the facility or not. 

 
 

These are some of the sweeping powers the Public Health Act gives Kagwe to ensure the safety of Kenyans should the need arise.  

During a pandemic such as the coronavirus outbreak, the Public Health Act, also known as Cap242, gives the minister powers to enforce measures he believes will help contain the disease.

Among the powers given to the CS is the authority to issue rules for speedy burial of the dead and for house to house visitation.

 

The CS can also prevent any person from leaving an infected area without medical examination, disinfection, inoculation, vaccination or re-vaccination.

He also has the final say on the release of persons quarantined at any hospital or the various observation camps.

Hundreds of individuals who returned from abroad are currently quarantined in various facilities across Nairobi.

The law also gives Kagwe powers to order the destruction or disinfection of buildings, furniture, goods or other items which are likely to spread an infectious disease.

 
 

The CS can also order the removal of persons who are suffering from an infectious disease and persons who have been in contact with them.

Under the Act, the CS also has powers to regulate hospitals where Covid-19 patients are admitted to and the observation camps.

“The minister can make rules prohibiting any person living in any building or using any building for any other purposes whatsoever if viewed as liable to cause the spread of any infectious disease,” the law states.

 

The CS can also declare any place within the country or beyond its borders as infected with a formidable epidemic disease.

 
 

Such places cannot be used or accessed by unauthorised persons as long as the order remains in force.

Kagwe also has powers to bar the entry of any persons suspected to be contagious at any of the country’s ports of entry.

Those who break quarantine rules after testing positive for coronavirus risk a Sh30,000 fine to three years in jail or both.

Kenyan law defines an ‘infectious disease’ as any which can be communicated directly or indirectly by any person suffering from it.

Kilifi Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi is set to be charged following accusations he knowingly infected people with coronavirus.

The same could be applied to Catholic priest Boaz Oduor should the state proceed to charge him for violating self-quarantine rules.

But as they say ‘ignorance is no defence in law’, there are concerns a number of Kenyans are not privy to what the Health Act entails.

Rarely do people take measures to isolate themselves, especially when suffering from common colds –which fit the definition of infectious diseases.

It is an offence for one to willfully expose him or herself without proper precautions against spreading infectious diseases.

This applies to exposures in any street, public place, shop, hotels and inns or public transport facilities.

Kenyans are required to notify the owner, driver or conductor of a bus, train, or tuk tuk in case they are suffering from an infectious disease.

Those who give, lend, sell, transmit or expose any bedding, clothing, rags or other things exposed to infection before they are disinfected shall be punished.

The charge will also apply to people, who while suffering from an infectious disease, enter any public means of transport without previously notifying the owner or driver.

They further risk being ordered by the court to pay such owner and driver the amount of any loss and expenses in respect of disinfecting the vehicle.

“This is provided that no proceedings under this section shall be taken against persons transmitting with proper precautions,” the Act reads.

Drivers and owners of PSVs that do not observe the rules read out by Urban Development PS Charles Hinga could pay a Sh40,000 fine.

Matatus were last Friday asked to ensure commuters maintain personal hygiene and avoid contact.

Commuters were also asked to cough and sneeze hygienically while in matatus and to be vigilant of symptoms hence avoid public transport when ill.

The Act provides for penalties to drivers and matatu owners if they fail to provide sanitisers and other handwashing equipment to passengers for purposes of disinfection.

Drivers and matatu operators have no obligation, according to the law, to carry persons suspected to be infected or those who notify them. 

This is not until they are paid a sum good enough to cover for any loss or expense incurred in transporting them.

Property owners who will report coronavirus cases in their buildings will have to obtain a certificate of disinfection from a medical officer.

Those who let for hire any part of such infected houses stand to pay Sh80,000 for such offence.

“This section shall apply to any owner or keeper of a hotel or boarding house who lets any room or part thereof to any person,” the law states.

(edited by o. owino)