Lockdown or not? Why Kenya might put a price on life

Some experts say Kenya could lose more while trying to save people from Covid-19

In Summary

• Advise the President to impose other restrictions, such as stopping political meetings and full reopening of churches and encourage Kenyans to work from home.

• Dr Githinji Gitahi, the Amref Africa CEO, says another major lockdown is an 'unacceptable' trade-off for controlling the disease.

The 300-bed Technical University of Mombasa Covid-19 isolation centre.
AWAITING PATIENTS: The 300-bed Technical University of Mombasa Covid-19 isolation centre.

More health experts are against another harsh lockdown, saying it is not worth the pain.

They maintain that simple precautions such as handwashing, wearing face masks and social distancing are still the most effective way to control the second wave of Covid-19.

Several experts told the Star that while a major lockdown may limit exposure, it is bad for health and the economy, and could be an excessive price to pay to save a few lives.


The crude fatality rate for Covid-19 is about 1.7 per cent in Kenya.

“Instead of closing the economy and causing more problems, we should just enforce the Covid-19 protocols,” global public health expert Dr Bernard Muia said.

The former Nairobi county Health CEC said Kenya should borrow from Southeast Asian countries of Japan, South Korea and Singapore, which have reopened their economies without a mass surge in new infections.

“Kenyans are back to bad behaviours. Ninety-five per cent of urban and rural areas have compromised the Covid-19 protocols,” Muia said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta will on Wednesday convene the sixth Extraordinary Session of the National and County Governments Co-ordinating Summit to review the resurgence of Covid-19 infections.

On Sunday, Uhuru said he was considering imposing lockdowns to slow down the infections. Cases reached 55,877 on Sunday.

Out of the number, 37,194 have recovered while 1,013 have died.


“We are going through that very difficult time of saying, now, what do we do again? Do we close up? We shall be coming to that, not today, but soon,” Uhuru said.

Dr Muia said Kenya could consider restrictions such as stopping political meetings and full reopening of churches and other institutions, and requiring Kenyans to work from home if they can.

Dr Githinji Gitahi, the Amref Africa CEO, said another major lockdown is an “unacceptable” trade-off for controlling the disease.

He said during the first lockdown there was a marked increase in underage pregnancies, unsafe abortions, suicides, evictions of tenants, alcohol abuse, mental health problems and domestic violence.

Gitahi sits on the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Committee, which is advising the President on what to do.

He said Kenya must, however, make drastic restrictions such as increasing curfew hours, banning political gatherings, stopping full religious gatherings, working from home, and enforcing the Covid-19 protocols.

“How that happens while we maintain full economic activity is the challenge we must face and use science to determine the best,” he said on Sunday in an interview with NTV.

University of Nairobi public health specialist Dr Richard Ayah said despite the high numbers reported in October, the crude case fatality rate in Kenya is relatively low at 1.77 per cent because the number of tests being done is higher than in September.

“Is there a second wave? Not really. The relatively low number of cases in September was due primarily to low testing capacity. Kenya did not really meet the threshold to be able to confidently declare that Covid-19 had been suppressed,” he said.

Some experts also advise the government to use the concept of “Quality Adjusted Life Years”, which allows the idea of putting a price on life, or how much the country should spend trying to save one.

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, produced by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in September, more than 1.7 million mostly young Kenyans lost their jobs during the first lockdown.

KNBS said 4.64 million people were jobless at the end of June, up from 2.94 million at the end of March — the month Kenya reported its first case of Covid-19.

The majority were young people under 35 years, who were at the least risk of dying from Covid-19 but were forced to make the greatest sacrifice.

However, experts say Kenyans must also weigh the potentially disastrous cost of not having a lockdown.