No easy way to reopen economy

This virus has many surprises, some of which are only now being revealed.

In Summary
  • Given these surprises, when it comes to the coronavirus, all victories are temporary.
  • And any rejoicing at the eventual reopening of our economy may well prove to be short-lived.

There seems to be a palpable impatience developing among ordinary Kenyans for an end to the current partial lockdowns and curfews, imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

But some of the initiatives proposed by the government are actually very well thought out, and I believe that we must respect these protocols.

Take for example the fact that those of us here in Nairobi cannot freely travel to our rural homes – except by extreme subterfuge as has been demonstrated by some investigative TV journalists.

Here is the question: Given that thousands of Nairobi residents, and in particular those in the low-income groups, have been stuck here with their families while at the same time they are no longer earning a regular income, what do you think they will do on the very day that the partial lockdown and curfew are lifted?

I would say it is pretty obvious that they will ship their families – along with such possessions as their landlords will allow them to leave with – straight back to their “home village”, there to wait upon events. This would be the only sensible thing to do as nobody really knows when this pandemic will be brought under control, to an extent that would allow employers to start calling back the workers they had laid off.

However, due to all this cross-country travel, the coronavirus – which first came to Kenya only through cities like Mombasa and Nairobi which have international airports – will now be freely transported by road to every village and hamlet across the nation.

Hence the need to buy time and get the regional county hospitals ready for what may well be a tragic upsurge in rural infection rates.

Also, for those who are inclined to be critical of our Health ministry’s admittedly incoherent response to this crisis, it should be pointed out that this virus has many surprises some of which are only now being revealed. And that given these surprises, when it comes to the coronavirus, all victories are temporary.

Even in countries that in normal times are famous for their efficiency, there has been much the same ‘ad hoc’ response as we see here in Kenya, and all attempts at long-term strategy have failed.

So, we find that in China, not very long ago, there were all those triumphant videos of doctors who had been summoned to Wuhan to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak there, returning home in glory, their task accomplished.

But just last week, there was a new outbreak in Anxin County, just 150km from the Chinese capital city of Beijing, and once again a strict lockdown has been imposed on a population of about 500,000 people in that county. This is nowhere near the roughly 11 million people who were in lockdown in Wuhan a few months ago. But it is no small thing either.

Then consider the surprise that the virus had in store for Germany, which had perhaps the most notable successes within Europe in its response to the pandemic and had started on a systematic opening up of the economy.

Right now, Germany has to contend with a new cluster of coronavirus infections, centred on a meat processing plant where 75 per cent of workers tested positive for coronavirus.

However, all these surprises pale in comparison to this report from Spain, published in an authoritative European news website,

“..The coronavirus was already in Spain a year before the pandemic “officially” broke out, according to a study by Barcelona University (UB) that has detected SARS-CoV-2 in samples of wastewater collected in the Catalan capital on 12 March 2019...”

All this time, the consensus has been that the coronavirus first emerged in China in late 2019, with some claiming that it specifically began its reign of terror in a “wet market” in Wuhan. Now we learn that it was already in circulation in places very far from China, many months before that.

It is no wonder then that coming up with effective policies to contain this virus is proving to be so difficult.

And any rejoicing at the eventual reopening of our economy may well prove to be short-lived.