BATTLING COVID-19

Coronavirus is yet to reveal its worst

Lockdowns are blunt instruments, which inflict widespread economic pain. But they are effective at slowing down the spread of Covid-19.

In Summary

• Kenya’s Covid-19 cases have increased by about 206 per cent in just one month.

• President Uhuru Kenyatta eased lockdown measures when Covid-19 cases were on the rise and testing rates measured per million people remain very low 

President Uhuru Kenyatta during Covid-19 press briefing at Harambee House on March 15,2020
President Uhuru Kenyatta during Covid-19 press briefing at Harambee House on March 15,2020
Image: MERCY MUMO

The world feels wearied and yet the Covid-19 pandemic is just warming up.

Across the world, the coronavirus is flaring up. It took nearly 100 days for global Covid-19 positive cases to reach a million. The last million new cases came in the last week.

While we are done with lockdown and eager to get the economy and our lives going again, the coronavirus is yet to do its worst. The World Health Organization confirmed a record increase in global coronavirus cases rising by 230,000 in 24 hours on July 12th 2020.

In the US, Covid-19 cases have surged in the sunbelt states of Arizona, California, Texas and Florid. New hotspots have emerged in Britain, Germany and Australia. South Africa, which instituted some of the toughest lockdown measures is now among the top 10 countries, which account for about 67 per cent of Covid-19 infections globally.

Kenya’s Covid-19 cases have increased by about 206 per cent in just one month. President Uhuru Kenyatta eased lockdown measures when Covid-19 cases were on the rise and testing rates measured per million people remain very low compared to countries such as Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa.

Contact tracing and isolation are far from effective. Moreover, at about 29 per cent, recovery rates in Kenya are the lowest compared to 48 and 51 per cent in South Africa and Rwanda respectively.

The decision to ease down lockdown was not easy to make. It was always going to be fraught with peril. And President Kenyatta was very clear: The economy is reeling from lockdown and the health system is being pushed to breaking point. Kenyans are eager to get on with their lives and therein lies the peril. A rapid surge in Covid-19 infections is imminent. It is very likely that we will see new Covid-19 clusters emerge in rural Kenya as people travel from the urban epicentres, especially Nairobi and Mombasa.

Without a cure or a vaccine, containment depends on following prevention guidelines and accepting that we all must change our behaviour. Granted, it has been four months since the first case was identified in Kenya. Many people are becoming cynical and disillusioned. The exigencies of getting on with life — socialising and earning an income — seems to trump the imperative to take every measure to avoid contracting Covid-19. Young people trapped by months of lockdown have somehow developed an “I don’t care” attitude and will do anything to revel.

How fast Covid-19 infections rise depends on how we all behave. The coronavirus is transmitted from person to person, especially in crowded places. Wearing mask is about protecting others. The youth, fit and without symptoms have a duty to protect the old and those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Lockdowns are blunt instruments, which inflict widespread economic pain. But they are effective at slowing down the spread of Covid-19.

As positive cases surge, President Kenyatta should re-introduce lockdown measures – close bars, restrict travel and longer curfew hours.

Alex O. Awiti is Vice Provost at Aga Khan University. The Views expressed are the writer’s.