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PANDEMIC

As Covid-19 rages on, responsibility must rest with citizens

The surge in Kenya and the rest of the continent is coming at a most unnerving moment.

In Summary

• Given the tepid pace and spatially limited penetration of testing and contact tracing, it is hard to assess the extent of the post-lockdown surge.

• What is clear is that soon the pandemic will no longer be concentrated around the urban hotspots of Mombasa, Nairobi and its metropolis.

When the world went into lockdown, coronavirus — first reported in China — had infected fewer than 200,000 people globally.

Today, over 250,000 people are infected daily.

Once concentrated in a few cities in a handful countries, the virus is now ubiquitous – having spread to every country and territory around the world. The virus is spreading disease, death and economic ruin in every corner of the world at once. Young and old, rich and poor, no one is spared.

Some of the wealthier countries except for the United States, are currently experiencing a dramatic lull in Covid-19 surge. However, the so-called developing world is now dealing with a surge in caseload. Brazil, India, South Africa, Mexico, Chie and Peru now account for 34 per cent and 31 per cent of the global Covid-19 morbidity and mortality, respectively.

Tough lockdown in countries such as South Africa and Kenya averted early, devastating surge seen in Italy and Spain. But as President Cyril Ramaphosa observed, the storm is upon Africa’s largest economy, South Africa, which now accounts for 53 per cent and 40 per cent of Africa’s Covid-19 morbidity and mortality, respectively.

The surge in cases unrelenting and a ban on alcohol and curfew had been reinstated.

Here in Kenya, while still relatively low, Covid-19 mortality and morbidity are on the upswing. While the virus has spread to all counties except Samburu, five counties – Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Kajiado and Machakos – account for over 85 per cent of the national Covid-19 burden. Nairobi, the national capital, accounts for a whooping 60 per cent of Covid-19 cases.

Given the tepid pace and spatially limited penetration of testing and contact tracing, it is hard to assess the extent of the post-lockdown surge. What is clear is that soon the pandemic will no longer be concentrated around the urban hotspots of Mombasa, Nairobi and its metropolis.

We must be prepared for a surge in the counties. Busia, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Migori and Nyeri currently account for just 8.6 percent of the Covid-19 burden. As you can imagine, with the lifting of travel restrictions and a community spread that is now gathering steam, we will see new hotspots emerge in simultaneously in multiple places, most of which lack critical care capacity or even the ability to trace and isolate those who are infected and mildly ill.

The surge in Kenya and the rest of the continent is coming at a most unnerving moment. Our economies have suffered the worst decline in decades. The devastation wrought on some vital sectors such as tourism, hospitality, retail, aviation may take several years to rebuild. Progress and critical gains on poverty, education and health will be eroded.

While the virus has taken root and governments are flailing, citizens are resisting changes to what they believe is normal life. Governments can no longer afford lockdown. We have a limited arsenal to contain the virus, beyond social distancing and mandating mask wearing.

Without cure or vaccine, citizens, you and I, must take full responsibility for ourselves and others.

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