How coronavirus has changed Kenyan lives

Kenyans are coming to terms with avoiding handshakes, cash transactions, crowded places and going to work or school

In Summary

• Quarantine and self-isolation have been encouraged to avoid spread of the virus

Health officials take passengers’ temperature on arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, on August 14, 2014 /FILE
Health officials take passengers’ temperature on arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, on August 14, 2014 /FILE

As the coronavirus spreads its tentacles to Kenya, avoiding handshakes, practising personal hygiene and limiting public gatherings have become the new normal. 

A century ago, about a third of the world's population became infected with a virus and died.

The pandemic was caused by the H1N1 virus, which resulted in the spread of the influenza virus from 1918-19, killing 500 million people.


According to the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the highest mortality rates were among children below the age of five, people between 20-40 years and 65 years and older.

A unique feature of the influenza virus was the high mortality rates in healthy people, including those between 20 and 40 years.

Unlike the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, the origins of the influenza virus remain in question. 

On Monday, the life of Kenyans began taking a drastic change when the head of state announced the country had two more cases of the coronavirus.

As of yesterday, the number of confirmed cases, according to the Health ministry, had shot up to seven. 

The new patients had contracted the virus after coming into contact with Patient Zero, a 27-year-old who had travelled into the country from the United States via London.

"This pandemic will test us, as it is testing all countries in every corner of the world, but I do not believe it will defeat us if we pull together, and everybody does their part, we shall overcome its worst impacts," he said. 



Since Monday, primary and secondary day schools have been closed, with universities and tertiary institutions ordered shut by today.

The President added where possible, government offices, business and companies should allow employees to work from home, with the exception of those providing crucial or essential services.

The country also lost some contact with the global village as travel for all persons coming into Kenya from any country with reported cases was suspended. 

Kenyans were also encouraged to avoid cash transactions and avoid crowded places, including shopping malls, churches and markets. 

Two days after Uhuru's directive, Mama Wanjiru was on her way to the market because she needed food supplies. 

"There are things you cannot buy in bulk and you constantly need to buy them from the market because it is cheaper," she said. 

She needed onions, tomatoes and an assortment of other vegetables and fruits.

In addition, her husband had that morning told her to ensure she purchased sanitiser. 

"I had bought a lot of handwashes but I think sanitiser is also important, especially if you are in a hurry or there is no water in the house," she said. 

At the market, she did cash transactions with her normal suppliers before proceeding to the supermarket to buy sanitiser.

"There is no sanitiser anywhere. I have been to almost every supermarket I know and they are just empty shelves," she said. 

Joe, a maize seller at a busy bus stop, says he cannot close his business. The bus stop is still active, so he still has clients to serve, he says. 

"There is no money that we have to allow us to stop working because of what is happening," he said.

Joe does not yet provide sanitation options, but he hopes his clients are keeping safe. 

He admits business has been slow because more people seem to be in self-quarantine.

"We will survive because we do not have an option," he said.

A man makes use of hand-sanitizing point in Westlands, Nairobi on March 18, 2020 Image: ANDREW KASUKU
A man makes use of hand-sanitizing point in Westlands, Nairobi on March 18, 2020 Image: ANDREW KASUKU


Sherry has been self-isolating since Monday after she developed flu and the President confirmed more cases.

The girl, 23, who lives alone in Kahawa, said she couldn't risk contracting or spreading the virus.

"I have a lot of allergies so I am often coughing or sneezing, and right now one sneeze and everyone tenses," she said.

"Before they announced the virus was in Kenya, I developed a cold that hasn't really gone away, so I am trying to keep safe."

Agreeing to an interview via phone, she said self-quarantine is also saving her some money. 

"I just started my first job and I am not earning enough to go to work every day, only for us to be in full lockdown," she said. 

"The money I am saving right now will help me somewhere down the road, plus I had to do a little extra shopping for supplies, who knows how long this will go on?"

Wambui, 70, flew back to North America, where she has citizenship, after the Monday announcement.

She did not want to risk contracting the virus while in the country because her health has been declining.

"I would rather go back home because they have my medical records and I have my doctor there," she said.

The government has also called back its citizens after the global numbers remain on the rise, with more than 200,000 confirmed cases worldwide. 

For Jona, it is business as usual as her office requires her to still report to work. 

Jona, who works in a Nairobi hospital, says she would rather remain home, but she knows her job provides an essential service. 

The medical worker, who suffers from some chest complications, is also doing her level best to remain as healthy as possible.

"I am avoiding contact in public transport. I keep my hands and environment clean and I'm just being cautious," she said.

"If I start feeling sick, though, I will have to go home and self-quarantine."


On Tuesday, George Hezron from Kwale died after a group of youths beat him up, claiming he had contracted coronavirus.

Hezron was going home after a drinking spree on Tuesday night when a mob attacked him, police said. 

He was rushed to Msambweni Subcounty Referral Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

His body was taken to Kwale mortuary and no arrests have been made so far. 

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe has warned the public against spreading false information on the virus. 

According to the World Health Organisation, many countries with confirmed cases report a sharp spike before the curve comes down.

However, countries can 'flatten the curve' by preventing and delaying the spread of the virus so that large portions of the population are not sick at the same time.

Quarantine and self-isolation have been encouraged to avoid the spread of the virus. 

A few things Kenyans are encouraged to do while in quarantine are reading a book, sleep, work, meditate, call distant family members and old friends, hydrate, practise self-love, pick a new hobby or finish a project on hold.  

Edited by T Jalio