• Some Kenyans say they are only wearing face masks to avoid arrest from the police
• Others are avoiding the news and assuming a false sense of security from the virus
More than a hundred days since the Ministry of Health announced the first case of Covid-19 on March 13, Kenyans have grown tired of observing the guidelines put in place to contain its spread.
Lockdowns and curfews seem to do little to stem the tide, and now people are throwing caution to the wind.
They say watching the daily Covid-19 briefings is overwhelming and is affecting their mental state. They prefer to consume news at their own pace and watch something entertaining or their favourite programmes.
Some believe there are very few cases of Covid-19 in the country and the numbers the Health ministry is announcing might be false.
Samuel Mwangi, a boda boda rider, cannot stand the updates any more. “After we hit a mark of over 600 positive cases countrywide, I never again bothered to watch the news again," he said.
"It has put my mind at a state I never thought it would reach. The more I watch the news, the more I worry and get depressed.”
Samuel is based in Nairobi, along Moi Avenue. He wakes up at 4am every day to pick his customers and drop them to their various destinations until 9pm.
He says he would prefer conversing with customers and colleagues on topics not related to Covid-19. He enjoys debating on politics, especially on the BBI.
People are not scared anymore. Rather, all they think about is bringing food to the table, paying rent and providing themselves with other basic needs.
Along the streets and in public service vehicles, some are wearing face masks under the chin. Others are dragging theirs down below the nose. And some are not wearing at all, especially in areas where there is minimal police patrol.
All are unbothered about the potential exposure to the coronavirus.
When asked why they are taking the risk, they say they need more sufficient air to inhale and feel the freedom they once had.
The quality of the common fabric masks many purchase from traders, however cheap they might be, is not good enough to put them on the whole day and night.
The World Health Organisation recommends one not to wear his or her fabric mask under his/her nose nor use a mask that is difficult to breathe through.
Others say they are wearing masks only to avoid arrest from the police. They say if it were not for them, they would not bother to wear them at all.
“My mother says she is tired of wearing a mask. Most of the time I have to keep reminding her to remove it from the chin and put it up,” Lenny Maiyo, a resident from Nairobi, said.
“One day when my parents met a few of their friends, they insisted on handshakes because they said Covid-19 is still not real and they do not know anyone who has it or anyone who knows anyone who has it.”
On April 6, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe said it will cost you Sh20,000 or six months of your freedom if you are found not wearing a mask.
According to the Centre for Disease Control, social distancing can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.
Those not observing it say they are no longer petrified of the virus as they were before in the beginning, even as the number of cases continues to rise daily.
A boda boda rider in Nairobi is among them. “I am young, healthy and I have a good immune system. I am, therefore, not worried," he said.
"Covid-19 is for the old. They are the ones who should worry, follow the guidelines given and stay home,” he added, laughing.
People are also still reminded to wash their hands before they enter any building.
PSVs that are especially plying around the Nairobi metropolitan area have also gone back to the old ways of filling up in the evening.
Peris Njeri, a resident from Ruiru, says they are putting passengers at risk on one hand and exploiting them on the other.
“At my stop, we are no longer sanitised before boarding the matatus. Sometimes, conductors will pick up more passengers, almost filling it to capacity,” she said.
“These days, I make sure I have an item on the empty seat so no one occupies it. Fare is still doubled, so it is not fair that they still want the two seats occupied.
"Even during evening hours, these tuktuks and some matatus are carrying normal capacity. Yesterday, a conductor told me corona is only in China."
Antony Mwangi* (not his real name) from Highrise told the Star, "In my area, the police are tired of enforcing the curfew. Ever since it was extended to 9pm, they do not bother to chase people."
When asked, many say they do not have enough money to buy sanitisers as they accuse the government of not providing it to them.
Passengers have also gone back to giving conductors hard cash without sanitising.
John Ngung’u, a conductor plying Rongai route, said he prefers receiving cash than using mobile transactions because he is assured he will get his daily salary.
“If passengers pay the fare using Lipa na M-pesa, how sure are we that we will be paid at the end of the day? The owner of the matatu might decide to pocket it all,” he said.
Seth Gillihan, a clinical professor of psychology, says our emotions can give us clues about what is true, but they’re very unreliable. For example, we might assume something bad is going to happen because we feel afraid, but in reality, it was a false alarm.
“A person might make the reverse inference for Covid-19, believing 'it can’t be a big deal because I’m not worried about it',” he said.
“But as the saying goes, 'Reality doesn’t care about your feelings', and being unafraid doesn’t change the facts about this virus.”
Edited by T Jalio