CONTAINING CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Uhuru directives on Covid-19 laudable but some fall short

Kenyans and the government should avoid misinformation and those who do so be arrested and prosecuted.

In Summary

• We need to question the proposal that those who arrive in Kenya within 14 days thereof, should self-quarantine themselves. This could be where those directives could fail.

• As the directive reads, “If any person exhibits symptoms such as cough, or fever, they should present themselves to the nearest health facility for testing.” This is the weakest point of the chain of the orders.

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

On March 15, President Uhuru Kenyatta made a clarion call, which involved state directives.

As the Constitution provides, the President is the “symbol of national unity”, and has the power to make “directives in writing”, which he did and made it known to all and sundry.

President Kenyatta cancelled his trip to the Vatican in Rome, Italy, where he was expected to travel to from March 10-14. Italy has recorded numerous cases of infections and deaths both at home and abroad. The first Italian died in Nigeria.

We now have numerous cases in Africa by Africans – meaning original by birth, naturalisation, and registration. 

Uhuru’s directions are commendable – almost all of them. While it is not the objective of this commentary to praise these directions, it is poetic to say the following: First, some of them are short-term and must be implemented pronto. Such is the suspension of travel for all persons coming into Kenya from any country with reported coronavirus cases”.

Allowing those in transition 48 hours which lapsed on Tuesday was appreciated. Further, the direction that “only Kenyan citizens and any foreigners with valid residence permits will be allowed” is highly commendable.

However, for the short-term, too, we need to question the proposal that those who arrive in Kenya within 14 days thereof, should self-quarantine themselves. This could be where those directives could fail. As the directive reads, “If any person exhibits symptoms such as cough, or fever, they should present themselves to the nearest health facility for testing.” This is the weakest point of the chain of the orders.

Second, there are short-term directions that should be phased out as the President recommended but with caution. For instance, while it is commendable that children were sent home, a programme of action is awaited in the ensuing period. 

Working with his Cabinet, we need the President to inform us about the curriculum yet to be completed. This means we need homework (both by teachers and the parents) for the kids in the period they remain at home. We need them locked-up in our homes. And to do so, let them carry and study all necessary reading materials to prepare for the postponed exams.

Using diplomatic terms, rather than directives, Uhuru made fervent mid-term calls for people to avoid congregating in crowded places, including in places of worship, entertainment joints, weddings or funerals, and limit their visits to the sick in hospitals. 

"Government offices, businesses, and companies are encouraged to allow employees to work from home,” Uhuru added.

This is laudable since it will stem the tide of possible infection. Unless one is working in the critical sectors such as medicine (hospitals), in the fire department, policing and military etc, working from home will reduce the possibilities of crowded towns and cities.   

Finally, in the mid-term, the President directed that “to avoid the risk of transmission through physical handling of money, we encourage the use of cashless transactions such as mobile money and credit cards”.

We are pleased that the Central Bank and the mobile telephony companies have agreed on the rates to be charged, whereas also amounts have been varied. This is pleasant.

DEMYSTIFYING COVID-19 

Combining short- and mid-term efforts, there need to be long-term plans of demystifying and debunking Covid-19 myths being peddled around. For instance, the President should have shown the direction on community awareness programmes for the next five years.  Unfortunately, some people still insist that — and some are very educated — Covid-19 is fake, manufactured by the government as a project to earn money. Imagine!

The other myth is that Africans are not vulnerable to the virus, regardless of outright evidence of how many Africans in the continent have been infected from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Algeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Somalia, among others [35 states on Thursday]. There is need for better communication amongst the people, educated or not.

Kenyans and the government should avoid misinformation and those who do so be arrested and prosecuted. It is laudable that one fellow has been arrested for the same. There is so much misinformation and propaganda out there, especially on social media. Good thing is that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations has already sprung into action.

The directives also request hospitals, shopping malls, and other places of business, including the transport sector, to provide running water, soap and sanitisers. However, it should come to the realisation of government that this will not work that well unless there is commensurate action on the county and national governments. Facts indicate the lack of adequate water and over-priced or hoarding of sanitisers.  Action is needed fast.

It is clear that the government has owned up eventually to the reality of the Covid-19. It takes courage to own up. The truth, as painful as it is, was unearthed to the public through the President. However, as this commentary depicts there are areas the directives could be fine-tuned by policymakers and other authorities.

Second, it is also clear that some policy proposals should follow the same directives, which include providing budgetary support to implement the same.

In conclusion, there is too much misinformation, which may foil the implementation of the directives. The DCI should continue with the current pace on those spreading this propaganda. To defeat the virus and subsequent disease, strict action of monitoring media channels (traditional and social) should be done fervently.

As the President put it, there is need to also deal with unscrupulous business persons and premises that are targeting to cash-in on innocent people who are trying their level best to deal with the coronavirus. One of the best measures is to de-register such premises on the balance of probabilities. 

Let the truth be told: Covid-19 is real, and those who wake up to that realisation will help save the planet and the people from decimation.

DISCLAIMER: These views are personal and unsolicited, which means they are meant to inform and assist the government and Kenyans discuss and deal with the Covid-19 pandemic