CURBING CORONAVIRUS

Covid-19 lockdown inevitable if indicipline continues

We are living in extraordinary times and concerted efforts are needed to think through the situation as it evolves.

In Summary

• A woman in Eldoret was quoted saying she would rather die of Covid-19 than of hunger.

• This shows the dilemma that Kenyans and the government are grappling with on a daily basis.

 

Traders at Wakulima Market on March 25, 2020
WHAT SOCIAL DISTANCING? Traders at Wakulima Market on March 25, 2020
Image: /MERCY MUMO

This week has been very interesting with regard to the spread of coronavirus.

On one hand, Kenya has witnessed the death of a 62-year-old man, while on the other, two of the initial patients, Brenda Cherotich and Brian Orinda, tested negative after being isolated for 23 and 14 days respectively.

[Two more deaths were reported by Health CS Mutahi Kagwe on Thursday]

At the international level, we witnessed the recovery of Canadian Prime Minister Christian Trudeau's wife, Sophie, while UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and crown Prince Charles tested positive.

Tellingly, a Finance minister in the Hesse State of Germany committed suicide due to the economic meltdown in his country.

President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a 7pm-5am curfew starting March 27. However, Kenyans witnessed a lot of police brutality in enforcing the order, clearly demonstrating that our men and women in uniform are yet to graduate from being a police force to a service.

There is, however, indiscipline of the part of Kenyans, which has become part and parcel of our society’s norms. Self-discipline has no substitute, its either you have it and you succeed, or you don’t and you get disciplined by life.

A woman in Eldoret was quoted saying she would rather die of Covid-19 than of hunger. This shows the dilemma that Kenyans and the government are grappling with on a daily basis.

Rules such as social distancing and staying at home haven’t been properly observed, as Kenyans are still interacting with each other as if nothing is happening. On the other hand, coronavirus cases continue to increase with the numbers expected to rise to 1,000 plus by the end of April, if nothing changes.

WHO Director General Chief Tedros Adhanom has encouraged countries to lockdown, noting that this will help them buy more time to respond to the health crisis. Uganda and Rwanda have since taken heed for a total lockdown when their numbers increased with the latter reaching 17 [risen to 82], yet ours are currently at 110 and rising.

A total of about Sh70 billion has been earmarked for injection into the economy to increase liquidity, but circulation is greatly hampered by the low volumes of people. Nairobi CBD, for example, has very limited activity and is almost on a partial lockdown.

As Ghana's President Nana" Akufo-Addo said, you can revive the economy, but you can’t revive dead people. There is, therefore, need to seriously think through how to concurrently put in place measures to deal with the health crisis on one hand, and cushioning the economy from total collapse, on the other.

To begin with, county governments have a combined ICU bed capacity of 165, meaning the whole country has slightly more than 200 ICU beds only. The Council of Governors has asked for more support for them to deal with the crisis effectively. This is critical because about five counties are considered to be hotspots —Nairobi, Kilifi, Mombasa, Kajiado and Kwale.

Kiambu county, for example, has only 11 ICU beds, meaning if the crisis was to escalate, it would be difficult to handle. A
Senator Isaac Mwaura

Kiambu county, for example, has only 11 ICU beds, meaning if the crisis was to escalate, it would be difficult to handle. A complete ICU bed facility costs about Sh350,000 while a ventilator costs about Sh4 million.

The county requires at least 20 new doctors, 120 nurses and more than 100 other medical professionals such as clinicians, pharmacists, anesthetists and public health officers.

A total breakdown is needed to generate empirical data to inform government budgeting and resource mapping to all the 47 counties and the national referral hospitals. Further, now that the US was encouraging Kenyan medics to take a flight to go help in their crisis, the government should ensure a permanent freeze on the same, and planes at JKIA should be thoroughly checked, avoid this theft of the human resources that we presently need the most since Kenyan lives are equally important.

In addition, the government should put in place measures for mass food distribution, especially to the urban poor in slums and lower middle-income areas.

This is because the level of vulnerability has increased and it’s no longer only those who are currently receiving the cash transfer under the Inua Jamii programme that are in dire need of basic needs.

What the government should do is to use the Sh 10 billion to stockpile food and other essential household supplies such as soap that can be distributed by the military, NYS and National Government Administrative Officers to homes, starting with the poorest neighbourhoods.

Household mapping as was done in the last census can give us the necessary data to conduct this exercise. Kenya has 12.143 million households with an average of 4 family members, and it is possible to distribute food hampers to last a family for a month or so.

We are living in extraordinary times and concerted efforts are needed to think through the situation as it evolves. Let’s do first things first. For if you don’t deal with today, where will be your tomorrow?

The writer is Senator for persons with disabilities and Vice Chairman Senate Committee on Finance and Budget.