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COVID-19 RESPONSE

WAFULA: What was the curfew for if there is no known plan?

Even with the extension of the curfew by another 21 days, taking the total number of days to 63 when the period lapses, the numbers have continued to rise.

In Summary

• How exactly is the curfew protecting the lives of citizens without a concrete plan of action?

• If anything, the infections have only increased, now at over 1,400.

President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the Nation on the Coronavirus pandemic at State House, Nairobi
President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the Nation on the Coronavirus pandemic at State House, Nairobi
Image: PSCU

A number of countries have enforced curfews, in addition to other measures, as a response to Covid-19 pandemic.

While Kenya has also taken this approach, there is need for additional measures to flatten the curve. This is especially important because the World Health Organization recently said, “Covid-19 is here to stay”, sentiments that were shared by Kenya's Ministry of Health.

As such, this demands to implement well-thought-out and customised solutions for the local context. Such solutions require identifying and researching innovative ways of preventing the spread of the virus. For instance, a group of students from Kenyatta University recently developed ventilators to address the shortage in Kenyan hospitals, while the Kitui County Textile Centre is producing facemasks in bulk.

 
 

By its very definition, a curfew is a regulation requiring people to remain indoors between specified hours, usually at night. Perhaps that’s the only thing the Kenya government got right. The zeal with which the police have enforced the order is reminiscent of the failed August 1982 coup, when then-President  Daniel Moi imposed a curfew.  If we approached enforcement of orders relating to the improved well-being of our citizens with the same zeal, we would probably have better living standards.

In the President's address to the nation on May 16 on Covid-19, two things stood out for me. First, he said, “Jukumu la kwanza la serikali ni kuhakikisha tumelinda maisha na mali ya wananchi” (The first obligation of the government is to protect the lives and property of its citizens). However, some security officials used excessive force to enforce the curfew, resulting in several deaths and injuries.

So, how exactly is the curfew protecting the lives of citizens without a concrete plan of action? If anything, the infections have only increased, now at over 1,400.

Based on the increase in these cases, does the curfew as an end in itself really present a viable plan to reduce the infections?

Second, he said, “Kwangu mimi nitakuwa nimewaangusha wakenya nisipowaambia wenzangu ukweli vile ulivyo” (I will have let Kenyans down if I don't tell them about the gravity of the situation).

Begs the question, what is the government’s plan of action for this curfew? If it exists, why hasn't the President shared it?

I can comfortably stay at home knowing there’s a plan in place to stop the spread of the virus. In fact, if the government had a plan in place during the curfew, the demolitions of homes in Ruai and Kariobangi would not have occurred. The government’s priority would have been on implementing the strategy not demolishing homes to pave way for sewage.

And was the curfew ordered because other countries were doing the same? Did we stop to consider if we have the safety net to implement it?

Even with the extension of the curfew by another 21 days, taking the total number of days to 63 when the period lapses, the numbers have continued to rise.

What lessons did the government learn in the first 42 days that it sought to implement for the extended 21 days?

I would imagine the purpose of a curfew would be to implement an evidence-backed plan during the said period.

Globally, we have seen countries, in addition to imposing curfews and lockdowns, implementing different strategies such as fumigating hotspots and the provision of basic necessities for the most vulnerable to reduce their movements.

Kenyans, on the other hand, have been subjected to a dusk-to-dawn curfew but the intended results are not being realised. A curfew alone is not enough to address the pandemic.

China, despite its huge population, implemented a total lockdown in Hubei province for almost three months until April 8. During this period, they fumigated areas that were considered hotspots and carried out aggressive contact tracing. Resultantly, there was a significant reduction in Covid-19 infections, if the reports coming out of China are to be believed.

Closer home, in Senegal, President Macky Sall imposed a curfew on March 23, restricting movement between 8pm and 6am, much to the chagrin of the citizens. However, during that period the country developed a $1 Covid-19 testing kit that can deliver results in about 10 minutes.

This was necessitated by the need to identify and isolate positive cases faster to reduce the rate of infection.

 While the curfew is still in place in Senegal, they have moved to ease the restrictions by reducing the hours progressively to open up the economy. Testing in Kenya takes more than 48 hours to produce results, too long to contain the spread. Although restricted movement of persons can reduce the rate of infections, we cannot just rely on staying at home as the plan to beat Covid-19.

MOH PRESS BRIEFINGS

We continue to receive daily briefings on the increase in the number of cases by the Ministry of Health, laying emphasis on the need for us to stay at home and prevent the spread.

While this information is important, there’s need to do more. The innovation by Kenyatta University students is enough proof that we, too, have the capacity to identify and develop innovative solutions to this pandemic.

I believe we can build on such developments but only if we invest in research and data collection for evidence-based decision making. Only then will we see a differently scripted briefing from the Ministry of Health, one that speaks to what has been discovered/developed or is in the process to fight the pandemic as opposed to what has become the order of the day.

Someone who has been keenly following the daily briefings can tell you what to expect before it hits our screens. Wouldn’t you agree with Albert Einstein in terming this insanity?

Kenya should not necessarily have a similar plan to China or Senegal,  but it needs to develop a strategy that is suited to our local context. This can only be realised through research and data collection.

And if this plan exists, share it with the public so that we are on the same page in the war on this virus.

The continued absence of a plan of action will be the Achilles heel to our government’s efforts of reducing the infections and curbing the effects of Covid-19. True leaders are made and or identified in the time of crisis, the die has been cast. This crisis will judge our leadership.