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Law enforcers drop ball amid deadly coronavirus wave

no-maskers

Nairobi residents on Pumwani Road with face masks lowered to the chin in this picture taken on December 27, 2020. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Summary

  • With daily Covid-19 fatality rates hitting double digits and positivity rates breaching the 20 percent mark, expectation was that health authorities and law enforcers would roll out more aggressive crackdowns.
  • This has not happened. Instead it remains business as usual as many Kenyans go about their day-to-day business, in blantant disregard of the health guidelines imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 12 extended a nationwide overnight Covid-19 curfew for 60 days to battle a deadlier third wave of infections in the country, a lot was expected in terms of enforcement of health safety measures such as social distancing and wearing of face masks the right way.

With daily Covid-19 fatality rates hitting double digits and positivity rates breaching the 20 per cent mark, the expectation was that health authorities and law enforcers would roll out more aggressive crackdowns against individuals in breach of safety protocols.

This has not happened. Instead, it remains business as usual as many Kenyans go about their day-to-day business, in blatant disregard of the health guidelines imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

When the first wave of Covid-19 infections and deaths were reported in Kenya early last year, there was noticeable action by the police and health authorities including crackdowns on public transporters and restaurants flouting regulations.

Many months later, things have fallen apart. Today, Kenyans are seemingly unbothered by the need to wear face masks and maintain social distance in public transport and often crowded places such as restaurants and markets.

A spot check by the Business Daily across the country shows that matatu crew has returned to their bad old ways even as the country goes through its deadliest wave yet of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is now common to find matatus carrying passengers way beyond their designated capacity as police officers and health officials looked the other way.

Rule 5 of the Public Health Rules 2020 made it illegal for both public and private transport vehicles to carry more than 60 per cent of their licensed capacity and for motorcycles and bicycles to carry more than one passenger. In addition, it is now mandatory for all public and private transport operators to wear proper masks.

Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operators are particularly notorious for abusing this rule, emboldened by the laxity of traffic officers on major roads and highways across the country.

The overnight 10 pm to 4 am curfew which was imposed through the Public Order Act is also increasingly breached as many PSVs. Those plying the Kisumu and Nairobi and Mombasa and Nairobi routes are the biggest culprits.

For bribes, as little as Sh50, police officers charged with enforcing order on our roads and on the highways have dropped the ball and are letting rogue operators have their way and illegally ferry passengers between the key cities at night.

“The night curfew is all but on paper because we have passengers travelling between Nairobi and Kisumu and Nairobi and Mombasa at night. This has been happening for months now. The passengers are charged a higher fare of between Sh1,500 to Sh2,000 between Nairobi and Kisumu to cater for some ‘tea’ for officers manning road blocks along the route. The normal fare is normally between Sh800 and Sh1,200 depending on the transporter,” a source in the PSV sector told the Business Daily.

The penalty for failure to observe the curfew includes either a fine of up to Sh10,000, imprisonment for up to three months, or both.

Checks around Nairobi estates and the central business district (CBD) further reveal many residents no longer wear face masks despite coronavirus quickly spreading in residential areas.

Most restaurants also no longer adhere to the requirement for mandatory temperature checks on clients visiting the facilities nor do they ensure that the seats are well spaced out to limit body contact among their customers.

Rule 6 of the Public Health Rules 2020 demands for the maintenance of physical distancing of no less than one metre between persons and the use of a proper face mask that must cover the person’s mouth and nose.

In addition, organisations and business entities have to provide a handwashing station with soap and water or an approved alcohol-based sanitiser, enforce physical distancing within their premises or business location, and regularly sanitise their premises or business location.

The Public Health Rules 2020 impose either a fine of up to Sh20,000, imprisonment for a period of up to six months, or both, for contravening the health safety measures set out.

The laxity in enforcement of health safety protocols persists even as authorities warn that medical facilities risk being overrun by spiraling coronavirus infections.

“One year since the declaration of the first case of Covid-19, Kenya finds itself at a tipping point of the pandemic,” Dr Chimbanzi Mwachonda, acting Secretary-General of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) told a press briefing on Tuesday.

“A rising number of infections will lead to a high caseload and overwhelm the already stretched healthcare system as evidenced by lack of adequate Intensive Care Unit (ICUs) and personnel to handle severe Covid-19 cases,” he added.

Following the sharp rise in infections, some private hospitals are already demanding deposits of up to Sh600,000- Sh800,000 before admitting Covid-19 patients amid a scramble for ICU facilities. Such upfront charges automatically lock out the majority of Kenyans who have been financially battered by the pandemic.

And with a shortage of ICU facilities across the country, the situation risks worsening in the coming days—condemning many poor Kenyans to certain death should they contract acute variants of the virus and require intensive medical care.

The Health ministry on Tuesday raised a red flag on the continued disregard of health safety protocols—warning of a potentially looming crisis among the masses.

“It is our responsibility as individuals to protect ourselves and to protect others by ensuring that we do not mingle in social gatherings, that we keep our distances. This is a time when we need to go back home and stay [at] home when we can,” Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman told a media briefing on Tuesday.

As at Tuesday, the total confirmed Covid-19 cases in Kenya hit 123,167 with total fatalities standing at 2,048.

Kenya plans to vaccinate 1.25 million people by June and another 9.6 million in the next phase.

The Ministry of Health said this week that the country plans to vaccinate about 15 million people nationwide, about 30 per cent of the country’s population, by the end of June 2023.