Economy

Uhuru under pressure over WHO curfew rule

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President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Kenya has met a majority of indicators used to downgrade restrictions in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, including ICU admissions, positivity rate and deaths.
  • This has seen public health officials, politicians and traders push Mr Kenyatta to relax the restrictions, including the night curfew, that have stifled business and hampered economic growth.
  • The WHO recommends that restrictions can be eased if the positivity rate —the proportion of tests coming back positive — remains below five percent for at least two weeks.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has come under pressure to ease Kenya’s Covid-19 restrictions after a sharp decline in infections and hospital admissions reported in recent weeks.

Kenya has met a majority of indicators used to downgrade restrictions in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, including ICU admissions, positivity rate and deaths.

This has seen public health officials, politicians and traders push Mr Kenyatta to relax the restrictions, including the night curfew, that have stifled business and hampered economic growth.

The WHO recommends that restrictions can be eased if the positivity rate —the proportion of tests coming back positive — remains below five percent for at least two weeks.

The UN body says governments can also relax the containment measures if hospitalisations and ICU admissions decline for the last two weeks and Covid-19 deaths drop over a period of three weeks.

Kenya’s positivity rate has remained below five percent since September 30 and dropped from 14.5 percent on August 15 to 2.3 percent yesterday as the government steps up testing and vaccination.

“Factors that are hindering economic growth like the nationwide curfew should be lifted. We have continued to witness a fall in infection rates in the last couple of weeks,” said Githinji Gitahi, the chief executive of Amref Health Africa.

“It’s time to move from response to recovery. Focus should now shift to vaccination.”

He added that Kenya has so far contained the infectious disease, echoing comments from public health officials.

“When lifting the Covid-19 social restriction measures, WHO recommends that positivity rate must fall below five percent consistently for about two weeks. Of course there are other measures that need to be taken into account before a decision is made,” said Director-General for Health Patrick Amoth.

“I would not want to preempt what the boss will talk about tomorrow. Just hold your hoses for any announcement tomorrow.”

On Tuesday, President Kenyatta hinted that the Covid-19 containment measures could be eased in the coming days.

Hospitalisations from Covid-19 have been falling over the past three weeks from 1, 021 admissions in September 30 to 586 yesterday.

This has eased the burden on hospitals that had run out of beds, especially ICU facilities, in the previous months.

Deaths from the virus have also fallen to an average six over the past three weeks from double digits in the previous cycles.

Official data shows 110 deaths have been reported in October compared to 393 in September and 795 in August.

Alcohol manufacturers, taxi operators, supermarkets and bars have been leading the push for the restrictions to be eased and longer operation hours allowed.

Alcoholic Beverages Association of Kenya (Abak) — a manufacturers lobby— wants the State to have bars opened till 9 p.m. from the current closing time of 7 p.m. to protect jobs.

“Abak notes the Covid-19 positivity rate in the last week has been averaging below five percent, which is the recommended rate by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for consideration in adjusting public health and social measures in the context of Covid-19,” Eric Githua, the chairman of Abak, said in a statement.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on October 5 extended the curfew, from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., to October 31. Bar operators were also restricted to operating from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Yesterday, bar owners called for the review of the night curfew, saying that more than 250,000 jobs have been lost since the onset of Covid-19 in Kenya.

East African Breweries Limited (EABL), a member of Abak, posted a three percent drop in net sales for its first half ended December as business was pummeled by the closure of bars. Post-tax profit plunged by a third.

EABL recorded a drop of Sh7.6 billion in sale of alcohol in the year ended June 2020.

The company, which dominates the regional alcohol market with Tusker beer and Johnny Walker Scotch whisky among other brands, turned to electronic commerce last year to prop up sales.

Kenya’s economy, like others, has been hit by the pandemic, as restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus reduced revenues and stifled growth.

Economic output contracted for the first time in nearly three decades last year, pummeled by the impact of the coronavirus crisis on key sectors like tourism.

Growth slid to negative 0.3 percent last year from 5.0 percent in 2019.

Recovery has started, but there have been fears the pace could be curbed by a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines and new waves of infections.

The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) expects the economy to grow by 6.1 percent this year and 5.6 percent in 2022.