Fines, 3-year jail term for breaking virus control rules


Health Cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe and members of the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus address the media at Harambee House in Nairobi on March 22, 2020. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Individuals who breach the tough travel, mass gathering and isolation rules aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus face a fine of up to Sh50,000 or a jail term of up to three years or both in lien with the public health law.

The State on Sunday imposed additional restrictions on a day it was announced that confirmed cases of the virus had more than doubled to 15 with eight positive people captured over the past 72 hours.

The government will from Wednesday cancel all flights save for cargo planes, ordered a shutdown of bars and nightclubs, restaurants to operate as takeaway units, put a freeze to churches, weddings and capped funeral gatherings to 15 people.

The impact of social distancing and restriction of businesses like schools, bars and restaurants looks set to impact on consumer spending, setting the stage for job cuts and unpaid leave to workers struggling with reduced cash flow.

Incoming travellers between now and Wednesday will be placed under mandatory quarantine at their expense.

Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and Police Inspector General Hillary Mutyambai warned those in breach would be prosecuted under the Public Health Act.

The Act has various penalties under the prevention and suppression of infectious diseases including fines of up to Sh30,000 or a jail term of up to three years or both.

"Those in breach will be arrested and prosecuted in line with provisions of the Public Health Act," said Mr Kagwe at a televised briefing from Harambee House in Nairobi on Sunday.

"Much to our disappointment, the majority of people continue to ignore measures spelt out earlier. If we behave normally, this disease will treat us abnormally."

He said the rule will apply to Kilifi Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi who refused to self-isolate after returning from Germany. He was arrested and placed under mandatory 14-day quarantine by the government.

Schools and universities have also closed their doors, while public service vehicles carrying 14 people have been restricted to eight, mini-buses with a capacity of 25 passengers to 15 and buses limited to 60 percent of their capacity.

Mr Kagwe said buses in breach will have their group permits withdrawn.

Kenya on March 13 confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, causing the shilling to weaken to levels last seen four and years ago.

The cases have since jumped to 15 with the race on to contact 363 individuals who came into contact with those who have tested positive of the deadly disease.

The Act empowers authorities to charge individuals who refuse to self-isolate and upon conviction, they will pay Sh30,000 or face a three-year jail term or both.

Public service vehicle owners who fail to disinfect their vehicles face a Sh40,000 fine while property owners who let out infected premises will pay Sh80,000 in fines.

Those who breach any section of the Public Health Act where a penalty has not been prescribed will be fined Sh50,000.

Restrictions on foreigners coming into Kenya, imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus, have delivered a big hit to the country's tourism industry, with some hotels in the coast reporting occupancy rates of well below 10 percent.

Normally, occupancies levels are above 75 percent around this time for a sector that brought in hard currencies worth Sh163.56 billion last year.

The restrictions in Europe have slashed daily flower orders to half for a continent that accounts for 70 percent of Kenya's cut-flower exports.

The plunge in exports means jobs are at risk for the industry that employs about 150,000 workers.

Worldwide more than 311,796 people have been infected and 13,071 have died, according to an official tally.

In Africa, at least 25 people have died from the virus, which has infected more than 1,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation.

The continent has been slower to feel the virus's effect than Asia or Europe, and most of its reported cases have been foreigners or people who have returned from abroad.

In Kenya, all the cases have been imported, mostly from the US and Europe — where the epicentre of the disease has shifted from China.