Sh20,000 fine for flouting face masks rule in confined spaces

Nairobi residents walk along Tom Mboya Street

Nairobi residents walk along Tom Mboya Street on August 10, 2021.PHOTO | NMG

Individuals who fail to wear masks in confined spaces like supermarkets, offices, public service transport, and churches risk six months in jail or fines of up to Sh20, 000.

This follows the re-introduction of mandatory wearing of face masks in all indoor meetings as a containment measure to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country following the recent spike.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said on Monday the return of masks is necessary to slow a wave of infections as Kenya joins the world in ramping up against a new wave of the Coronavirus cases.

Kenya’s positivity rate - the proportion of tests coming back positive - touched 14.5 percent on Satur day which is the highest this year compared to a low of 0.3 percent on March 11 when Kenya relaxed restrictions such as wearing of masks.

The positivity rate eased to 9.9 percent on Sunday before peaking to 12.6 percent yesterday, according to Ministry of Health.

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“...the mandatory wearing of face mask in open public spaces where one is not in close proximity with one another remains optional,” said Mr Kagwe in a press briefing.

“However, one is required to wear a mask when in contact with other people in closed/ confined spaces…”

Under rules gazetted in 2020 at the onset of Covid-19 anyone in Kenya found not wearing a mask in public places faces arrest and six months in jail with an additional penalty of Sh20,000 or both.

“A person who commits an offence under these rules shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both,” say the rules.

Kenya lifted its Covid-19 restrictions on March 11, including a ban on large indoor gatherings such as religious services and a requirement to present a negative Covid-19 test for arriving air passengers.

Though Kenyans were encouraged to continue heeding public health measures such as handwashing and social distancing, face masks were no longer mandatory in public and all quarantine measures for confirmed Covid-19 cases are halted with immediate effect.

Hospitalisations from Covid-19 have remained flat as the number of people who have received Covid jabs gone up.

Data from the Health ministry shows that, 5,651 people have so far died from coronavirus-related complications.

“The sharp rise in infections should mean something to our country and we must once again take steps to prevent a slide into a crisis like the one we experienced in 2020 and 2021 when we lost many lives and resources,” Mr Kagwe said.

The rising infection rates come against the backdrop of increased inoculation against Covid-19, with 8.58 million Kenyans fully vaccinated as of Sunday, up from 7.8 million on March 11.

“Those who have not been vaccinated should do so immediately. Those who have been vaccinated and need a booster shot should do so immediately,” Kagwe noted.

The World Health Organization labels a country to be a high risk if the positivity rate rises above five percent and advises countries to consider imposing restrictions measures such as lockdowns if it remains above the limit for at least 14 days.

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The positivity rate has remained above the five percent mark since June 2 or for the past 18 days.

The WHO also recommends that governments should heighten containment measures if hospitalisations and ICU admissions increase over two weeks and Covid-19 deaths drop over a period of three weeks.

The CS cited the ongoing cold season and increase in cases of Covid-19 among the reasons for urging the public to adhere to the mask mandate in closed spaces.

“We… know that this steady increase in new infections is likely to get worse in view of the drop in temperatures occasioned by the current cold season,” he said.

Kenya’s economy, like others, was 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 in 2020 at negative 0.3 percent from 5.0 percent in 2019.

Growth rebounded in 2021 to grow at the fastest pace in 11 years at 7.5 percent.