Columnists

Lift Kenya’s Covid-19 curfew now

uhuru1

President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG

jenny

Summary

  • UK has 26 percent more people than Kenya, it’s probably safe to say Kenya’s disease load is very markedly lower than the UK’s, and, indeed, than most other countries too.
  • Not that our deaths are shaped in their gravity by how many are dying elsewhere.
  • But if we want to focus time and attention, enormous social efforts and ongoing economic losses to protect our population from ill health, let us lift our curfew, and do more to get our sick to hospitals in the night, and see how many lives we save then.

There were 96 new (diagnosed) cases of Covid-19 in Kenya on Monday this week. In the UK, there were 39,463 new (diagnosed) cases on the same day.

Even with margin for error and bearing in mind the UK has 26 percent more people than Kenya, it’s probably safe to say Kenya’s disease load is very markedly lower than the UK’s, and, indeed, than most other countries too

And yet, here we still sit with a curfew, one of the only countries in the world still running without night-time movement or mass events. Not literally the only one: Australia (2,024 new cases on Monday) is also still running a curfew.

But France (3,991 new cases on Sunday) ended its curfew in June, Canada ended its curfew in May (3,858 new cases on Monday).

So why do we still have ours? Personally, I am almost always asleep between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., and for a long time, the power of a curfew in curbing infections eluded me: were we targeting night clubbers? Even in bars, were we saying people in bars didn’t infect each other up until 10 p.m., but could after that?

However, pick a curfew apart and it does limit our travel and movement. Fewer people travel upcountry when it will take two days, or when they risk being caught out after curfew. People do less, stay closer to home, finish earlier, and plan differently. And that does have an impact on cases.

Few studies have looked at that impact of a deep-of-night curfew alone, but several have now weighed the impact of restrictions on personal movement and congregation, across stay-at-home orders, and even closures of cities and regions, and concluded they cut transmission by more than 25 percent.

But, for us, we are all moving freely, able to go out and to work, attending funerals with 99 other people, and weddings too: but after 10 p.m. and for political meetings, we remain locked down.

So, let’s for a minute, recall the purpose of all this slowing down of Covid cases: it was to ensure that those who got seriously ill, the unlucky and extremely frightened few who become short of oxygen or suffer viral pneumonia, could have hospital beds for treatment.

The whole point of ‘slowing’ the spread of this disease was to prevent our health facilities from becoming overloaded.

Yet, on Monday, nine people died in Kenya from Covid. That’s not to say that even nine deaths isn’t horrible. But the curfew is also affecting the healthcare of those infected with other conditions.

And we suffered more than 10 times that number of deaths from upper respiratory infections and tuberculosis on Monday, and roughly 12 times as many from cardiovascular diseases. Would the man with the lurking heart attack have headed to hospital at 10.30 p.m. with his chest pain if it hadn’t been after curfew, that man who didn’t live to see the morning?

Would those parents have taken that rasping five-year-old at midnight, the same child who was lifeless by dawn? If our night-time curfew and limit on meetings reduced transmission by, let’s say a quarter of a full stay-at-home order, that would take the nine people to 10 people or 11: which is one or two people a day that we can’t keep pretending we are running Kenya for.

Indeed, our Tourism minister stepped up in last week and said we would need to be more flexible: the first international tourists are just now beginning to reappear at the Coast and in our safari parks, complete with their negative PCR tests and vaccination certificates.

But it hardly seems right we should be lifting the curfew for them. More to the point, why would we keep it any longer? Even our spikes in infections were tiny when compared with other nations. Not that our deaths are shaped in their gravity by how many are dying elsewhere.

But if we want to focus time and attention, enormous social efforts and ongoing economic losses to protect our population from ill health, let us lift our curfew, and do more to get our sick to hospitals in the night, and see how many lives we save then.