A culture of socialisation and communal gatherings during the Ramadhan period have conspired to turn two areas in Nairobi and Mombasa into coronavirus hotspots.
On Wednesday, the government locked down Eastleigh in Nairobi and Old Town in Mombasa in an effort to turn the tide on the dramatic escalation of coronavirus infections.
This is after 47 people, including 32 from Mombasa and 11 from Nairobi, tested positive for the virus to bring the national caseload to 582. Out of these, Eastleigh contributed five while Mombasa’s Old Town produced 25 positive cases.
In Eastleigh, sources say that the infections are being fuelled by the culture of communal living and people’s failure to observe and maintain social distancing.
This is why Kawangware was left out of the list of the areas that have been hit with cessation of movement orders — for now.
Despite being an informal settlement with a high population density, the level of communal living in Kawangware is considered to be lower than that in Eastleigh and in Old Town.
Eastleigh also has a high number of illegal immigrants, mainly from Somalia, who stay with their friends and relatives.
On Wednesday, a spot check by the Nation revealed that life in the populous business hub was running almost normally. Businesses were operating normally.
In addition, the market stalls were closely packed, making it very difficult to control the movement of people in and out of the buildings.
Proper wearing of face masks also seems to be a challenge. The Nation observed that many people were incorrectly wearing – them under their noses.
Intelligence sources have ruled out the perceived influx of foreigners from Somalia for the current spike, saying the virus is largely concentrated in Mogadishu, which is over 1,000 kilometres away from the Kenyan border.
Consequently, the spike in infections in Eastleigh and Mombasa Old Town are communal, and it is partly because of the Ramadhan period, during which people gather for prayers and breaking the fast.
One particular prayer, according to residents who spoke to the Nation, is known as Taraweeh, which has to be done communally for the entire month of fasting.
Traditionally, Muslims place a heavy emphasis on connecting to the Quran during Ramadhan through recitations and night prayers in mosques.
Although the government has banned such social gatherings, effecting the ban has been a tall order.
Horn of Africa analyst Rashid Abdi accused religious leaders of influencing the culture of disregarding the measures that have been put in place and which are aimed at controlling the virus.
“Two months ago, I warned against complacency in Eastleigh. I got a lot of flak from criticising hardline Imams intent on group prayers while dismissing the coronavirus. Well, Eastleigh is now Nairobi’s most efficient Covid-19 incubator and the most prolific vector is an imam,” Mr Abdi tweeted.
However, Sheikh Juma Amir of the Jamia Mosque in Nairobi said that praying at home is always valid and doing so is acceptable when compelling circumstances make attendance at a place of congregation impractical.
“In this time of the pandemic, inviting people to your home can be harmful to you. You can pray as a family led by a family member or even pray alone in the house,” he said.
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But even with the lockdown in place, controlling movement in Eastleigh and Old Town will not be a walk in the park.
“The pertinent question remains, where does Eastleigh begin and end?” Eastleigh resident Ahmed Mohamed posed.
A restriction of movement order issued by Dr Matiang’i last night said: “Eastleigh is the area stretching from General Waruinge Road (Pumwani Maternity Roundabout) first, second and third avenues, and 17th, 18th and 19th street.”
Roadblocks will be placed strategically to close off Eastleigh North, Eastleigh South and Moi Airbase.
The government’s move came just two days after Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala filed a motion in the Senate on Tuesday to compel the government to shut down business operations in Eastleigh.
Additional reporting by Sarah Nanjala and Nasibo Kabale.