There is alarm that the spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths registered after the President eased some of the restrictions on July 6 could lead to tough measures on travel and social gatherings. That would be counter-productive.
In his preamble to announcing the end of movement restrictions into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera, President Uhuru Kenyatta was clear that not all the desired conditions for re-opening had been met.
But he was persuaded by the argument that Kenyans would be their brothers’ keeper. An extended lockdown was not going to help win the fight, because lockdowns carry heavy costs.
The spike in numbers was expected. Kenyans were going to travel and so was the virus. Death numbers will keep fluctuating but the trajectory will remain upwards.
The government needs to continue investing in the capacity to provide care for those most in need and let Kenyans take responsibility for their own health.
The government should be more worried that frontline workers in the health sector are not protected than with the behaviour of a bunch of pleasure-seeking men and women breaking the curfew to make merry.
Some of these will be arrested, as they should, but the police will never arrest all of them.
And because this is a country of kitu kidogo (bribes), the police are quite happy to let these law-breakers walk. Stories are told of how, before travel was allowed into the counties previously locked down, the standard “waiver fee” per car was Sh1,000. Such are the realities we confront.
So, as the police continue to enforce the law, the government should invest in protecting health workers who daily confront the Covid-19 monster. Invest in educating people on home care for those who may not need hospitalisation.
Increase the capacity in hospitals in case they are needed, because it is dumb to encourage each county to have at least 300 beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients but have no doctors and other specialists to make the facilities function.
It is concerning that there are barely 400 ICU beds in the country, more than two-thirds of which are in Nairobi. It should worry the government that a key defence against the virus – clean running water – is not available in most of the densely populated areas.
One of the first actions that the government of Rwanda did was to install hand-washing units in crowded places like bus parks. The hand-washing stations set up by corporates, foundations and well-wishers in places like Kibera and Mathare in Nairobi are not being refilled.
Instead of arresting poor Kenyans for not wearing masks, the government should be seeking ways of ensuring that those who cannot afford a mask daily or regularly are assisted.
Budgets for this are available if theft of donations from benefactors like the Jack Ma Foundation is stopped.
War and pandemics like the one the world is confronting are opportunities for enterprising and venal opportunists to make money. But the scope of suspected malfeasance at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, where every procurement rule seems to have been flouted and billions paid for supplies worth fractions is mind-bending.
So, money is not necessarily the problem here.
The focus for government is to do what it must do. Provide facilities, protect health workers, reduce theft of supplies and money and arrest those breaking the law.
Tom Mshindi is a former Chief Editor of the Nation Group and is now Managing Partner at Blue Crane Global consulting. [email protected]; @tmshindi