Kenya on Monday, passed the 8,000-mark after confirming 181 new Covid-19 cases even as President Uhuru Kenyatta relaxed the containment measures in what he termed as a phased re-opening of the country. Kenya now joins African countries like South Africa and Madagascar who have tried to strike a balance in terms of saving lives and livelihoods. This decision is a relief to many, especially business owners. The effects of containment measures had seen curtailment of economic activities, with millions losing their jobs but health officials still dread it and consider it a path not to be taken anytime soon.
From the President’s address to the nation, it is clear that as a country, we have not met the irreducible minimum for lifting the restrictions. Even though there is a reasonable level of preparedness much has not been achieved. It is on the same background that the President notes that Kenyans will rely on their civic responsibility as the economy re-opens. In what seems to be a cautiously optimistic option, the President warns that any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic will lead to a return to lock-down at zero-option.
Previously, in his 8th presidential address, President Kenyatta highlighted that expert advice recommends that for the country to reopen, each county should designate at least 300 bed-capacity by July 7th 2020, for Covid-19 patients. A spot check on county preparedness according to media reports indicates otherwise, only 23 counties have met the target. Cumulatively, counties had attained a total of 9,300 isolation beds, against the national target of 30,500 units. In addition, the 47 counties have 400 ICU beds. The general acknowledgement is that the level of preparedness in our counties is still wanting despite the fact that time and funds had been allocated for that purpose.
On the other hand, even with the restrictions in place, civic responsibility proved to be a challenge both on the government and the citizen’s side. Citizens have been trying by all means to circumvent the restrictions put in place. Life returned to normal in some places even as the country reported a spike of cases. The country has witnessed cases of violation of curfew orders, night evictions, political and public gatherings with little caution to physical distancing. Civic responsibility was also hampered by the fact that a section of Kenyans still doubt the existence of the virus stemming from their deeply rooted mistrust in the government.
There is little prospect of a vaccine becoming widely available any time soon, how lives and livelihoods will turn out is also uncertain. In addition, six months into the pandemic, WHO still warns that the worst is yet to come. The government is walking on a tight rope and the reality is that we risk a surge of infections that will overwhelm the already strained our health systems if we depend on civic responsibility to keep the virus at bay.
Experts have highlighted that how governments act today will shape the post-Covid world for years to come. Therefore, even where there is civic responsibility, the government needs to increase preventive measures and facilitate access to testing, isolation and quarantine facilities as the bare minimum.
The government’s capacity for surveillance and contact tracing must also be enhanced. Training and capacity-building of more Community Health Workers and Volunteers should be hastened to help facilitate the implementation of Homebased care to relieve the burden off regional hospitals. With statistics from the Ministry of Health indicating that the virus is now fully in community transmission there needs to be great coordination between the national and county government to enhance service delivery.
Indeed sustainable reopening is still unclear and as President Nana Akufo-Addo commented expressing Ghana’s commitment to containing Covid-19, “we know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.”