A health worker wearing a protective gear prepares to disinfect the matatu [min-bus] in which the first Kenyan Covid-19 patient travelled to Ongata Rongai. PHOTO | YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP 

Kenya recorded its first coronavirus case last Thursday, March 12. A 27 year old Kenyan woman flew from Cleveland to Chicago to London to Nairobi on March 5. She became sick Thursday and went to the hospital and was shortly confirmed to be coronavirus positive. She was immediately put in quarantine as were 22 people she identified that she had been close to during the previous week. The government then disinfected the apartment she was staying outside of Nairobi and even the mini-bus she had taken to downtown Nairobi. The Kenyan government immediately outlawed all large gatherings of people including athletic events, political rallies, and religious crusades. All buses and mini-buses were required to disinfect the vehicles daily.

The Saturday, March 14 edition of the Daily Nation’s editorial praised the swift action of the government. “The confirmation of the first coronavirus case in Kenya, though a sad development, presents an opportunity to reassess and strengthen the measures being put in place to fight the epidemic. However, we commend the health authorities for the professional manner in which this one has been handled.” (My bold.) (Please, Americans, don’t be jealous.) Prior to the first case the Kenyan government had already canceled all international conferences, imposed restrictions on flights from parts of China and northern Italy. More controversial was the decision by the Government not to evacuate the 85 Kenyan students who were in lockdown in Wuhan, China. Lizette, a Canadian friend of mine, told me that when she returned from Uganda (which has had no coronavirus cases) by land about a week ago, there was a Kenyan health official all dressed in medical suit, mask, and eye goggles (see picture above) that assessed if she had a fever with one of those temperature guns. The government had also required all major hospitals in the country to have isolation wards available. The major hospital in nearby Eldoret already has ten isolation beds available and will have 15 more by the end of this month. Kenya was prepared and cautious.

Then last night, Sunday, two new coronavirus cases were recorded in Kenya. Both of these new cases were among the 22 people who were already in quarantine from exposure to the first case. So far, there have not been any recorded cases outside of the original contact, but the woman circulated in Kenyan society for a week so could have easily infected other unknown people. The government is ready to react as quickly as possible to any new cases.

Due to these two new cases, President Uhuru Kenyatta immediately went on TV and announced a raft of new restrictions. The most crucial one for us was that all schools for the 15 million students would be closed; day schools starting today, boarding schools by Wednesday, and universities by Friday. So our four kids are at home. Here are some of the other drastic restrictions:

  • Restricted travel from all countries that have reported coronavirus cases.
  • Only Kenya citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to enter the country and they must agree to self quarantine or go to a government quarantine facility for `14 days.
  • Everyone who has entered the country in the last 14 days must also self quarantine.
  • Where possible government and businesses must allow their employees to work from home.
  • Transactions in cash are discouraged; consumers should use mobile money or credit/debit cards.
  • Visitation to hospitals is limited.
  • Hospitals and malls should provide soap, water, and sanitizers.

If more cases develop, the Kenyan government will probably add more restrictions including perhaps the closing of all bars and restaurants and/or restrict all religious services, weddings, and funerals to groups of under a small number of participants.

Will all of these restrictions control the spread of coronavirus in Kenya? If the virus does become prevalent in the urban slums, prisons, and/or other places, the country will be unable to cope. So nipping the virus in the bud is essential. I’ll keep you informed.

My next Report from Kenya will be on explaining why Sub-Saharan Africa has so few coronavirus cases.


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David Zarembka

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