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Coronavirus crisis

How Kenya fumbled its response to Coronavirus

The government is putting measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 in place, but fumbled its initial response to the virus when no case was reported in the country

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Kenya Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe at a press conference on Covid-19.
   

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Updated on April 9

In February 26, a Southern China Airlines flight with 236 passengers on-board landed at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Airport officials cleared them all and ‘advised them to self-quarantine’ despite arriving from a high-risk area. Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, killed more than 2,700 people across the world, China being the most-affected country at the time.

When most of the world shut its doors on China for fear of the spread of coronavirus disease, some flights from China were still being allowed to land in Kenya.

Forty days later, Kenya’s Coronavirus cases reached 184 and seven deaths, and the rate of increase keeps growing, with more than two-third of all cases coming in the past week.

On Thursday, April 2, health officials recorded 22 new cases, the largest single day increase so far.

Seventeen members of parliament have been found to have contracted the virus, but the government is treating their status as secret, and they themselves haven’t come out. They could be spreading the disease to others because no one know who among the 369 lawmakers has the virus.

Hundreds of people suspected to have the disease are in mandatory quarantine. Many of these cases are imported. Nairobi, the country’s capital, has become the epicenter of the new coronavirus in Kenya.

In February, Professor Omu Anzala of University of Nairobi’s KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research warned the spillover of the virus that emanated from Wuhan, China could emerge from anywhere.

“Let us not imagine that the virus is far away from us, it could emerge from any point in this country, therefore there is need to be on highly alert,” Anzala said.

Despite the warning, flights from Coronavirus-hit countries such as China and Italy have been arriving in the country. It took the intervention of the courts to stop flights from China.

It took more than a month for the government to act. On March 25, Kenya banned flights in and out of the the country, except for cargo planes, but fumbled early when it mattered when no case of the Covid-19 was reported in the country.

In the initial response to the Covid-19, Kenyans were told to ‘keep calm, don’ t panic, and wash your hand.’ Kenyans and their government thought ‘China is very far away and nothing serious is going to happen.’

Until the last half of March, Kenyans were not familiar with social-distancing practice. As thousands of people continue to die because of Covid-19, Kenyans frequented bars, restaurants, and recreational centres. Markets remained open and overcrowded, some still are.

On March 27, when the number of Covid-19 cases reached around 30, the government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to encourage social-distancing in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The curfew resulted in chaos and violence in Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya’s two biggest cities, on the first day of its implementation. Police beat and whipped commuters trying to reach home before the 7.00pm curfew using batons and threw tear gas at them, crowding people in violation of social-distancing rules, potentially exposing hundreds, if not thousands of people to the virus.

Three days later, announcing eight new cases, Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe cautioned Nairobians against traveling out of the city and others not to come to Nairobi unless it is necessary, and advised them to practice social-distancing. But Kenyans are unable to change their habits.

“We would like to urge those in Nairobi to stay in Nairobi and those living in upcountry to avoid traveling to Nairobi,” Kagwe said.

With the Easter Holiday approaching, and rampant fear of total shutdown, a large number of Nairobi residents are fanning out to other towns and villages, unknowingly taking the virus with them.

According to a Ministry of Health data, 25-30 percent of Kenya’s coronavirus transmissions are now local, meaning people with no history of travel or contact with those who have been abroad are contracting the virus.

The government is not taking serious measures to isolate affected areas in Nairobi, where most cases are reported.

Government data shows the confirmed cases had more contacts in Westlands and Kilimani, affluent neighborhoods west of Nairobi. Kilimani, in particular, hosts more Chinese than any other place in Kenya. But no serious measures have been taken to isolate the affected areas and limit people’s movement. Restrictions will come but it will happen when so many people would have been infected.

Health officials project the coronavirus could afflict at least 10,000 people by end of April.

Although the coronavirus pandemic is not as serious as in some countries, the government is lagging behind to put in place strict measures to limit people’s movement, with clarity, specially in areas where the confirmed  positive cases are recorded and where the infected people had made contacts.

The government is still reluctant to make painful decisions. The virus could be spreading without being noticed because very few people are being tested, and these are the ones in quarantine.

At every press briefing on coronavirus, Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe begs Kenyans to self-quarantine and practice social-distancing to reduce the spread of the virus, but they continue to ignore him, their behavior making the crisis worse.

On March 11, a Kenyan priest returned into the country from Rome, Italy, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus, and left Jomo Kenyatta International Airport undetected, and drove to Utawala, south of Nairobi, where he attended a church service, and spent the night there.

On March 13, Fr. Richard Oduor proceeded to Ambira, Siaya County in Western Kenya, to meet his family, and on March 14, he conducted a funeral mass, and later spent the night at Sega, near Siaya.

After the burial, he proceeded to his rural home, where he met his parents. On March 15, he presided over two masses in two different locations. A day later, he visited his sister in Ugunja after breakfast at Sega before going to bid his parents goodbye for two hours.

He boarded a public service vehicle to Kisumu, where he took a flight to Nairobi. Authorities picked him up at the airport, put him on test, and found he was infected with coronavirus.

The government identified 108 people who came into contact with him and put them on quarantine. Potentially, he could have contacted hundreds or thousands of people, directly and indirectly.

On March 6, the deputy governor of Kwale County, Gideon Saburi, arrived from Germany. Upon arrival, he mingled with fellow politicians, went to a club, attended a funeral, and moved freely as if the presence of coronavirus has not yet been detected anywhere in the world. On March 22, he tested positive for Covid-19. 11 days later, he recovered. He has put the lives of so many people at risk.

He was arrested for violating government directive for those coming into the country to self-isolate themselves for 14 days, and endangering the lives of others.

There is speculation that the government may lockdown the country, but officials fear shutting down the country may create social unrest as more than 70 percent of Kenya’s population depend on daily wages to feed their families and government doesn’t have resources to feed every Kenyan who needs help.

And if it tries to help those in need, it doesn’t have an accurate data of the needy or social security numbers of each individual to ease transfer of cash. Few Kenyans have social security numbers, and these are those in formal employment.

The government is torn between saving the country from the coronavirus pandemic and letting it go hungry and allowing Kenyans continue their daily work to put food on their table and get infected with Covid-19.

Markets, which are still full, and public transport could be the coronavirus vectors.

Kenya still doesnt know its ‘patient 0’ – the super-spreader – who could have infected so many people, and the government never tried to trace the source of the virus. If it did in the first few days, it would be able to contain the spread of the virus.

Experts say the virus might have been present in the country for weeks by the time officials recorded the first case.

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Coronavirus crisis

Somalis observed Eid at home. But in al Shabab-held towns, they gathered in their thousands

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Somalis across the country celebrated Eid-ul-fitr on Saturday, May 23, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

And as Covid-19 sweeps across the Horn of Africa nation, the government urged citizens to perform the Eid prayer at their homes. But it was a different scenario in areas under the control of al Shabab militants.

Despite the al Qaeda-linked group acknowledging the danger posed by Covid19, the disease caused by the novel Coronavirus, thousands of people gathered at public grounds in areas under its control  to celebrate the end of Ramadan, risking their lives and increasing the likelyhood of the spread of Coronavirus at a time when people across the world practice social distancing.

In Kunya Barrow, one of al Shabab-held towns in Lower Shabelle province, hundreds of worshippers gathered at Sayid Mohamed Hassan Square for celebrations.

And in Jilib, al Shabab headquarters in Middle Jubba province, thousands congregated and marked Eid-ul-fitr. Other towns under al Shabab control in central and Southern Somalia observed Eid in the public.

Worshippers during Eid prayers in Saakow, an al Shabab-held town in southern Somalia. 

After months in denial, on May 13, al Shabab held an extraordinary summit to discuss Covid-19 and the impact it has on the community, and established a seven-member task force to deal with a possible outbreak of the virus in areas under its control.

The task force, comprising of doctors, religious leaders and intellectuals, will coordinate the group’s preparedness, prevention and response to the threat of the disease and advise the al Shabab leadership.

“Considering the fact that Somalis are communal society, frequently visiting one another, and are connected, there is possibility that Covid-19 may reach areas that have not been affected,” read part of a press release from al Shabab political office.
Somalia has more than 1,600 Covid-19 cases, and 61 deaths. The first case was reported on March 16 when a Somali citizen who was returning home from China tested positive for the virus.
Somalia lacks essential equipment for the intensive care that Covid-19 patients need. However, Turkey has donated medical supplies to help the government deal with the pandemic.
If the virus spreads across the country, it would be hard to treat everyone, especially, those in rural areas where al Shabab controls and may prevent health workers from reaching those areas.

The al Qaeda-linked group controls swathes of land in central and Southern Somalia, and is fighting to overthrow the Somali government and wants to implement its own version of a strict Islamic law.

Al Shabab is known to bar aid and health workers from entering areas it controls, but considering its acknowledgment of the dangers of the pandemic, it may allow a few health workers in.

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Coronavirus crisis

Al Shabab has been ignoring Coronavirus threats, now it is determined to fight it

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Somali workers in protective suits and civilians carry the body of a man suspected to have died of the coronavirus disease, for burial in Madina district outside of Mogadishu. REUTERS
   

For months, Somalia’s al Shabab group has been ignoring the threats posed by the novel coronavirus as the virus continued to spread across the Horn of Africa nation.

In March, the group held its first meeting on Covid-19, but didn’t take the disease seriously. In the meeting hall, attendees, hundreds of them, didn’t consider the global standard of practicing social-distancing where people keep at least two meters apart from each other to limit the spread of the virus.

It said the coronavirus crisis was a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the group.

The Coronavirus could limit military operations, especially the US drone attacks on al Shabab targets and anti-terror summits around the world allowing al Shabab to regroup, accordimg to a report by Somali Memo, a mouth-piece for al Shabab.

However, the US has stepped up its air campaign against al Shabab in the first three months of this year, targeting the group 33 times in 2020.

In the March meeting, al Shabab termed the coronavirus as ‘God’ s wrath to punish non-Muslims.

But on Wednesday, May 13, al Shabab held an extraordinary summit to discuss Covid-19 and the impact it has on the community, and established a seven-member task force to deal with a possible outbreak of the virus in areas under its control.

The task force, comprising of doctors, religious leaders and intellectuals, will coordinate the group’s preparedness, prevention and response to the threat of the disease and advise the al Shabab leadership.

“Considering the fact that Somalis are communal society, frequently visiting one another, and are connected, there is possibility that Covid-19 may reach areas that have not been affected,” read part of a press release from al Shabab political office.

Somalia has more than 1,219 Covid-19 cases, and 52 deaths. The first case was reported on March 16 when a Somali citizen who was returning home from China tested positive for the virus. Somalia lacks essential equipment for the intensive care that Covid-19 patients need. However, Turkey has donated medical supplies to help the government deal with the pandemic.

If the virus spreads across the country, it would be hard to treat everyone, especially, those in rural areas where al Shabab controls and may prevent health workers from reaching those areas.

The al Qaeda-linked group controls swathes of land in central and Southern Somalia, and is fighting to overthrow the Somali government and wants to implement its own version of a strict Islamic law.

Al Shabab is known to bar aid and health workers from entering areas it controls, but considering its acknowledgment of the dangers of the pandemic, it may allow a few health workers in.

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Coronavirus crisis

In Somalia, Coronavirus is spreading under the radar

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Just how much has the coronavirus spread in Somalia?

So far, 772 people have been confirmed officially as having contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus, and 32 people have died of the virus.

The novel coronavirus is spreading quickly in Somalia, with almost 50 percent, sometimes more, of tests done turning to be positive.

Testing isn’t available to everyone, as the government can’t conduct mass testing. So, the numbers don’t accurately reflect the extent of transmission.

“We have a limited capacity to record all deaths. We are unable to reach every home. When a patient dies, relatives hire a private ambulance or a truck and they bury the body. People are reluctant to share the information and therefore we are missing numbers,” Dr Mohamed Ali, a health officer who leads the Covid-19 response team at Mogadishu’s Martini hospital, told The Guardian.

The country operates three laboratories capable of conducting Covid-19 tests; one in Garowe in Puntland state in the northeast, another in Hargeisa in Somaliland, a break-away region in the northwest, and a national lab in Mogadishu.

According to the mayor of Mogadishu, Omar Filish, at least 500 people may have died of Covid-19 in the last two weeks alone. The mayor said the city records between 19 and 49 deaths related to the disease daily.

There could also be undetected cases, patients with coronavirus-like symptoms visiting hospitals, and not getting tested and getting treatment for other diseases.

Now the government says it recognises all recent deaths as Coronavirus-related.

The virus is transmitted locally, meaning people with no history of travel or contact with those who have been abroad are contracting the virus, and are spreading it.

To curb the spread of Covid-19, the government closed schools, introduced a night-time curfew and shut down mosques, but some worshippers defy authorities and attend prayers in mosques, go to weddings and funerals, interacting with each other, making social-distancing a difficult task, thus increasing the risk of the virus spreading further.

Somalia recorded its first case on March 16, 2020. There is great concern about the possibility of a large-scale outbreak due to lack of healthcare infrastructure, and should there be an breakout, it would be difficult for medics and humanitarian agencies to reach areas under al Shabab, which has a history of disrupting humanitarian work.

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