Hundreds face nightmare over abrupt travel ban

Dozens of people were on Monday caught unawares by the travel ban in and out of Nairobi Metropolitan Area effected by the State as it stepped up efforts to fight Covid-19.

During a televised address from State House in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta identified Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale as counties targeted by the ban that is to be in place for 21 days. These are also the counties with the highest number of coronavirus cases, so far, with Nairobi topping the list.

While the cessation of movement to and from Nairobi Metropolitan Area was effected on Monday, that of the coastal counties starts today.

Parts of Kiambu, Kajiado and Machakos counties are considered to be under the Nairobi Metropolitan Area.

Hundreds of people who had travelled to Nairobi made frantic efforts to avoid being caught up in the travel ban, but for many it was too late.

At Chania bridge, which is the entry point into Mt Kenya region, many were stranded as they could not be allowed past a police roadblock.

Yesterday morning, most of the travellers were dropped a few metres away from the roadblock and had to cross over to either side, where other vehicles were waiting to ferry them to their destinations.

Most travellers were heading to Murang’a, Embu, Nanyuki, Meru Isiolo and Nyeri counties.

With travelling bags and accompanied by their children, most of them said they could not afford to stay in Nairobi after travel to and out of the city was restricted.

Peter Ndegwa, a plumber and resident of Nyeri town, recounted how he was forced to spend Monday night in Nairobi.
Business mission

“I was on a business mission in Nairobi. I could not leave the city at around 5pm after public service vehicle operators plying the Nyeri route stopped operations fearing arrest. I was forced to spend the night in the city, following the night curfew imposed between 7pm and 5am,” said Mr Ndegwa.

Mary Mwarania, who left Umoja estate destined for Kanjuri village in Mathira, said she opted to use all means available to ‘run away’ from Nairobi.

“I am a mother of three and I relocated to the village after schools were ordered closed. I cannot afford the lifestyle in Nairobi which could be affected by high prices of commodities,” she said.

A PSV operator, who declined to be named, said a few people travelling to Kandara and Kigumo used the Gatanga route to reach their destinations.

Murang’a County Police Commander Josphat Kinyua said they were aware of the tricks employed by the locals to flout the presidential order.

Mr Kinyua said the police will devise a way to block vehicles from dropping passengers on either side of the roadblocks to help the government achieve its objection to contain Covid-19.

Police in Thika, Gatanga, Mutarakwa, Ndenderu and Ting’ang’a had a rough time controlling commuters who were heading to Nairobi.

Many were left stranded. Jane Muthoni, for instance, had boarded a matatu at Engineer to seek treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital only for the matatu to be turned back.

Hundreds of people sneaked into Machakos County at Kamulu-Joska border point by bypassing the Athi Bridge and walking on foot to cross River Athi.

Dozens of travellers managed to enter Nairobi area through the same route as police manning the main roadblock only concentrated on vehicles using the conventional route.

Mololine Limited said more than half of its fleet were stuck in Nairobi where it has no registered routes.

“We have over 300 matatus. At least 200 vehicles were caught up in the travel ban in Nairobi and some are at an underground parking at Mololine House,” said the company’s chairman Njoroge Bumasu.

The company has cancelled all its trips on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway.

Central Rift Matatu Owners Association Chairperson Steve Muli explained that the sector will be badly affected.

Mr Muli, director of Prestige Shuttles, said over 60 matatus from the sacco had been grounded as they also lacked permits to operate within the city.

Some of the managers explained that hundreds of their drivers, who had travelled to Nairobi, were left stranded within the city, with some forced to sleep in vehicles.
Long distances

“Some drivers are paid based on the number of trips they make. They can’t afford to stay there for three weeks. This morning some of them had to walk for long distances to the porous border points and managed to sneak back to Nakuru, leaving behind the vehicles,” one of the managers said.

Mr Evans Otwoma, who works at a five-star hotel in Nairobi, was supposed to report back to work today.

A few days ago, he and other colleagues were given a break from work as a temporary measure towards adherence to social distancing at the work place. He is now stuck in his Rigoma home in Nyamira County.

Anyiko Kibira, 28, a resident of Kisumu, is one of those affected. She travelled to Nairobi two days ago to buy materials to make face masks for donations.

“Last week, I ran out of stock and decided to rush to Nairobi to get cloth materials which I would use to make more face masks for a fresh distribution next week,” Ms Kibira said.

At Lari, a multi-agency team comprising the GSU, traffic police, DCI, regular police and Administration Police manned a roadblock at Nyambari in Lari to cut off vehicles movement to Nairobi.

The team was led by Lari Deputy County Commissioner Aaron Koros.

The team allowed trucks carrying foodstuff and small cars laden with vegetables as the area is known to produce kales, cabbages and carrots. The officers also allowed PSVs from Lari to Limuru only.

In Nairobi, upcountry-bound public commuter service vehicles have stopped operating.

Travellers from Busia, Kakamega, Vihiga and Bungoma counties to Nairobi were also forced to return home following the ban.

[Reports by Boniface Gikandi, Fidelis Kabunyi, Erastus Mulwa, Kevine Omollo, Stanley Ongwae, Anne Atieno, George Njunge, Awal Mohammed, Brian George, Ignatius Odanga, John Shilitsa, Sali Micah and Kennedy Gachuhi]

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