Reasons President Kenyatta gave for extending COVID-19 restrictions

A section of Kenyans were in high hopes that President Uhuru Kenyatta would ease down if not remove some of the restrictions set by the government to curb the transmission of the coronavirus disease.

In his Seventh Presidential address on the coronavirus pandemic on May 27, Kenyatta hinted at a possibility of reopening the economy triggering anxiety and excitement that would in the end be short-lived.

However, on Saturday, to the much-disappointment of many Kenyans, the President extended the COVID-19 containment measures for another 30 days saying that even though he personally wanted to reopen the economy he was strongly advised against the move.

“I must admit that opinion was divided on how we are to advance against this virus. Some, including myself, wanted to open up now.  That was, and is still my desire. I want to open up at the earliest opportunity and get the economy going,” he said.

The Head of State cited the rising rate of infections and projections by the Ministry of Health on possibility of a spike in the spread of the virus as a reason for the extension of the measures.

“Truth be told, if we had not taken the stringent measures we did in March 2020, the rate of infections would have peaked to 800,000 people by July 30th And if one infected person has potential to infect two people, this number would have hit 2.4 million people in 21 days.  By the end of august, 75,000 Kenyans would have died from this virus.  But because of the early interventions we took, we have recorded only 2,600 infections and 83 deaths,” he said.

Kenyatta said according to health experts in the government, relaxing the interventions by 20% would lead to 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths by December 2020.

“Further, if we relax the interventions by 40%, the infections will peak in November 2020 with 300,000 infected and 40,000 deaths. And if we relax them by 60%, the pandemic will peak in October with 450,000 infections and 45,000 deaths,” he added.

The President said although the projections are generated by a model, there is hard evidence suggesting that countries which opened up without proper protocols also experienced serious waves of infections.

He cited the spikes of infections experienced after re-opening religious gatherings in South Korea, Pakistan and Malaysia.

Kenyatta said he had been advised that the irreducible minimum for lifting the restrictions has three thresholds:

“One, to open up, the infections must have been contained and headed downwards. Two, our health care system must be prepared sufficiently to take on a surge in infections. It must not be overwhelmed at any one point during the pandemic.  Access to testing, isolation and quarantine must be a bare minimum.  Three, capacity for surveillance and contact tracing must be in place,” he said.

“The question we must ponder is whether we have met this threshold in order to lift the restrictions. Have the cases of infections taken a down turn, for instance?  And the answer is NO. Nairobi and Mombasa are taking the lead with new infections.”

He noted that the country’s health care system is not prepared with isolation facilities to handle a spike of infections, citing the example of Siaya County that has 10-bed isolation facility and they have already admitted 9 COVID-19 patients.

“Similarly, Busia County has a 34 bed isolation facility. And by two days ago, it was full,” he added.

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