Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta speaks on tough decision to loosen restrictions

Thursday May 28 2020

 

By Daily Nation

President Uhuru Kenyatta has spoken of the delicate balance that needs to be struck between the suffering of families devastated by the economic shock of the Covid-19 pandemic and the dangers of opening up too hastily and giving free rein to coronavirus.

Appearing at once eager to get the country going in order to reduce the pain of workers, who have lost their livelihoods, but cautious not to allow the virus to visit death upon the population, the President said if Kenyans are disciplined, follow protocols of hygiene, social distancing and use of masks, then the country can be gradually reopened and return to something resembling normalcy.

Speaking to the Daily Nation at State House, Nairobi, the President reflected on the “very difficult” balance between “lives and livelihoods” in deciding whether to relax the daily curfew across the country and the cessation of movement into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale.

He spoke of his personal anguish at the suffering of Kenyans, whose lives have been turned upside down by a pandemic that has infected 1,471 Kenyans and killed 55 others as at Wednesday when a grim new record was set: 123 tested positive, double the number that tested positive the previous day, 62. Some 408 have recovered.

Mr Kenyatta described as “hugely disturbing” that many sectors of the economy — aviation, horticulture, and hospitality, among others — are seriously hurting, he added, “and they employ huge numbers of our people, who are hard-working, capable and honest, who used to wake up every morning and go about their work”, but now find themselves in very difficult circumstances.

The Business Daily has reported that 300,000 workers have lost their jobs, while many others have suffered pay cuts.

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WORKERS CUSHIONED

The government has offered a range of reliefs, including tax cuts, in an economic stimulus package intended to support workers.

Just like everyone else, he said, he would like “things to go back as quickly as possible to normal so that people can continue with their lives and the economy can rejig itself to normal”.

But he warned of the dangers of going into it too quickly and without a plan. “We’ll be digging graves as we have been seeing in parts of the world where people have taken this disease as not serious,” he added.

Many people have volunteered conflicting advice, some asking him to open up for the sake of the economy, while others urge him to maintain the restrictions to slow down infections, he observed. But his responsibility is first to protect the lives and property of Kenyans.

“The economy is secondary,” he added. He pointed out the lessons of many countries that have appeared to have the virus under control, only for it to storm back when restrictions are relaxed.

Appearing keen, in command of the details and at times combative during an interview strangely conducted in front of an audience of retainers and staff, the President seemed rejuvenated in the face of the many problems lining up outside his office.

RESOURCES INCREASED

He said he saw many signs of hope even in this difficult period: even though infections are high, mortality is relatively low.

Kenya’s median age is 19; the virus does not seem to easily overcome the immune system of a healthy young person and tends to disproportionately kill older people, who already have other diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and lung disease.

He paid tribute to frontline workers, such as medical and security staff, who are battling daily to save lives and keep the public safe.

Kenyan industries are producing personal protective equipment (PPEs) to satisfy local demand and help other countries, he said.

And with the help of Kenya’s friends and innovative entrepreneurs, lots of medical equipment has been procured.

Isolation facilities have been established countrywide, with governors setting up and equipping field hospitals. However, the capacity of the health system to absorb large numbers of critically ill patients remains limited.

Only 58 per cent of Kenya’s hospital beds have oxygen supply, a requirement for seriously ill Covid-19 patients, according to recent research.

HEALTH BURDEN

And only 22 of the 47 countries have at least one ICU bed. However, currently, the system is not under strain because many of the patients either do not have any symptoms at all or have mild ones.

Worldwide, 5.61 million people have been infected, 351,000 have died and 2.31 million have recovered.

The worst affected country remains the United States of America, where more than 1.7 million people have been infected, with over 360,000 recoveries and more than 101,000 deaths.

In Brazil, whose President Jair Bolsonaro has made light of the disease terming it a “little flu”, more than 300,000 people have been infected with 24,000deaths and about 160,000 recoveries.