The national government is staring at difficult choices to deal with the rapidly-spreading coronavirus with transmission now being local rather than imported cases.
On Monday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe admitted that Covid-19 is not spreading through community transmission, projecting that the cases to increase by 5,000 by mid-April and by another 5,000 by end of the new month.
Now the state is mulling either locking down the entire country or the four counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale that have been declared hotspots.
“The disease is no longer being imported from outside but is here with us and spreading among ourselves,” Kagwe told a press conference at Afya House, Nairobi.
He added: “This calls for a lot of personal responsibility among Kenyans in the fight against the disease.”
Experts warn that the virus is entering the most dangerous stage, where it is spread fast and to a greater number of people.
And with Nairobi leading the pack with 37 cases so far confirmed, Kagwe implored residents not to travel upcountry as they risked transmitting the virus to rural residents, many of whom are elderly.
And the government appeared to paint a grim picture of what to expect in the next 14 days, with the Director-General in the Ministry of Health Patrick Amoth warning that preliminary modelling data showed that coronavirus cases could 10,000 by end of April unless the government comes up with drastic intervention measures.
“However, in view of the recent directives on social distancing, travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine as well as other public health measures, there may be a delay in reaching the first 1,000 cases,” Amoth said.
On Monday, Kagwe revealed that eight more people had tested positive for Covid-19 over the last 24 hours.
Of the eight, one was under mandatory quarantine at a government facility, six were close contacts of the 42 cases reported while the last one was reported at the Aga Khan Hospital.
According to sources, the government is in a dilemma on whether to declare a national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Should that happen, it could lead to an unprecedented economic crisis never witnessed in the country.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said to have on Monday morning chaired a meeting bringing together members of the National Emergency Response Committee on the Coronavirus and the National Security Council where various options were discussed.
Immediately after the State House meeting, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i chaired another meeting of the Intergovernmental Consultative Meeting on the Coronavirus Pandemic, which, among other issues, resolved to fully incorporate county governments in the government strategy.
“Both tiers of government shall fully support the ongoing engagement of local industry in mass production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” a statement jointly signed by Matiangí and Kakamega Governor Wyclliffe Oparanya, the chairman of the Council of Governors, said.
With confirmed Covid-19 cases now standing at 50, the virus seems to be spreading wider, with disease control experts warning that the country should prepare for the worst.
As it stands now, the government has to decide whether to shut down all activities which would see the economy grind to a halt or put on a brave face against a disease that even countries with functional healthcare systems such as the United States, France, the UK and China, are finding insurmountable.
The first option of declaring a lockdown has been a headache for the government as it would mean locking Kenyans at their homes at a time when the economy is suffering from excessive borrowing that has seen Kenya’s external debt hit the ceiling.
Many Kenyans live on less than Sh100 a day and have to struggle to get their daily bread. Thus the government would be forced to provide them with food and other necessities for them to stay in their houses.
Currently, the government does not have money and has asked the World Bank for financial assistance.