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Pushed away from towns and unwelcome in villages: Uncertain times for many as economic downturn makes life in urban areas hostile

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Over the years, many Kenyans in the countryside regarded visitors from towns and cities as a blessing. This has radically changed following the day-to-day surge of COVID-19 active cases in the country.

Interviews carried out in Nyamira County, 350km west of capital Nairobi shows a changing scenario where residents perceive visitors, especially from the city, as possible carriers of the virus.

David Mogaka says he is not keen to receive any visitor from Nairobi, until such a time when the COVID-19 curve will be flattened.

A handwashing point right at the entrance of a homestead in Borabu village, Nyamira County.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta should actually extend the lockdown imposed in Nairobi and other parts of the country until such a time when the spread of the virus is contained,” adds Mogaka. In April 2020, the President banned movement in and out Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale, the country’s four regions most affected by COVID-19. All these limitations have been lifted and while reports indicate many city dwellers are travelling upcountry, pushed out by tough economic times, they are not exactly welcome here.

Lost jobs

To Mogaka, as much as the economy is hurting, Kenya is safer when the identified hotspots of the disease are on lockdown. “I know many, including our brothers and sisters from this village have even lost jobs in the city and are yearning to come back home.

“Some may be coming home, thinking that they were in great danger of contracting the virus in the city and will be safe here, not knowing that they are already infected and will be bringing the disease to us,” said Mogaka.

Jane Bosibori who sells vegetables by the roadside in Ekerenyo says the thought of President Kenyatta re-opening the economy scares her. “Of course business has really gone down and we wish to have some protocols set to contain COVID-19 lifted but opening the economy should be done in phases and after due diligence has been followed,” she said.

Likewise, health workers’ unions are calling on the government to reopen the economy in phases, saying this will enable the country to beef up its capacity in case of a surge in COVID-19 cases. The unions, including the Kenya National Union of Nurses, Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, Kenya Health Professionals Society, and Kenya National Union of Pharmaceutical Technicians also expressed reservations.

On June 25, 2020, the Head of State, in a virtual meeting with governors, indicated that the decision to re-open the country’s economy depended on the level of preparedness across counties in response to coronavirus infections.

Then on July 6, he announced the lifting of some movement limitation, most significantly the opening up of the Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera regions. He, however, extended the nightly curfew by a further 30 days.

Surge in infections

This coming at a time when the country has been reporting a surge in infections has many doubting what the future holds, and many sectors resigning themselves to prolonged suffering and uncertainty. Already, the government, through the country’s Cabinet secretary for Education Prof George Magoha, has declared the 2020 education year lost, with studies set to resume in 2021.

An ICU bed at Nyamira County Referral Hospital’s COVID-19 Isolation and Treatment. Photos/Joshua Araka

Already, the World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that the virus may not fade away any sooner, and that countries will need to formulate protocols to live with the pandemic, which according to experts, may become endemic.

This has informed the decision by a number of countries to re-open their economies while enforcing precautionary measures to control further spread of the virus which has already infected over six million people and killed 376,320 others, according to WHO data as at June 2, 2020.

 

 

 

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