President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday ordered the closure of borders with Tanzania and Somalia as cross-border Covid-19 infections continued to rise.

The President also extended the restrictions on movement in and out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Mandera counties by 21 days over fears of cross-county infections.

IMPORTED CASES

The closure of the borders, President Kenyatta said, was necessitated by an increase in the number of “imported” Covid-19 cases.

“In the past one week, we have witnessed increased imported cases among individuals crossing into the country through our borders. These areas have become of grave concern,” said President Kenyatta.

The restrictions, however, exempt cargo trucks, but their drivers must undergo compulsory Covid-19 tests and be declared negative before being allowed through the border posts.

The President’s sixth address on the Covid-19 pandemic came as the country registered 49 new cases, bringing the national tally to 830.

This is the highest number of new cases reported in a day since March 13, when the country recorded its first Covid-19 case.

Five more people succumbed to the virus, raising the death tally to 50.

President Kenyatta said among the positive cases registered this week, 43 persons had crossed the borders from Somalia and Tanzania.

The cases are distributed as follows: Wajir (14), Isebania (10), Namanga (16), Lungalunga (2) and Loitokitok (1). The 43 cases, he said, represent about a quarter of the 166 confirmed infections this week.

Last week, the Ministry of Health classified Namanga, Kenya’s border town with Tanzania, as a Covid-19 high-risk area after a surge in numbers.

This forced Kenya to set up a mobile testing point at the border to test truck drivers.

FOREIGN NATIONALS

The President revealed that 78 truck drivers who are foreign nationals tested positive for Covid-19 at different border crossings and were denied entry.

“If we had not undertaken this intervention, the imported cases through our borders would have today accounted for more than 50 per cent of the week’s infections,” he said.

Within the country, President Kenyatta noted that infections had spread to 22 of the 47 counties.

“These numbers and the spread of infections clearly indicate that if no action is taken, all the gains already achieved in combating this pandemic will undoubtedly be lost,” he said from State House, Nairobi.

He noted a disturbing trend where close to 30 per cent of the recorded deaths occurred at home.

On a positive note, the President announced that more than 300 people had been discharged from various health facilities after full recovery.

But there are still 481 patients undergoing treatment in isolation centres across the country.

“If we had not taken tough steps, calculations show that there would be many thousands of infections, and indeed many more fatalities. It is, however, clear we have not delivered a final blow to this enemy that has invaded our country and the world at large,” he said.

FIGHT PANDEMIC

The Head of State commended health workers for their commitment in the fight against the pandemic. He also thanked other dedicated and skilled Kenyans who are working to keep infections low.

“I also want to thank the tens of millions of Kenyans who are adhering to the health, hygiene, and social distancing measures,” he added.

Globally, the virus has claimed more than 300,000 lives, while 4.7 million people have been infected.

To intensify the fight against the virus, the President also extended the nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew by another 21 days until June 6.

“Even though the measures we are putting in place are inconvenient to all of us, the far worse outcome is for this pandemic to grow out of control. The cities and countries where it has raged out of control have suffered near economic collapse due to the terror and paralysis it causes,” he said.

INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS

He added: “Economies far larger than ours have been severely affected.”

But the curfew extension did not go down well with some people, especially those in the informal settlements, who were expecting that the restrictions would be lifted.

With the restrictions, a massive decline in productivity has come to bear heavily on the economy and households. Businesses are struggling and the informal sector, which supports the bulk of the population, is hard hit.

With the additional 21 days, this is certainly going to get tougher.

Medical doctors faulted the decision to restrict movement, saying that it is not based on any health or scientific consideration.

Kenya Medical Association (KMA) leaders said the restriction would have entailed proper community entry, massive testing within those areas, and development of a strategy for containing the infection effectively.

Led by their president, Dr Jacqueline Kitulu, the KMA Covid-19 Response Advisory Committee noted that to date, the amount of testing in the restricted areas and in the rest of the country has remained significantly below what is expected for a country of our size and means.

“As a result of this limited testing, we are operating in the dark, and we currently know neither the real extent of the pandemic in this country, nor the trajectory of its spread, hence it is difficult to understand the rationale for the movement restrictions,” Dr Kitulu said.

She added: “In the absence of data, and with the above criteria having not been met, we consider any discussions on movement restrictions and reopening sectors of the economy to be premature and potentially disastrous.”

The Head of State said he was aware of national and global pressure for easing measures against this disease and getting back to normal.

“Indeed, the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus has taken a close look at the reopening processes globally. But the committee has established countries that include Singapore, Germany and Ghana that did extremely well initially, eased the containment measures and then suffered dangerous spikes in new rates of infections,” said the President.

He said the government will continue to take every measure to protect the lives of Kenyans from this pandemic and to plan for the recovery of the economy.

“The whole world is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. However, I know that the firmness of our resolve as a nation, the fidelity of each and everyone in keeping the enemy at bay, and God’s enduring Grace, will see us into the light,” he added.

By ANGELA OKETCH

Source: Daily Nation

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