Diaz: Common sense must prevail despite ease in COVID-19 restrictions

Diaz: Common sense must prevail despite ease in COVID-19 restrictions

His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta made a positive move to compromise in re-opening the country while setting tough measures to manage the number of COVID-19 infections.

A month ago, President Kenyatta had leaned on the health argument having instilled a further 30 days of curfew and the cessation of movement in and out of the counties of Mombasa, Nairobi and Mandera.

30 days on however, the President changed his aligned as he now seeks to spare an ailing economy and stimulate employment and both private and public sectors to move forward business in structured steps.

The ease in restriction measures has however come at a time when the country is accelerating towards its peak on both number of infections and fatalities.

For instance, the average number of infections in the week leading up to the June review of measures stood at 106, four weeks on, this number has skyrocketed to over an average of 230 cases on each day, a trend causing shivers amongst health practitioners.

Further to the rise in cases, the country is yet to hit its minimum threshold in required bed capacity with counties, for instance, struggling to meet requirements bestowed upon them by the national government.However actions to address the situation are work in progress by the authorities, Governors and private hospitals have to be stepped up their facilities to prepare to support Kenyans.

Chairman to the Council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya recently disclosed that only 15 out of 47 counties had met the threshold of having a 300-bed isolation capacity ahead of the Presidential review of restrictions.

Economic depression

In spite of the lesser than desired health measures, the President has taken the right move to re-open the country in an attempt to save what has been a very tough and disappointing year for many.

While millions of Kenyans had barely six months ago held up great optimism for the year after the close of the decade that was, the past three months have been worrying and full of challenges for many.

Job losses have become more profound as companies struggled to make any substantive revenues as restriction measures arising from the pandemic bite hard.

Many firms more so in Tourism and luxury goods, have reduced their employee base including national carrier , Kenya Airways. The employer of over 4,000 has been reducing employees in its approach as it plans like many global airlines are hardest hit with losses.

Choked by the cease of passenger flights in both the domestic and international market in March, the staff layoffs have been forced upon the firm as the airline struggled to meet its fixed costs related to its operations.

However, no industry has been spared from the dreaded layoffs as workers in the hospitality, retail and even the media face up to redundancies which remains worrying.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit at the heart of the private sector and affected corporate Kenya profitability, an impact further mirrored by the continued low performance of equities listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE).

Recent data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) has further revealed the hole in livelihoods as nearly 300,000 Kenyans lost jobs in the first three months of the year, while the first-quarter GDP print showed a declining growth rate of 4.9 percent.

The statistics, however, do not tell it all. The devastation does not require any arithmetic skills.

Job cuts and deep pay cuts to staff are for instance out there for all to see.

Kenyans remsn innovative and created opportunities, for example, walk down any major highway or bypass around the Capital Nairobi and one must notice individuals selling vegetables and fresh farm produce ,out of car trunks.

As I talked to some of these new traders and one will realize these are professionals in law, accountancy or even finance and hard working women leaders who have become enterpreneurs. I would encourage ,University graduates to be encouraged to support private sector with digital Delivery distribution models resulting in creative enterpreneral models and increase home deliveries.

Central Bank Governor Patrick Njoroge in his most recent address made note of the challenges in business and to individual lives as he too agreed that numbers may not say it all.

It is for the above reasons that President Kenyatta who has been instrumental to support the country and leaned to the economic argument to create stimulus packages and open up movements of people, goods and services . However, we must stop the spread in both private sector , public and at our homes by strict hygine, washing hands and social distancing at all levels .

The end of inter-county cessation will, for instance, restore optimism in sectors such as transport and trade.

Further, protocols to safeguard the return of sectors such as tourism have been set and such sectors are likely to gain from the opening up of the country even as the flourishing of activity remains the subject of a rebound in demand.

The return of international flights later in the year will meanwhile move to restore Kenya’s ties to the international scene/market and increase both intra Africa visitors, goods and services which has a positive impact on the economy.

Second wave

Kenya and Kenyans must however not be complacent, the war is not yet over.

It has been shocking to observe a number of Kenyans suggesting the worst is over even as the data tells a different narrative.

With the President passing the baton of responsibility to all Kenyans, individuals must endure protecting their freedom of movement and association by abiding by measures invoked to contain the pandemic by the Ministry of Health.

The prescribed measures have since proved to be inexpensive. A single mask trades at a minimum Sh50, with two or three reusable masks, the continued wearing of the face protection must continue.

Personal hygiene has also proved to be a low-cost affair leaving no excuses for the lack of it. The private sector which drives the economy has continued to support the economy and health protocols and must be thanked for maintaining high standards of health protocols.

Kenya must further learn from the results of complacency.

Around the world, countries have plunged into the second round of restrictions including total lockdown as populations in the country loosely took on measures to contain the spread of the virus upon the re-opening of countries.

In the most recent, Australia’s second-largest city Melbourne has returned to a lockdown after registering a new rise in the number of infections following the disregard of measures by part of the population.
In the United States, all 50-states are closing down by the day after re-opening after citizens in the country fell shy of staying up to required standards to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The US which leads the way by the number of infections has seen two holidays- Memorial Day and the Independence Day play a great role in the resurgence of infections as many ignored social distancing rules and the wearing of facial masks- an optional measure in the country.

The most telling case of risky re-openings has been told in South Korea where an infected member of the congregation became a ‘super-virus spreader’ as he unknowingly infected up to 40 individuals at one go.

Other countries to reintroduce restrictions have been Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Germany, China and Israel. The story has been told repeatedly like a broken record- a cautious reopening of countries followed by below-par observation of mitigation measures.

Common sense

From the above examples, Kenyans must not go into the record books as complacent and they must hold up COVID-19 mitigation measures.

While responsibility now lies in the hands of individuals, the motivation to stop the virus must not cease. Health remains as the leading motivation, as the majority of the country’s senior citizens are found upcountry, Kenyans working in the city must not take unnecessary trips to rural areas and risk putting the lives of the elderly at great risk.

Many city residents have comfortably stayed within over long periods and can easily wade off urges to hit the road to travel upcountry.

Industries and all sectors in the region, must meanwhile keep their guard high by implementing health protocols closely.

Additional motivation must be tapped from the assurance of a return to restrictive measures which might be tougher and even long-lasting than before.

In his latest address to the nation, President Uhuru Kenyatta made it clear that he will not hesitate to recall restrictive measures should Kenyans not be disciplined and not follow the protocols to stop the spread of the disease.

The ball is now in all of our hands , lets not drop the ball.

Chris Diaz – Director EABC and Director Bidco Africa