The Health System

Kenyans Still Reluctant to Protect Themselves from Coronavirus


The coronavirus pandemic has killed thousands of people across the globe while others are still getting infected. The government of Kenya has laid down measures to stop the spread of the virus in Kenya but some citizens are still unshaken.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, on his national address on Wednesday, 25th March, 2020 announced a night curfew in Kenya. The curfew started on Friday 27th March and is in effect every day from  7pm to 5am  until further notice.

Kenyatta further announced the number of coronavirus cases risen 25 to 28 and put more emphasis on social distancing as one of the measures to be taken to avoid the spread of the disease. This number, however, increased to 31 on Thursday, 26th March, 2020, just a day after President’s pronouncement, according to announcements made by the Chief Administrative Secretary for Health,  Dr Mercy Mwangangi and the  Director General for Health, Patrick Amoth.

The President appealed to Kenyans to follow the regulations in efforts to reduce the spread of the virus; “Social distancing is now our new way of life until such a time we will conquer this virus,” the President said.

By Sunday 29th March 2020 the number of those infected further rose to 42 and one death.


Are Kenyans still too careless?


A spot check by RoGGKenya led to interviews with village folks in rural areas in Migori and Homa Bay counties of western Kenya. The interviews revealed that many people still ignore directives from the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In Magunga village, Suba South Sub County, Homa Bay County, RoGGKenya met 40-year old John Ochieng’ who argues that coronavirus is a disease for the rich; the global travelers who fly from country to country or those who travel a lot to different urban centers.

“Why should I be worried about coronavirus? This is a disease for the rich! Where will it find me and I am always in my village in Magunga? I never fly. I never travel to meet people in towns. I know I am safe,” he said.

However, this is contrary to what happened in Siaya County. Panic gripped residents over coronavirus spread after a priest who presided over a holy mass at a burial in Ugunja village was diagnosed with Covid-19. More than 100 residents who attended the burial fear for their lives.

“We must all be careful. This disease is real, it can attack anyone regardless of where we are. Those who fly or travel to towns are our children and relatives who come back home to the villages and end up mingling with the village folks,” said Fidel Majiwa, the Migori County Chief Officer for Public Health.

.On the directive to avoid crowded places, President Uhuru Kenyatta in his first speech on coronavirus pandemic advised Kenyans to avoid congregating in places of worship, to minimise attendance to social gatherings such as funerals, and instead restrict funerals to immediate family members.

The measures put in place also discourag people from gathering in crowded places such as  shopping malls and entertainment premises and to minimize congestion in public transport wherever possible.


Business as usual in Migori town


Residents of Migori town seated too close to each other at a bus park .Picture: Nicholas Anyuor

A look at what happens in Migori town revealed that many people do not care about staying at home, and social distancing. RoGGKenya visited the Migori Marindi market, car garages, bus parks, hotels and bank halls, and the interviews and observations found a lack of commitment by many f Kenyans.

“How can I stay at home? Will the government give me food? I will continue with my programmes regardless of what happens. Let that coronavirus kill me,” said Anton Ojwang’, a trader in Migori town.

At the marketplace, buyers flock to buy fish, vegetables, tomatoes, in disregard to the social distancing rule; in fact, it is business as usual.

“Social distancing is a rule that is so difficult to implement around here. Mechanics and car owners are here. We don’t know the history of each other. The garages are flooded with people. We are very close to each other and in case coronavirus attacks, it will be a different case. We can die like flies here in Migori,” says Amos Okinyi, a mechanic in Migori town.

This happens even as the county government of Migori placed four Chinese and a Migori taxi-driver under mandatory quarantine a few days ago.  County Executive Committee member in charge of Health, Dr Isca Oluoch confirmed this when she was contacted by the RoGG Kenya team..

This kind of reluctance has also been witnessed in Mombasa County in controlling commuters in the ferries that cross the ocean into Likoni. Even as the government banned gatherings and ordered the scaling down of passengers allowed on ferries, the vessels operators faced difficulties in controlling the commuters. On 26th March 2020 there were physical confrontations between commuters and the police. The following day however, there was order and social distancing was achieved.


Ignoring cashless transactions


At the garages and marketplaces, most people still use cash.  No one seems to care about cashless transactions in Migori and Homa Bay counties. In Homa Bay town, people are handling cash anyhow, like there is no threat.

“What? They say money can also spread coronavirus? Then we shall all die,” asserts Mary Oloo. “How will my buyers use cashless means to pay me when I am selling small stuff like tomatoes and vegetables? Then coronavirus will kill us all,”


In China, for example, where coronavirus started, banks began disinfecting cash with ultraviolet or heat treatments in February to prevent the further spread of the virus.


What Journalists can do

  • Educate your audience more on how the virus is spread and how to avoid it.
  • Educate the public on what steps to take when they suspect that they have been exposed to the virus or feel the symptoms.
  • Highlight success stories where people are following the laid down measures and cases of patients who have recovered.

By Nicholas Anyuor

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