Kenyans of different walks of life are struggling to maintain COVID-19 protocols, a move that is significantly affecting the return to normalcy in the country. Today, the country still has a national curfew from 10 pm to 4 am, in addition to social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks at all times when in public.
The country is currently facing a third wave, with some areas like Kisumu and its environs feeling the greatest heat. High numbers in the area are occasioned by the commemoration of Madaraka Day in Kisumu City on June 1st, 2021 as well as the COVID-19 Indian variant that is spreading in the region.
However, what is clear is that despite the government’s efforts to try and control the spread of the virus, the measures fall more on deaf ears. It is more of an issue of the risks of not following them that leads people to try to abide by them. For instance, people do not want to be arrested because it has become an extortion opportunity by the police, so they observe them half-heartedly.
In public transport vehicles, drivers and conductors are filling up all seats like they did before the pandemic landed on our shores. While there are traffic officers on the road, there seems to be an understanding with them to allow them to pass, once they give them a small bribe.
One of the critical approaches to reducing the spread of the virus is reducing large crowds. The government banned political activities, significantly reduced attendance in weddings, churches and funerals. For instance, burials were to be conducted fast and only have family members. Churches were not to have more than a third of their occupancy, compelling them to move online.
But these measures were largely implemented in mid-2020, save for churches that still practice the measures to date. It has been cited that one critical reason why abiding by these measures has been difficult is the nature of Kenyans being sociable. The measures are quite alien to them, making them difficult to enforce. Enforcement by police and government representatives has also been wanting, as fatigue took center stage.
What could have helped change fortunes was the roll-out of the vaccine, but doses have been significantly low and poor communication by the government on how to access them, reducing the potential for mass vaccination. Only mass vaccination could have helped reduce further spike of deaths and hospitalizations.
But politicians have also been canny, finding ways of holding relatively large gatherings as they either campaign for candidates in by-elections or start early 2022 campaigns to popularize themselves.
One key reason why Kenyans are struggling is that the pandemic has turned out to be more economic than health. The restrictions put in place made it difficult for people to work, move around easily and transact business.
A video went viral when the lockdown was affected early this year and restaurants were supposed to close by 7 am and only give take-out foods. It was the last day that people could sit in restaurants and enjoy their meals and company and the restaurant owner was there to bid them farewell. He became emotional and started crying, lamenting at the impact that the measures are having on his business.
In a podcast with Leonard Mudachi, Managing Director of Big Square Kenya Chain of Restaurants, investigative journalist John-Allan Namu asked him what’s the worst that can happen. He was unequivocal that closure was real. He gave examples of the many restaurants that have closed down, both big and small and may never open again. It would be remembered that the Intercontinental Hotel, a five-star hotel closed shop during the pandemic. These are just a few of the many business establishments whose survival remains thin or closed down.
Kenyans are a peculiar people, reads a title of a book by author Sunny Bindra. While today hardly anyone can speak of not experiencing loss from COVID-19 directly or indirectly, people still decide they must live leisurely and carelessly. There is certainly the other side of the coin of the reality that if all protocols are observed to the latter, many families will sleep hungry.
In these difficult times, the social nature of Kenyans has taken root, exemplifying the difficulty in putting people at a distance from each other, yet that is not how they are wired and have lived their lives so far. Perhaps what government should now be focusing on is ensuring mass vaccination is a reality and the better recourse to returning life to normalcy. This so-called ‘new normal’ is a fallacy.