COVID-19 Pandemic

Kenya ramps up fight against COVID-19

Published : November 23, 2021 14:00 IST

Photo: Robert Bonet/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Kenya has announced efforts to accelerate the vaccination rollout. Kenyans who refuse the jab face stiff sanctions.

The Kenyan government over the weekend issued new health regulations to prevent a surge of COVID-19 cases. From December 21, Kenyans will have to prove that they are fully vaccinated to gain access to government services in hospitals, education, tax and immigration offices, as well as many public places, including national parks, bars and restaurants. Workers in the public transport sector — such as pilots, drivers and motorcycle taxi drivers — must also be fully inoculated.

Despite a decline in the number of infections in recent weeks, with a positive test rate between 0.8 and 2.6 per cent over the past 14 days, experts expect a fifth wave to hit the country from December through March. In a statement issued late on November 21, Kenya's health minister, Mutahi Kagwe, seemed to be heeding the experts' advice. "I have no doubt that, looking at these statistics, it's very easy to become complacent and fail to appreciate the magnitude of the problem that we still face with the pandemic," he said.

Low vaccination take-up

Dr. Shem Sam Otoi, a researcher from the University of Nairobi, recently published a study, which — based on mathematics modeling — told DW that up to 3,000 lives could be lost in a fifth wave. Having seen the former predictions he made during the pandemic come true, Otoi applauded the government's new measures. "It means that they are trying to ensure that we have no fifth wave, and to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people, because there is a need to open up the economy," he said.

This is particularly important in a country where most of the economic activity takes place "in person" and working from home is the exception to the rule. Only 2.4 million people — or less than 9 per cent of Kenya's adult population — have been fully vaccinated, while 6.4 million have had their first shot, according to official figures. The government's move is seen as aiming to put increased pressure on the population reluctant to get their shots.

Widespread skepticism

Judging by reactions on social media and people on the streets of Nairobi, authorities could be facing an uphill struggle. Emmanuel Kariuki said he did not believe the shots to be useful. "Most of the ones that are dying are the ones that are vaccinated," he said, adding that the information had come from "his personal research." Medicine student George Mutugi told DW that it was "unfair" and "illegal for the government to want to force people to take the vaccine." Otoi disagreed and turned the tables on the skeptics. "How fair is it if you know that you risk hurting or killing somebody by refusing to get vaccinated? You are inadvertently a killer," he exclaimed.

Scarce supply

But there is also the possibility that people who want the vaccine will not get it because of a lack of supply. According to the government, the country has received a total of 10.7 million vaccine doses and expects to get another 8 million, although Nairobi did not specify when.

Experts fear that it will not be enough to immunize a sufficiently high number of the almost 54 million Kenyans to stop the next wave. And it will not be fair to sanction people who have no way of getting a shot, said Otoi. "But that time has not come because we have doses that have not been administered. Not because they have expired, but because people are not taking them."

Aware that Kenya does not have enough doses to vaccinate everybody, but also that vaccination alone will not put a definitive end to the spread of the virus, as the world has learned in the past couple of months, Otoi called for following all rules of prevention, such as washing hands, wearing masks, and avoiding indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Setting a 'bad example'

Otoi finds the fact that many politicians do not follow their own government's rules upsetting, especially in view of ongoing political rallies. "But there is nothing we can do. We know it is bad and many people will die if the fifth wave comes, as we have predicted." Visitors from Europe are also affected by the new rules, as they now have to provide proof of full vaccination, the government announced. "Most of our infections come from Europe. The amount of traffic from Western Europe to Kenya is huge," Otoi said.

Kenya is planning a 10-day mass inoculation campaign from November 26, the statement issued on November 21 said. The roughly 5.7 million 15-to-18-year-olds are also set to be eligible for vaccination from this week. Kenya has recorded a total of 254,629 cases and 5,325 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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