Old Town now locked down as locals deem disease a myth

A resident of Old Town, Mombasa, is curious about the coronavirus testing booths at Kaderbhouy Health Centre on May 3, 2020. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The two people died in their homes. Old Town had by Tuesday accounted for eight deaths, according to the county government.
  • Locals insisted they did not know of any case of coronavirus or death linked to the disease that has been reported in the area.

Exactly four days after Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho warned that he would put Old Town on lockdown, the government on Wednesday made good on the threat.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe announced the containment order as part of new measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“The ministries of Health and Interior have directed that there should be cessation of movement in the area known as Old Town in Mombasa with effect from today, May 6, for the next 15 days,” said Mr Kagwe in Nairobi as he announced 47 new cases to bring Kenya’s Covid-19 case-load to 582.

The CS ordered all markets and eateries within the area closed starting Wednesday at 7pm. Mr Kagwe made the announcement after indicating that two more people had died in Mombasa bringing the total number of fatalities to 26.

The two people died in their homes. Old Town had by Tuesday accounted for eight deaths, according to the county government.

Earlier in the Week, Mr Joho castigated Old Town residents over their reluctance to take tests.

The angry governor on Sunday berated residents, warning that they were “playing with death”.

This was after an exceedingly low turnout met the mass testing drive he had launched in the neighbourhood.

“We have at least 28,000 residents here, but only a few came out, now I’m telling you will be tested whether you like it or not, and if not then we will lock you in your houses,” warned Mr Joho.

His remarks were echoed by County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo, who also said he would push for the lockdown. He warned residents in other places not go to Old Town.

The Coronavirus Tracker

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It is 2.30pm. Youth hurdle in small groups. They engage in discussions in hushed tones.

Along Kuze Street, women busy about, getting groceries for Iftar. In the streets of Old Town, you meet women wearing niqab (face veil) or face masks.

The residents insist that the coronavirus pandemic is a creation of the government, a laughable myth.

Even as officials on Tuesday listed Old Town as one of the areas that have experienced a spike in infections, with a reported 39 confirmed cases, the residents are having a hard time believing it.

Deaths that reportedly came as a result of the disease stood at eight on Wednesday, according to county government officials.

All these reports, the residents say, were fictitious. They insisted that they did not know of any case of coronavirus or death linked to the disease that has been reported in the area.

“There is nothing you can do in Old Town without people knowing. This is a small area and everyone knows everyone else’s problems.

The government has been talking of positive cases and deaths, but none of them has come to tell us which house has the said cases,” said Omar Abdulaziz, a resident.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has noted in its updates that a majority of the cases in the area were being spread within the community.

MOSQUES CLOSED

This, experts say, was due to culture and social behaviours of the residents - especially during this month of Ramadhan.

For the Old Town residents, the cases which only exist in the government’s data has changed their lives, especially during this month of Ramadhan.

They have been forced to deal with the reality of the closure of mosques. They have resorted to praying at home, but cannot do away with the habit of communal eating.

Many of the youths are still breaking the fast together, the Nation learnt. When Mr Joho noticed that things were getting out of control, he took a free mass testing drive to the area, which has a population of at least 28,000.

To his shock, only a handful came out for testing, with a majority fearing being quarantined at their own cost if they test positive for the disease.

“We brought you free testing programme at your door step, but you have decided to ignore us. You seem to care less about it, but I want to tell you that if you do not want to be tested then we will lock you in your house,” Mr Joho told the Old Town residents.

The county commissioner, who had accompanied him, urged residents of other areas not to visit Old Town.

“We are going to stop people from coming into or out of Old Town. That is the solution. This is a serious situation and it must be taken seriously,” said Mr Kitiyo.

STIGMA

The leaders’ remarks, however, have not been well-received.

Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri) chairman Khelef Khalifa said profiling of the area and its residents would result to stigmatisation, and urged the residents not to dismiss the disease.

“People should know that this disease is real. They have a valid point on stigmatisation, but the numbers given by the government should worry them. They should come out and get tested. It is for their own benefit. The government should foot the bill. There should be no debate about that, and those who have paid should be refunded. That is what will encourage people to come out,” said Mr Khalifa.

On Monday, Governor Joho changed tune while launching a mass testing drive in Likoni, saying the county government will take care of the bills once one is taken into quarantine.

“Don’t worry, just come out and get tested. Once you are positive, we will take you from your home and take care of you. Do not listen to those who do not care about their health,” said Mr Joho in Likoni.

Still, that did not get the job done. In fact, residents who were willing to take the tests had been branded as “traitors”.

“If you are seen going for the test you are called a traitor by the community,” said one of the residents who did not want to be named.