May 29 is the official date given for the lifting of the restrictions on movement into and out of the “disease-infested zone” and a resumption of normal life. But we know that the lockdown orders and the general behaviour of the pandemic (and Kenyans) is being monitored constantly, and that revisions of these orders can be effected any time.
The Interior Cabinet secretary, his Health counterpart and their colleagues must be listening to Kenyans and they have heard the terrible stories of the devastation the lockdown and movement restriction is having on business generally, and especially the hospitality, entertainment, travel and the tourism sectors. The most intense collateral pain is being felt by farmers supplying these industries.
The owners of bars and restaurants are at their wits’ end, helpless as they watch their businesses close and they have to lay off workers. Once a business closes, it takes time for someone else to step in and revive it. These people have pleaded their cases and hope Dr Fred Matiang’i, Mr Mutahi Kagwe and the team of advisors helping the President make these decisions are listening.
The tourism lobby made another strong pitch on Thursday night through the chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation, Mr Mohamed Hersi. In a television conversation, he argued that while the reason for imposing the restrictions are fully understandable, the measures as applied hurt critical industries without necessarily tackling the problem they are targeted for.
Take the decision to restrict travel for everyone (other than special categories) out of five the counties of Nairobi, Kajiado, Kiambu, Nakuru and Machakos. Why should this decision apply to tourists that have come from Europe or other destinations with internationally accepted Covid- free certificates? Why should these travellers not be allowed to connect to destinations out of Nairobi? Why allow travellers to land in Nairobi and then detain them here?
That one decision has caused unimaginable damage to the hotel industry at the Coast and many other outlets in Kenya’s parks. Thousands of cancellations resulted from a decision whose application could have been moderated in recognition of the impact it could have on tourism and even business travel.
For business travellers going in and out of Nairobi, why could the government not insist that they subject themselves to the rapid results tests, which, if negative, should allow one to travel and as they wish? These tests are available and they are cost-effective. Why have they not been considered?
Surely Kenya Airways and the other airlines flying domestic routes need every helping hand they can get. The SGR passenger trains, whose monstrous debt we are paying, are parked unnecessarily. Most travellers whose needs are urgent will consider the option of rapid tests regardless of the means of travel. Certainly, a lot of self-driving travellers will be happy to take that option.
Moving the curfew start from 10 pm to 8 pm in these counties is another strange decision. Is the logic that if someone is in a bar or restaurant an hour or two more their chances of getting infected shoot up? It frankly does not even start making sense and is one that should be reversed, together with the one banning eating and dining in restaurants.
Hotels and restaurants incurred great expenses when they were earlier instructed to rearrange chairs and tables to achieve social distancing. They bought temperature measuring gadgets and protective gear for staff. Those measures make those places safer than matatus and other public places where people are mingling freely (many without masks).
Anyone who has ventured out of the lockdown areas knows the restrictions have merely opened up another avenue for corrupt police and law-enforcement agents to extort money from the public. There are boundless stories detailing how this is happening. It is sickening.
I have argued before that lockdowns could probably work in places where the law is respected and diligently enforced and where moving around is not almost a basic need. Not here. By forcing those that want and are willing to travel while respecting health protocols, we hurt industries and intensify the misery of the multitudes whose direct sustenance depends on those that have been stopped from moving. Relax these restrictions, Mr President.
[email protected], @tmshindi)