State declares 13 Lake Region counties Covid-19 hotspots

A nurse attends to Covid-19 patient recuperating at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu County on June 10, 2021.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

 The government has imposed strict Covid-19 control measures in 13 Lake Region counties. It has also banned movement into the counties in western Kenya and Nyanza regions.

In a review of Covid-19 containment measures announced  on Thursday by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, Busia, Vihiga, Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega, Kericho, Bomet, Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori counties have been declared Covid-19 hotspots.

Save for essential and emergency service providers, the CS discouraged movement into and out of the area covered by the counties, which the government has declared a Covid-19 red zone.

In the review, which was done in consultation with the Council of Governors and with the concurrence of the National Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19, the night curfew in the 13 counties will start at 7pm and end at 4am.

Public and private sector employees in the said counties have been advised to work from home, apart from those offering critical services. Churches have been closed for a period of 30 days.

Market days have also been suspended for 30 days under the recommendations that will take effect today.

Attendance of funeral and burial services has been restricted to a maximum of 50 persons until further notice. All funerals and interment ceremonies must be conducted within 72 hours of confirmation of death while night vigils and overnight processions prior to funerals are prohibited until further notice.

“All cross-border cargo drivers are required to possess a valid certificate indicating a negative Covid-19 result and the test must have been conducted no more than 48 hours before commencing their journey. Cargo trucks shall be limited to only two persons per vehicle,” says the directive.

However, the directive did not say whether bars and restaurants in the said counties would remain operational, apart from banning public gatherings including house parties and sporting activities.

The lake region has been accounting for at least 50 per cent of total Covid-19 infections in the country, with a positivity rate higher than 25 per cent.

The surge in infections is higher than in Nairobi and Mombasa, which have been the epicentres of Covid-19 since the first case was announced in Kenya in March last year.

Last week, the Lake region recorded 1,320 new cases, with Kisumu taking the lead with 368 cases, followed closely by Siaya (197) and Busia (196). Homa Bay registered 167 new cases, Kericho (102), Kisii (100), Migori (44), Bomet (55), Kakamega (47), Vihiga (27) and Nyamira (17).

 Kisumu has emerged as Kenya’s new Covid-19 hotspot, overtaking Nairobi, which, due to its huge population, had naturally assumed this position since last year.

The lakeside city recently hosted Madaraka Day celebrations that are feared to have been a super spreader.

“Over the past four days, infections in the said counties have constituted 60 per cent of the national caseload,” Mr Kagwe said.

“The positivity rate in the aforementioned counties rose to 21 per cent against a national average of nine per cent, a threefold increase,” he explained.

The CS attributed the high positivity rates to the affected counties’ proximity to Uganda, which has recently been reporting a surge in Covid-19 infections.

Experts have also blamed the Indian variant (Delta) for the rise in infections, which the ministry warned could soon overwhelm the healthcare system.

The highly infectious Indian variant was first reported in Kisumu and is suspected to be spreading in the community.

The Delta variant spread fast in May this year after millions of Hindus descended on the banks of the Ganges River in the northern city of Haridwar to take a dip in the water. Hindus believe the river is holy and taking a dip in it can cleanse them of their sins and bring salvation.

 The event, which is known as the Kumbh Mela festival, took place at a time India was battling a devastating second wave of Covid-19, and it ended up being a super-spreader event.

 The lake region counties had predicted a surge in the numbers and had started pooling resources, including medical equipment, human resources and hospital beds in readiness to respond to an increase in Covid-19 numbers.

The counties had also hired a health data analyst, Dr Shem Otoyi, to project different scenarios of the spread of the disease and help in preparations for multiple possible outcomes.

 On Thursday, reports indicated that beds in major hospitals were full, with some patients lying on the floor.

“All Kenyans are reminded not to let their guard down. They should avoid unnecessary movements and gatherings, employ physical distancing, observe proper hand hygiene and observe the proper and consistent use of face masks,” Mr Kagwe said.

“All prevailing mitigation measures to guard against further spread of the Covid-19 disease in the rest of the country remain in place and unchanged,” the CS further clarified.

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