Cautious optimism after Uhuru relaxes Covid-19 restrictions

President Uhuru's speech on Labour Day

What you need to know:

  • The President pushed the curfew hours in the five counties to 10pm-4am, restored in-person worship but capped attendance to just a third of capacity, reopened restaurants and eateries, and announced that learning institutions of all levels will be reopening.

A number of businesses will be cautiously reopening on Sunday following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s orders that reset Covid-19 containment restrictions announced in March.

In his Labour Day speech, Mr Kenyatta lifted the cessation of movement into and out of Nairobi, Machakos, Nakuru, Kajiado and Kiambu counties.

He also pushed the curfew hours in the five counties, from 8pm-4am to the initial 10pm-4am period, restored in-person worship but capped attendance to just a third of capacity, reopened restaurants and eateries, and announced that learning institutions of all levels will be reopening.

Long-distance bus operators said through their association that as much as the directive was a reprieve for their badly disrupted business, they will not recall all their employees yet due to the randomness of the cessation of movement orders.

Cotu Secretary-General Atwoli's speech on Labour Day

Mr Jervis Sundays, the CEO of the Inter-Urban Coach Owners Association of Kenya that has 62 companies in the long-distance bus travel business, said a number of employers in the sector had laid off their employees.

“I don’t think that even 50 per cent are going to be brought back. It is because of the uncertainties,” he said.

Mr Sundays said that currently, 90 per cent of long-distance travel operators are finding it difficult to service loans and pay for the insurance of the buses they own.

“We’re seeing a lot of repossession by insurance companies and banks. So, not 100 per cent of the buses are going back to the roads because they have already been repossessed,” he told the Nation.

Labour Day 2021

A woman pushes a wheelbarrow loaded with shoes for sale along First Avenue in Eastleigh, Nairobi, amid Labour Day celebrations on May 1, 2021. 
 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

KQ flights

But Kenya Airways (KQ) said they will resume domestic flights from Sunday.

Restaurant and eatery owners will also be treading cautiously for fear of sudden closure orders like the ones Mr Kenyatta issued on March 26.

Mt Kenya Central Bar Owners Association Welfare Union secretary-general Ngugi Maina, reacting to Mr Kenyatta’s order that bars all over Kenya will be required to close by 7pm, accused the government of being obsessed with bars “as if they are coronavirus labs”.

“If our businesses were all that risky, we would have definitely sunk into a real crisis of mass deaths,” he said.

Drop in infections

Mr Kenyatta said the easing of restrictions, which will officially be published as Public Order No 3 of 2021, was partly informed by the fact that there had been a significant decrease in infections since his March 26 orders.

“When I issued the second Public Order of 2021 in March, announcing the containment measures, our Covid caseload in Nairobi was 56,815,” said Mr Kenyatta. “This caseload has now gone down to below 15,000 for the month of April, signifying a 74 per cent decrease in infections in Nairobi.”

The education sector that had been left in limbo due to the indefinite orders issued in March, will now have its gears rolling again.

Primary and secondary schools will reopen on May 10 for third term as earlier scheduled by the Ministry of Education. This will avoid disrupting the schools calendar for a second time.

Labour CS Chelugui's speech on Labour Day

Also to reopen are colleges and universities that were closed in March following the directive that suspended physical learning for all students except those taking medicine-related courses.

“All our education institutions in all levels of learning shall re-open in accordance with the calendar issued by the Ministry of Education,” said Mr Kenyatta.

Learners in primary and secondary schools will have their third term from May 10 to July 16. Learners in Grade Four who were in their third term between January and March will remain at home for the three months. They will resume school to join Grade Five in July when first term is scheduled to start.

The 2020 KCPE candidates will join Form One in July. Selection of the Form Ones will be on May 28.

Besides education, the sports sector that screeched to a halt following the March orders is also about to spring back to life. Mr Kenyatta said sporting activities would resume under guidance from the Health and Sports ministries.

Regarding the healthcare sector, a patient in hospital will henceforth be allowed a single visitor a day. And in the political arena, Mr Kenyatta said the ban on political gatherings will remain in place.

Mr Kenyatta noted that another lockdown was not out of the cards.

“If public responsiveness to the health protocols goes up, then the possibility of further de-escalating the containment measures is within reach. Sadly, a surge of infections will necessitate an escalation of the containment measures, a possibility we all dread,” he noted.

Labour Day 2021

Samuel Mburu, 89, follows proceedings on radio at Elburgon town, Nakuru County, during Labour Day celebrations on May 1, 2021. 

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

Mixed reactions

The President’s directives were met with different reactions. Even as a #ThankYouUhuru hashtag trended on Twitter to appreciate what he had done, not everyone was pleased.

Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen claimed that the politics of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was the main motivator. “The lifting of cessation of movement and relaxation of Covid-19 rules is sponsored by BBI referendum and not your petitions,” he tweeted.

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said the order on bars closing at 7pm is against economic growth.

“We want the government to come out very clearly and open up the economy fully without resorting to limiting enterprise,” he said.

Mr Kang’ata said he will be withdrawing a case in which he had sued the government at the High Court in Murang’a seeking removal of a movement barrier at Chania Bridge.

Labour Day 2021

A man flees from Kenya National Archives in Nairobi amid Labour Day celebrations on May 1, 2021, after police officers used tear gas to disperse demonstrations against poor working conditions and job losses.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Bishop Joseph Muchai of the Anglican Church in Nakuru said the presidential announcement was not inspiring.

“The government does not appear to know the real concern of Kenyans,” he said. “The key issues are job losses, business failures and the threat of infections in an environment of some deceptive insurance covers, high cost of treatment and lack of mass testing and vaccination policies. Any measure that limits enterprise and heightens anxiety is a bad reaction.”

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said the funds to be spent on the BBI referendum should be used to vaccinate all Kenyan adults.

“The country needs Sh18 billion to vaccinate all aged 18 and above. This is the equivalent of the proposed BBI referendum (budget).

By Elvis Ondieki, Mwangi Muiruri and Faith Nyamai

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