As authorities began a crackdown on violators of Covid-19 rules, a nationwide spot check by the Nation this week exposed the blatant disregard of measures imposed to protect lives.
Following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive on Wednesday, dozens of people were arrested for lacking face masks and in Nairobi, at least four restaurants were shut for breaching social distancing rules.
Last month, 15,000 new cases were recorded, on average 484 daily, but the five days of November have already registered 4,403 new cases, on average 880 daily – a worrying trend.
In October, coronavirus killed about 300, on average 10 daily, but November has already recorded 76 deaths, on average 15 daily, and could become the deadliest month yet if stern measures are not enforced.
Yet, across the country, people seem to have dropped their guard – markets and bars are crowded, with face masks seemingly an inconvenience, boda bodas are carrying numerous passengers clinging onto one another, those boarding matatus are no longer sanitising, and restaurants are not enforcing the mandatory spacing.
Perhaps taking a cue from politicians who, in recent days, have held rallies where Covid-19 health protocols have been disregarded, on Wednesday President Kenyatta banned the meetings.
“Our customers claim that the cost of living is high, something that forces us to carry more than one passenger,” said Mr Daniel Momanyi, a boda boda in Kisii.
Ms Teresia Wairimu, who had kept her mask in her purse, said she had difficulty breathing with the mask on, given that Mombasa is hot and humid.
“The weather in Mombasa is extremely hot and this makes it hard to breathe. We usually have a lot of human traffic at dawn and that’s when we wear masks. By midday it is usually too hot to have the mask on,” Ms Wairimu explained.
In Mombasa, traders at the Kongowea market, the biggest open air market, went about their businesses without regard to personal safety. Majority of the people at the market did not wear masks and those with had them as chin guards.
“We are all aware of the risks, we are just not disciplined enough. Many of us here are not keen to wear the face masks and social distance here too is a challenge,” said Mr Paul Mwaniki, an onion seller.
Most of them are just stubborn.
Ms Consolata Makokha, a mask vendor in Mombasa, said: “We should enforce the regulations and action taken against those risking the lives of others. Most of them are just stubborn yet the masks are very cheap, just Sh20.”
At the Likoni crossing channel, however, commuters must have face masks on to be allowed to board the ferry. Those without are turned away by guards.
The ferry users also have to wash their hands before queuing to board.
“I was pleased by President Kenyatta’s statement on safety. We were scared of a lock-down but since he left it upon counties to secure their residents, I feel good. At the ferry, we have sufficient space especially with the management having assigned separate ferries for commuters and cars,” said Mr Clement Wasike from Kongowea.
In Nairobi, an assessment of about 30 matatu termini revealed overcrowding as Kenyans queue to get home during rush hour.
“At Odeon, if people social distance, there will be no space for them to line up,” said Mr Nahashon Karanja, a bus conductor.
“There is no water for hand-washing or soap in most of the matatu terminals,” complained Ms Rose Wanjiku.
But for the 40-year-old trader in Ngara, after working the entire day, all she thinks about is getting home to her five children.
“You don’t think about overcrowding in the bus and Covid-19 but what you will cook for them.”
In West Pokot, people in remote villages such as Alale, Masol and Ombolion still shake hands.
In Kisii town, at the open-air market, it’s still business as usual, as it is in public transport, where passengers sit side-by-side, especially during peak hours.
In Kakamega, social distancing, wearing masks and frequent hand washing at the bus terminus and market are seen as a nuisance.
“We are so disappointed with the response from the public on this matter. People are still not heeding calls to observe the protocols on containment of Covid-19 infections in our county,” lamented the county executive committee member for Health Services, Dr Collins Matemba.
In Homa Bay, government institutions have started enforcing the ‘no mask no service’ rule to compel compliance.
Residents seeking services in a number of offices in Homa Bay town were turned away for not having masks or for wearing them improperly.
At the Homa Bay law courts, no one was allowed into the compound without a mask.
Security guards also ensured that those whose cases were not scheduled for the day were not allowed inside the courtroom.
"It is serious that some people are moving around without the masks. This group is very dangerous to the rest of us. Let the police make arrests to instill fear," said Ms Phoebe Omondi, a fruit vendor in Busia town.
In Vihiga, despite a spike in Covid-19 cases that had seen 13 health workers and a senior county government official among 70 patients, masks are not popular and those attending funerals violate social distancing guidelines.
“The guidelines were provided by the World Health Organization. Failure to observe them is sending countries back to lockdown. This disease is real and the best way to contain it is by observing the guidelines,” warned Governor Wilber Ottichilo.
Police in the county are arresting people found in public without a mask.
We shall deal tough with the offenders.
In Siaya, it emerged that some bars in Bondo and Siaya towns were operating past curfew hours with the connivance of the local authorities, while in Embu town, enforcement officers arrested 15 people for flouting the Covid-19 measures.
Embu West police boss Charles Kinyua said the suspects were detained for lacking face masks and breaching social distancing rules.
"We shall deal tough with the offenders," warned Mr Kinyua.
In Kirinyaga, where more than 90 people have been infected with coronavirus which has killed six, the situation is no different.
More arrests were made in Tharaka Nithi according to the county police commander, Mr Charles Mbatu.
On Wednesday, President Kenyatta handed county governments sweeping powers to enforce Covid-19 control measures, making the devolved units the new focal points in the fight against the deadly pandemic.
Governors now have the powers, in consultation with the national government, to impose county-level lockdowns in cases where they deem the measure necessary.
President Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Interior to constitute a special enforcement unit drawing officers from the National Police Service and county government inspectorate units.
In North Rift, Nandi health official Ruth Koech expressed concern about disregard of the protocols yet more than eight people had been killed by the disease and more than 4,945 have tested positive for the virus.
Governor Stephen Sang has since ordered closure of the county headquarters and asked workers to operate from home for 14 days upon taking tests.
Mr Sang attributed the surge in infections to failure to wear face masks and violating social distancing rules.
Reported by Wycliff Kipsang’, Tom Matoke, Brian Ojamaa, Barnabas Bii, Oscar Kakai, Benson Amadala, George Odiwuor, Shaban Makokha, Derick Luvega and Dickens Wasonga, George Munene, Alex Njeru, Mercy Mwende, Benson Ayienda and Wachira Mwangi