Shutting markets and churches was a bad idea even as we fight Covid-19

A man prays in an empty ACK Cathedral in Nakuru on April 5, 2020. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

I have seen counties across the nation shut down markets in the wake of the novel coronavirus. I am told this is an effort to contain the spread of the virus. Methinks this directive is not well thought out.

To begin with, most of the population is unemployed. Common Kenyans make a living operating small businesses in village markets.

I feel that before shutting the markets, the governors could have had a session with the traders and got to a work out a formula on how to contain the virus without necessarily running the traders out of business. The whole social-distancing concept could have worked out well in the markets.

Also customers and traders could have been controlled on how the enter the market; something akin to one at a time. This could be very easy to implement using county enforcement officers.

According to international media reports, this is what is happening in Indian markets, and it working quite well. A fantastic way to contain the virus given India’s congested markets and the country’s 1.3 billion people. At the moment India has police officers enforcing the social distancing laws in markets, a double-pronged approach that ensures traders get a livelihood while the virus is contained.

I would also suggest that our governors allow clean open spaces in their jurisdictions to serve as alternative markets to decongest the existing ones.

My argument is simple: Kenyans are being forced out of the market and soon they will lack food on the table.

Lack of food in a society is what the poets referred to as “the centre cannot hold”. Revolutions like the big one in 1789 in France were spurred not by disease, but by lack of food.

I think that traders will defy the social distancing measures and walk back to the markets. Such situations, like we all know, will end up in unruly social behaviour like street demonstrations that could lead to looting and loss of lives.

We saw it the other day on Television where traders in Eldoret defied stringent curfew laws saying they “would rather die of corona than hunger”.

We all want to win this war against the virus and that is why I support the decision by the State to shut down bars and night clubs, where it is almost impossible to uphold the social distancing laws.

But I will never support the decision to shut down churches and markets. I am certain that if the government asked churches to open but observe social distancing, church leaders will be happy to do so. Churches have all along been reputed as law abiding institutions and the decision to shut them was also not well thought out. Prayers made in church are more potent than those made at home where there are many distractions.  

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