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A boda boda rider carrying excess passengers in Kisumu. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Kenya
Most still do not adhere to social distancing that the government has over-emphasised is key in containing spread of coronavirus

Residents in urban centres across the country have continued to disregard government directives in the fight against coronavirus.

A spot check in towns across Mt Kenya region, for instance, revealed little, if any, adherence to social distancing that the government has over-emphasised is key in containing the spread of coronavirus.

It has been business as usual with boda boda riders ignoring the basic rules like carrying one passenger, with most of them still operating without masks.

Market centres are still congested with traders going on with their businesses unperturbed.

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Restaurants are still opened for customers despite the directive to serve take-away only.

Most operators in the public transport sector continue with normal business, with passengers seated side by side, especially during peak hours, ignoring the social distancing directive.

Many boda boda operators are carrying more than one passenger. They defend their lack of adherence to the guidelines, claiming that some clients insist on overloading to save on costs.

At the Nyeri bus termini, passengers are ignoring the guidelines as they converge at booking offices. Some public service vehicles even allow carriage of more than the recommended number of passengers.

In Kirinyaga County, some sections of the population that are at high risk of spreading Covid-19 are not keen to observe social distancing as directed by the government.

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At Kerugoya open-air market, most sellers and buyers continue with transactions while close to one another. It is the same case in other markets in the county.

At shopping centres in villages, locals are going about their businesses as they used to before the pandemic, with little regard to wearing masks or social distancing.

Last week, County Commissioner Jim Njoka put on notice traders, especially roadside fruit vendors and boda boda riders, who he noted continued to disregard the directives on social distancing.

In Murang’a, some boda boda operators claimed they are uncomfortable with face masks and are using headscarves to cover their noses and mouths as they ferry more than one passenger.

Peter Mwangi, a boda boda rider in Kihiu Mwiri, said it was pathetic that some operators are reluctant to comply with directives issued to stop spread of Covid-19.

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“As a group, we have to ensure all the members follow the law to the latter to have certified masks. Those yet to have until tomorrow or they be suspended from operating,” said Mwangi.

In liquor outlets, it is still business as usual in some premises.

On Sunday night, the police arrested 14 people in a high class hotel, and on Thursday seven were arrested at Mukuyu and Kiangage markets.

Murang’a East police boss Alexander Muasya said the police will arrest all those found flouting the law.

Although matatu operators in sections of Meru are complying with government directives, not to overload, the same cannot be said of traders at major markets and boda boda operators.

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A spot check by The Standard yesterday revealed a ‘don’t care’ attitude adopted by both buyers and sellers at Gakoromone market near the Meru town central business district.

A big number of boda boda operators based at Gakoromone also lacked the masks, as did the majority of their passengers.

Carol Gituma, a trader, said it was impossible to keep the ‘social distance’ because the space in the market is not adequate.

In Bomet County, it was business as usual among boda boda riders and matatu operators.

Most riders are not wearing face masks as directed by the government while carrying excess passengers.

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“We are keen to have face masks but the shortage is a headache,” said Alexander Rono, a boda boda operator.

Rono said the masks were not available in local chemists.

Bomet County Commissioner Geoffrey Omonding said they are contemplating banning riders from the roads for disobeying government directives.

In Nandi County, majority of operators in Kapsabet and Mosoriot continued as usual, with little regard to social distancing.

Smith Wafula, a boda boda operator in Makutano, said the increase in price of face masks has forced many operators in rural areas to operate without them.

Unlike the boda boda operators, the matatu sector in the area has heeded the Ministry of Transport directive and currently ferry passengers in accordance with social distancing regulations.

“As from Tuesday (today), we will not allow anyone inside the vehicle without him or her wearing a mask. Before someone gets a receipt, he or she has to wash their hands,” said Godfrey Wakuto, a matatu driver at Makutano bus park.

Nandi County Commissioner Kutswa Olaga maintained that anyone found violating the measures put to curb the spread of Covid-19 will be arrested.

A spot check by The Standard in Vihiga, Kakamega, Busia and Bungoma counties revealed congestion at bus parks, banks and even supermarkets.

In Kakamega, boda boda riders could be seen standing in groups in total disregard to social distancing directives.

The riders were adamant that they could not leave because doing so would deny them business.

“It is easy to find passengers from this point, where else do they expect us to go,” riders interviewed at National Oil stage in Kakamega town told The Standard.

Some of the riders wore face masks while others had surgical hand cloves. However, the majority of them went on with their business, as usual, disregarding all safety measures.

Boda boda operators in Busia and Vihiga counties continued to defy the order to carry only one passenger and did not wear face masks.

Robart Oundo, one of the riders in Busia, lamented that the government was yet to distribute the masks.

“Let the government give us free masks. Some of the people we carry come without the masks, we cannot refuse to take them where they want to go,” said Oundo.

Busia County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri issued a stern warning to boda boda riders that they risk being arrested for going against the State’s directive.

Some matatu operators like Yesu Ni Bwana and Yesu Ni Mweza saccos plying Kakamega-Busia route complied with the directive to carry strictly eight passengers.

However, the fare from Busia to Kakamega has shot up from initial Sh300 to Sh400.

“We are giving our passengers tickets and it is strictly eight people. The fare hike is because of reduction in the number of people we are carrying,” a driver of Yesu Ni Bwana fleet said.

Nyanza’s public transport sector also continued to flout directives, with several matatus packed to capacity as commuters sought to beat the 7pm curfew.

Matatu operators queued in close proximity along the Kakemega-Kisumu road and at Posta grounds as they scrambled for passengers.

In one of the 14 seater matatu’s plying the Kisumu-Kisii route, 14 passengers sat comfortably as their vehicle left Kisumu.

Joseph Ongeri, the driver of the vehicle, told The Standard that the curfew has reduced the number of operating hours, claiming that they now have to make up for the lost time by allowing more passengers.

“We understand the risks but we sanitise their hands before they board the vehicle,” he claimed.

But he is not alone. Several other matatus plying different routes including those travelling to Western Kenya from Kisumu were also carrying more than eight passengers.

For passengers travelling to South Nyanza and Kisii, the situation has been worsened by the destruction of a key bridge, which has now compelled drivers to take a longer route through Kericho.

Along the streets of Kisumu, however, the situation has been compounded by the errant boda boda industry where several operators were still carrying more than one passenger. Most of them did not have protective masks.

Mathew Owino, an operator, told The Standard that most of his colleagues were reluctant to abide by the rules because of reduced business, which has seen them lose income.

“I have hired a motorcycle and I am supposed to give the owner Sh300 at the end of the day. With few people available along the streets, I have no option but to carry more than one passenger at times,” he said.

Tuk Tuk operators too have also not been left behind in the defiance and continued to carry up to five passengers. A spot check at the Kisumu bus park established that Tuk Tuks plying Nyalenda and Nyamasaria routes had excess passengers.

In Siaya, while most of the matatu and motorbike operators obeyed the rules, a section of them flouted the measures by carrying excess passengers and also hiking fares.

[Reports by Joseph Muchiri, Fridah King’ori, Phares Mutembei, Boniface Gikandi, Gilbert Kimutai, Edward Kosut, Irissheel Shanzu, Ignatius Odanga, John Shilitsa, Eric Lungai, Harold Odhiambo and Isaiah Gwengi]


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