Mombasa governor angry after few residents turn up for Covid-19 testing.
Mombasa's Old Town, the epicentre of coronavirus cases in the county, is staring at a lockdown after the number of infections rose to 38, with six deaths in less than a month.
Yesterday, non-residents were banned from entering the town after it was declared an infection hotspot amid revelations that residents have shunned State-sponsored mass testing.
It also emerged that some imams have been secretly opening mosques for congregational prayers despite government orders prohibiting public gatherings.
“With its population of 28,000 residents, Old Town has become a high-risk area and people from other areas should not enter,” said County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo yesterday. He was accompanied by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir, who appealed to the town's residents to get tested.
The turnout has been low since the targeted mass testing began on Wednesday. Only 131 residents have agreed to get tested in the last four days, with just seven people turning up yesterday.
Mr Joho accused residents of making light of the pandemic, saying they were coming up with minor excuses to defeat efforts to combat the spread of the disease.
The furious county boss told off residents for “being trapped in old myths and conspiracy theories against overwhelming scientific evidence of the viral spread and its deadly effects”.
“I swear to you that you will all be tested. We have (made available) free mass testing at your doorsteps and you are still complaining and hiding. It is frustrating,” said Joho.
The governor revealed some of the infected were children.
“Stop dreaming shallow dreams of Kibokoni. We have a two-year-old, and 11 and 12-year-olds who have tested positive. This virus does not discriminate or know religion. If you cannot adhere to the measures put in place, we shall propose that you be locked down. No one shall go out or come in. You can avoid this only if you follow the laid-down procedures,” Joho warned.
The disease has continued its relentless march after it was reported that it had claimed its first victim on April 19, following the death of famous herbalist and Islamic scholar Mohamed bin Hassan, popularly known as Shariff Mwinyi Karama.
Hassan, who was said to be aged over 90, lived with his three adult children who also tested positive.
Officials now believe the disease had been silently spreading through the area due to suspicions that the herbalist was infected by a resident he was treating.
Joho said discussions were underway to take over government facilities like the Kenya Medical Training Institute for use as an isolation centre.
Mr Kitiyo said infections at the Kenya Ports Authority, which had been identified as another Covid-19 hotspot, had reduced because employees adhered to Health ministry guidelines.
Dancing with death
He said police would be deployed to ensure no mosques were opened.
“Mass testing is a must and everyone must be tested. You are dancing with death. The virus can kill even 1,000 people in this area in a day. We are going to follow up on which families don’t want to be tested.”
The administrator added that the government would set up a monitoring system and if the number of those tested did not increase, they would lock down Old Town “because this is not the cholera and malaria that you are used to”.
Joho warned those who were meeting for prayers that they were risking mass deaths.
“Being tested is not a jail term. We test you and you return to your house. Those who turn out positive are taken to isolation centres for treatment that is free.”
The governor accused families of hiding their relatives from medical officials for fear of being taken into quarantine.
Mr Nassir told residents that after the free mass testing was concluded, those who sought the services would have to pay Sh20,000. The MP pledged to set up 50 sanitising booths in Old Town even as he criticised religious leaders flouting State directives.
“If you are arrested for opening a mosque, you will be charged like the Kilifi deputy governor (Gideon Saburi). Let no one call me for intervention,” said Nassir.
“We shall be extra vigilant because the price of ignorance in the fight against Covid-19 is death.”
The MP added that county enforcement officers would be given vehicles and motorbikes to patrol the area and ensure rules were followed.
“If the doors to Mecca have been closed, and the religion teaches on how to behave during epidemics, why can’t we follow suit? Let us pray from our homes and from our hearts. Me and Joho used to go and open the muadhini, but today we stay indoors because of coronavirus,” he said.
Separately, the county commissioner said hotels in Mombasa would remain closed until the number of Covid-19 cases falls.
The directive comes a week after the government allowed hotel and restaurant owners to open their establishments, but under strict guidelines on testing and social distancing.
"The general guidelines by the Ministry of Health in regards to reopening of hotels do not apply in Mombasa until people learn discipline. Following rules is hard in Mombasa as people take things for granted,” said Kitiyo.