Reprieve as roads, rail and the skies re-open
By Dominic Omondi
| Jul 7th 2020 | 4 min read
President Uhuru Kenyatta has moved closer to fully re-opening the economy after he allowed movement of people into and out of three counties that were previously restricted.
This essentially breathed life into the business of ferrying people into and out of Nairobi, the country’s capital city and commercial hub.
Lifting of the restrictions of movement into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera will re-ignite a flurry of economic activities as buses, mini-buses and trains roar back to life following a two-month hiatus that had crippled part of the transport sector.
Simon Kimutai, chairman of Matatu Owners Association (MOA), doesn’t think the condition the government has given them such as being certified will achieve much in terms of preventing the spread of the disease. “When you test me now, and I don’t have it, is it a guarantee that I will not have it?” wondered Kimutai.
He said the Government should have instead provided operators of matatus with enough knowledge and behavioural change by, for example, providing them with equipment such as sanitisers and temperature guns. He noted that revenues for public service vehicles had dwindled by 60 per cent.
Besides reviving the transport sector, the president has also so far given hotels and restaurants the green light to resume operations, and just like in the transport sector, under strict observance of health and safety measures.
In April, Kenyatta prohibited the movement of people into and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale following a surge of Covid-19 infections in what was aimed at stopping the respiratory disease in it tracks. And as cases of Covid-19 spiked, Mandera County was added to the list of counties under lockdown.
Public transport is one of the sectors that have taken a beating due to the stringent social distancing rules, with matatus also being prohibited from carrying passengers at their maximum capacity.
As a result, transport costs increased by 51.7 per cent, with Migori County recording the sharpest spike, by 77.2 per cent, according to a report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistic (KNBS).
However, public service vehicle operators transporting passengers into and out of Nairobi have largely been out of business, adding to an economic crisis that has seen households struggle to pay rent or put food on the table, according to surveys.
However, the Head of State, while dissuading people from non-essential travel outside of Nairobi, also warned public transport vehicles against flouting the social distance rules.
“Conscious that movement of people is a catalyst for the spread of the disease, there shall be no movement of public transport vehicles into and out of the areas previously under cessation of movement restrictions, without the public transport providers being compliant with all protocols developed by Ministry of Health,” said the president in a speech.
“To operate,the operators will require mandatory certification from the Ministry of Health, in consultation with Ministry of Transport.”
In his speech yesterday, the president also noted that both the domestic and international flights would soon resume operations on July 15 and August 1 respectively.
With the lifting of restrictions, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) services from Nairobi to Mombasa, which had been stopped following the cessation of movement into the two counties, will also resume. SGR passenger revenues in March and April tanked by 47 per cent after the Government began to implement stringent measures aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.
Latest data from the KNBS shows that income from passengers that travelled on the new railway in March dipped to Sh92.1 million as the movement of people around the country was restricted. In March last year, Kenya Railways Corporation earned Sh175.7 million from passengers that used the SGR between Nairobi and Mombasa, as well as from Nairobi to Suswa.
Passenger numbers also dropped during this period with 89,109 people using the service in March compared to 121,237 in the same month last year. In April, SGR earned Sh5.9 billion by transporting passengers compared to Sh123.2 billion in the same month last year.
Resumption of flights is salvation to thousands of workers of airline and air travel agencies, many of whom have either been fired or furloughed as the planes remained grounded. It will especially be a major reprieve to workers and management of Kenya Airways (KQ), whose financial position was already in a mess even before the Covid-19 crisis.
Also to heave a sigh of relief will be thousands of travel agents who had been sent on unpaid leave will also heave a sigh of relief.
The President also paved the way for re-opening of churches, a major source of income for thousands of clergy who eke a living from tithes and offerings from their congregants.
However, schools and nightclubs will remain closed in the foreseeable future as the government tries to put a lid against the explosion of Covid-19 cases which have so far reached 8,067 cases.
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