On Covid-19, is the return to normalcy a calm before storm?
By XN Iraki | May 10th 2020
Last Tuesday at 2 pm, I took a drive from Westlands to Kitengela along Mombasa Road. I drove back through the southern bypass to Lang’ata, through Mbagathi Road, Valley Road, Nyerere, University Way, Harry Thuku, Kijabe, Kipande, Ojijo, Parklands back to Westlands.
To my amazement, the roads were parked. I avoided the city’s Central Business District (CBD) which was fun driving through a few weeks ago
The previous week, I had visited Kawangware and Juja Road. The roads were packed, business as usual. Even some parking lots like Sarit now appear full.
The political infighting is back too. Expect Coronavirus (Covid-19) to be an issue in 2022. Politicians never fail to see opportunities they can exploit even in the war. ‘What did you do for the country during Covid-19’ will become a familiar question. Against this background are rising cases of Covid-19. The shock and awe after the first case was reported in March have subsided.
We can now venture out and test the system. We had argued that tough measures will go against the freedoms we got in 2010 with the Constitution. We even got the freedom to die the way we want.
My worry is that after getting things back to normal, it is going to be very hard to revert to measures taken when the first case was reported. Why are things getting back to normal?
The numbers of cases never reached 10,000 in April as previously projected. Many saw this as a hoax.
No one has explained that the measures taken almost flattened the curve. Many Kenyans feel the corona pandemic is a political and security issue not medical.
That complicates our approaches and demand for resources while creating resistance. We are seeing other economies ravaged by Covid -19, from the UK to Germany and US opening up. Kenyans might be asking, “Why not us with lower numbers?
“And once we announced that hotels and eateries are opening, it was a signal that the rest of the businesses can open, particularly the informal ones.
Why were these premises given priority? Covid-19 is seen as a disease of the rich and affluent, the jet-set group. Did that leave the hoi polloi feeling safe and therefore reckless?
Some say openly they have never been abroad and have no relatives there. The propaganda that black people are immune is partly supported by data from Africa. Add the report from Covid-19 briefing that most cases are mild and it’s easy for us to take risks.
Instant gratification has become part of our culture. We must take beer, go out and do other things that define us now. Are we not even demanding the lowering of the age of consent?
The virus is now in the crowded and informal settlements. That was the ultimate nightmare. What can we do?
We start by changing our communication strategy. Can we go beyond the numbers reported? How did the afflicted get the virus? That will make it easier for us to reflect on our lifestyles and movements. Two, let us set red lines. For example, how many cases should be reported before an area becomes a candidate for a lockdown?
We never saw the rising trend in Covid-19 numbers in Eastleigh or Mombasa Old Town. Why did we wait this long? Three, surprisingly, persuasion works better than threats.
Why are new churches often full? The charismatic leaders are persuasive. Remember the great speeches of World War II?
Our persuasion should be based on data not emotions. Let us explain to Kenyans how soon the measures will work and return us to normalcy.
How did successful countries like South Korea or New Zealand do it?
Four, add other opinion leaders to daily briefings which should be at 7.30pm when we are all settled and under curfew. Can we add someone from Italy or South Korea to share their experience during the briefing? We seem to believe foreigners more. Can you contest that?
Five, have other ministers and private sector leaders report on their role in combating Covid-19, which has many fronts. The inclusion of governors one time in the briefing was a step in the right direction.
Six, how is the briefing amplified? Beyond radio and TV, does it reach the grassroots? Has someone found out how it is received beyond the jokes it generates? Seven, the briefing is done by elites for the common people.
Can we “talk” to hoi polloi? Do you recall how President Moi used to talk to the mwananchi?
Right, what mathematical or statistical model are we using in making our briefs, and projections?
Can it be publicised for critique? Has it included our latest census data?
Kenya is demographically, socially and politically different from other countries, our approach should be unique to our uniqueness.
Nine, making quarantine free could attract some joyriders, but that’s an easier problem to deal with. Without fear of incurring costs, more will come out for tests and hopefully reduce the stigma of isolation. We can extend testing to chemists, Kenya medical training centres, and all government and private hospitals for free.
Ten, the economic costs of Covid -19 is high. Who is explaining to us the Government’s role in reducing the costs? Left on our own, we are likely to return to our normal routine, fending for ourselves.
The two months might have convinced Kenyans, they are on their own and therefore willing to take risks.
Eleven, Kenya is a technology savvy nation. Can we get alerts on our phones if near red zones?
Covid-19 apps are there, we need not reinvent the wheel. Twelve, the pandemic is a real war. Is it time we involved our military beyond Nairobi Metropolitan Services?
Finally, we get drank with slogans around polling time. Why not come up with one that can capture national attention. Seen the UK one? Komesha corona is tired. E.g “Test, Save the Nation, Save yourself “
The virus is here. We have to fight it, not talk about it. Let us persuade Kenyans to hold on till we get a vaccine or cure. It won’t be forever.
The return to normalcy, I fear could be a calm before a storm.
The writer in an associate professor at the University of Nairobi
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