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Shutdown looms large as locals avoid tests amid rising numbers

By Benard Sanga | May 4th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho addresses old Town residents at Fort Jesus in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango/Standard]

The island of Mombasa yesterday inched closer to a total shutdown as Covid-19 cases soared.

The idea of a total lockdown, previously resisted largely because of port business, began settling in the minds of county and national government officials yesterday as more positive cases were announced.

By last evening, the cases in the country had hit a staggering 148 after 19 more people tested positive.

Yesterday's announcement of 19 cases is a record high for Mombasa and is the single largest infection number from a single county since the virus landed in Kenya.

From yesterday's figures, three quarters (15) are from Mvita, mostly from Old Town area. In a span of one week, Mombasa has registered 59 cases, beating Nairobi's 42.

Covid 19 Time Series


The highly populated areas of Old Town, Changamwe, Bamburi and Likoni are posing the headache for health and county officials.

Government officials are now considering the idea of locking down the Old Town and forcing the more than 28,000 residents to undergo the mass testing that began on Wednesday.

Old Town residents have shunned state-sponsored mass testing despite rising cases of Covid-19 in the area.

By Friday, 38 people from the area had tested positive and six died.   

Health officials have turned to the Old Town after they completed the mass testing exercise at the Port of Mombasa, which has also emerged as a hotspot of Covid-19. 

On Saturday, a furious Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho criticised the locals of taking the pandemic lightly and reiterated his threats to place affected areas under a lockdown.

“Here (Kibokoni) a two-year-old, 11-year-old, and 12-year-old have tested positive. This virus does not discriminate. I don’t mince my words, you must be tested,” said Joho.

He attributed the spread of the virus in Mombasa to old myths and conspiracy theories among the locals and criticised some clerics for allowing people to pray in the mosques.

In April, a renowned Islamic scholar and popular herbalist Sheriff Mwinyi Karama, 90, died after he contracted the disease from a Covid-19 patient he was allegedly treating.

Hassan’s three children who lived with him were taken to hospital for Covid-19 tests. Joho and officials in his administration believe such behaviours were fueling the spread of the virus.

County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo said the Old Town was an epicenter of Covid-19 in the county amid a warning that the virus may kill up to 1,000 people in the area.

Mass testing

He warned that if people do not volunteer for the tests, the police will be deployed at all exit points of Kibokoni to block non-residents from entering the area.

“With its population of 28,000 residents, Old Town has become a high-risk area and people from other areas should not enter,” Kitiyo said.

Records from the county government indicated that on Friday, only seven people turned out for testing in the area.  

The task to convince the residents to turn out for the tests, however, is compounded by reports of high charges for the quarantined services and the poor state of the facilities.

As the leaders issued stern warnings, critics say the county health officials should address the issue of the costs of quarantine and the state of facilities.

Critics say Joho and the national government should sensitise the locals the importance of mass testing instead of issuing threats.

“The county government should subsidise the cost of quarantine and improve the state of the facilities and people will come out to be tested,” said Nyali MP Mohamed Ali.

He claimed that Joho’s push for a total lockdown of some parts of Mombasa could spark chaos given that the county food distribution programme was yet to reach many locals.

Video clips of the poor state of some of the quarantine facilities have gone viral on social media, sparking outrage from members of the public.

In one of the clips, a woman claiming to be from the Old Town and currently in a quarantine facility in Mombasa, complains of the poor state of the toilets and food served to them.

“This is a jail not a medical facility,” she said, asking Joho to intervene.

The Standard could not independently verify the authenticity of the clip but it is one of many that have been shared by people who claim to be under quarantine in Mombasa County and have been picked up by human rights activists.

“It is clear that Joho should put his house in order before he starts issuing threats. These facilities are not jails,” said Commission for Human Rights and Justice (CHRJ)'s Julius Ogogoh.

Quarantine charges

Hassan Mwakimako, an associate professor at the department of philosophy and religious Studies at Pwani University, said Mombasa should re-evaluate its measures on Covid-19.

“Sh470,000 quarantine charges for a family in Mombasa and they tell people to come up for mass testing?” Prof Mwakimako said in an apparent shock on the cost of quarantine.

The county government said it had struck an agreement with Kenya Medical Training Collage (KMTC) at Port Reizt and Mombasa Campus to release 38 people quarantined there.

County Executive for Health Hazel Koitaba said this was in line with the county’s resolve to come to the rescue of those who are unable to pay the quarantine fee of Sh2,000 per day.

“Twenty people were due to be discharged on Friday at Portreitz and 18 on Saturday from the main campus in Mombasa,” she said in a statement.

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