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Health over growth in reopening debate

By Chris Diaz | June 5th 2020

Hysteria builds ahead of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s (pictured) address to the nation regarding the review of Covid-19 pandemic containment measures with many expectant of a potential lift to restrictions and look forward to safety in health but also business opportunities to progress to a certain level.
For some, it’s about time to end the partial lockdown measures and get the economic engine reeving again after a near three months slug following the reporting of the first virus case in the country.
Hundreds of Kenyans remain stuck on either side of the cessation divide having spent the last two months under the containment measures.
While the President has in the most recent given the certain support to private and public sectors,  the recent rise in positive cases especially in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa has caused fractions to be expectant of a continued hold to containment measures which have now been extended for two times.
Consequently, the decision to get the Kenyan economy going again must be balanced on the weighing scale and not an easy decision predicted.
The health case
Common sense on a health basis would dictate an extension of measures as Kenya now registers an average of three figure cases on a daily basis which remains worrying.
As the Health Ministry has consistently put it across, present containment measures have seen the country evade a direct strike by the virus as both registered infections and fatalities remain on the low.
While questions persists on the capacities to mass test for the virus among the local community, days gone buy have proven the severity of the pandemic in Kenya has been contained.
Even as the potential capacity for testing stands about 37,000 against an average daily testing rate of estimated, below 3000 samples, existing hospital facilities have not been overrun by a high influx of admissions and patients requiring Intensive Care Unit(s) (ICU).
This even as most of identified positive cases turn out as asymptomatic. According to the Ministry of Health, more than three quarters of all admitted patients with Covid-19 have shown no symptoms for the virus.
While the development is positive on the ability of the country to contain the pandemic, mass testing for the virus must be pursued to solidify Kenya’s Covid-19 war.
Most positive cases as per testing at the present has been concentrated in urban areas with a heavy young population- and there lies the danger but also recoveries faster from a stronger younger generation.
Referred previously as potential super-spreaders, the asymptomatic youth will on a loose, on possible  re-opening jump at the opportunity to travel out of the current demarcations and some risk of the virus in upcountry where many of the aged population resides.
The potential impact of such a development would be decimating to prior efforts to manage the virus from within.
The economic view
Second comes along the economy- and with merit to feature on the list of a force behind the quest to reopen the country. However, the government has been very proactive to support private sector and citizens get the economy moving forward in structured steps.
For the past three months, the country has witnessed widespread economic disruptions that have carried with them devastation along the way.
The impact of the disruptions now leaves hundreds of thousands of Kenyans without a source of livelihood as businesses shut their doors to staff on the back of lower output and sales.
Economic experts expect the devastation on the economy to come down even harder by the end of the second quarter as more and more enterprises close shop or limit productivity.
The most recent available data already paint the devastation by data. For instance, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) show an approximate 287,481 Kenyans lost their jobs between January and March this year, with the losses being a mere drop of water in the ocean as they came well ahead of the pandemic’s strike.
The economy has continued to bleed jobs with May’s Purchasing Managing Index (PMI) indicating private firms cut jobs at the fastest rate since the series beginning in January 2014.
As such economic experts believe the time is now to restore the economic conveyer belt and save Kenyans from total devastation to livelihoods.
Already the government has explained its frustrations in seeing Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD) full of people amidst guidance to stay home in the war with the invincible enemy. Kenyans need to follow rules and be consistent and disciplined to control the spread.
Even so, while city visitations by some may be inexcusable, the majority of city dwellers cannot put adequate food on the table by staying indoors.
According to data from the 2020 Economic Survey, out of the slightly over 18 million jobs at the end of December last year, 15.1 million jobs were found in the informal sector which is heavily dependent on hands-on work.
Members of the informal sector do not enjoy the luxury option of working from home and must therefore be physically at their places of work.
Moreover, the 7PM curfew instilled on the backend of March has cut down work hours with productivity now being accommodated in a shortened window of time. Essential services movements, have greatly helped Kenyans access products and services .
A recent order from the Interior Ministry has forced employers to release staff from work at 4PM in a move that has restricted output.
The first series survey by KNBS on the socio-economic impact on the virus published in May shows an average 13 hours has been shed from each of the Kenyan worker per week since the domestic outbreak of the virus.
Already, the economic growth is expected to contract at the end of the year with the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) revealing a revised 2.3 percent GDP growth estimate in April against a projected 6 percent growth outlook at the start of the year.
The balancing act 
His Excellency the President Uhuru Kenyatta may give some tough choices (as local media has put it) in making the expected forward looking pronouncement.
The decision to reopen the economy will be a tough balancing act which must be inevitably struck amidst the sustained pressures on either side of the divide.
However, the President’s decision must be supported and substantively guided by scientific and medical data even as his wish is to get the economy back on its feet firmly.
Health or the economy- both of this dynamics do matter going forward and must remain so.
Even so, priority must be placed on the health side as the government now faces an uncertain challenge of preventing an economic crisis from boiling over into a full-scale health nightmare.
A loose release of measures might see hospital capacities overrun by a spike in new patient admissions in a case where the pandemic spreads its wings across the entire country.
Quoting the US House Democratic whip Jordan Harris, government hold the capabilities to revive an economy through available fiscal and monetary means but has no capability whatsoever to revive life.
As such, health comes first priority, and not always the economy must be the common sense dictating decisions on the reopening of the economy.
Already the government is maintaining its caution on making any rushed decisions with Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho recently hinting reopening the country might as as well take a positive layered approach.
Private sector drives the economy and will support His Excellency the President and government. We need to keep employment and entrepreneurship moving forward. Kenya in the heart of Africa must find digital solutions and adopting to a new normal and a country with hardworking talent.
Chris Diaz is EABC Director and a Business Leader 
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