Just over six months ago, the worst nightmare in many people’s minds came true as a virus never seen before hit the Kenyan soil.
Flu-related viruses were, nevertheless, nothing new even as our exposure to the potential pandemic was only through media coverage.
From SARS in the early 2000s to MERs in the 2010s and H1N1, the viruses had come and gone while only barely scrapping our own continent.
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As such, the expectations among the majority was Covid-19 couldn’t be any different and would likely wear off after a few months just like its predecessors.
Contrary to the trend, however, the pandemic is yet to cool down while the usual ‘further-a –field’ threat is now very much in the locale.
Six months ago, Kenya saw its first-ever lockdown as an independent country save for the minor stint that saw the State of Emergency declared after the attempted 1982 coup.
The ever so guaranteed freedom of movement was severed nationwide curfews. Businesses were for the first time forced to shut outside the usual 9 am to 5 pm hours while some saw enforced shutdowns.
The annual school calendar was thrown into disarray as the government shut down all learning institutions for what was then on indefinite terms.
Video conferencing became the in-thing for both workers and students lucky enough to further their day to day activities.
The lockdowns would, however, have dire effects including idleness, joblessness and even depression.
According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), an estimated 1.7 million Kenyans were declared jobless between April and June as companies cut back on operations while some shut down completely.
Sectors such as hospitality became decapitated as bars and other entertainment joints were forced to close doors to clients. Hotels were likewise affected with both domestic and international travel greatly reduced.
For the State, the restrictions were a means of shielding the country from a potential catastrophe featuring unmanageable infections and hundreds of fatalities.
Individually, the measures came in handy to protect one from becoming infected with the virus with Kenyans holding out for a potential end to the pandemic.
However, the pandemic has proven a hard nut to crack around the world as infections continue to rise by the day.
Ultimately, each and every one of us has come to learn that we must learn to live the virus with the new normal entailing initiatives to combat the infections without necessarily having the country under lock and key.
While addressing the country at the end of September, President Uhuru Kenyatta termed the last six months as a season of paradox.
According to the president, it was necessary to shut down the economy in order to save it.
Subsequently, the loosening of measures has been a conflict between the new normal and what one thinks this ought to be.
The government has used the last six months to expand its capacity which specificity to health.
For instance, at the advent of the pandemic, Kenya had a mere eight isolation beds for infectious diseases. Fast forward to September, the majority of the 47 counties had adhered to the requirement to have a minimum of 300 isolation beds each.
Institutions such as the Kenyatta University Referral Hospital have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Moreover, Kenya now has its highest stock of medical equipment on record.
While the expanded capacity does not guarantee victory against the pandemic, the bolstering of the country’s response along with a lower Covid-19 positivity rate has informed the recent decision to loosen containment measures
This includes the end of an order banning the operations of bars, the partial re-opening of schools and the relaxation of the nation-wide curfew.
While many have feared the worst for the economy, the most recent available data shows the country is most likely set to avoid a recession unlike many of its peers who have already noted significant contractions.
For instance, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) and the National Treasury have adjusted the economic growth outlook for 2020 to 3.1 and 2.6 per cent respectively while the World Bank expects Kenya to avoid falling into recession this year.
Leading economic indicators (LEIs) from the KNBS have shown signs of a strong economic recovery in the third quarter from the second.
Agricultural production has shown great resilience, exports have normalised while the services sector has begun showing signs of a recovery.
According to a Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) survey conducted in September, 89 per cent of hotels have opened their doors again from 35 per cent in May.
Optimism levels have recovered significantly from July there being great expectations for expansion over the next two months.
Exports between January and August this year have grown by 0.8 per cent year on year supported in large parts by receipts made from the sale of tea and horticulture.
Remittances have meanwhile grown by 6.6 per cent year on year across the same period while the rate of inflation has continued to cool down wounding up at 4.2 per cent in September.
Private sector credit growth has meanwhile remained stable at 8.3 per cent in August.
The findings from the government have been closely backed by the September Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) which showed the third straight month of private sector expansion along with the recovery of jobs.
The continued rebound to life as we now know it must, however, co-exist alongside caution as fears over a second wave of infections remains rife.
The motivation to stay vigilant to measures such as hand sanitisation and physical distancing must come from the assurance of the return to restrictions which would run any efforts of the economic recovery off the tracks. The future is in our hands. Let us All be responsible and support communities.
- The writer is the director, EABC and Trustee Brand Africa