Virus sparks panic buying and travel upcountry despite advice
By James Wanzala
| March 21st 2020
There has been an upsurge in travel from Nairobi to rural areas since the announcement of the presence of coronavirus in the country.
Most travellers cited fear of coronavirus infection, saying they believe upcountry would be safer due to less human interaction.
A spot check by the Saturday Standard revealed stranded passengers at bus terminus, especially those plying Western Kenya routes.
At the Transline Services and Ena Coach stations in Tom Mboya street, travellers could be seen booking vehicles, with the tired ones seated on their bags after waiting for long.
“Since President Kenyatta announced a coronavirus case in the country, travel has increased. Most passengers say they are travelling to avoid being infected. All our vehicles are booked, and those queuing will have to wait until evening to travel,” said John Tiema, a clerk at Ena Coach.
Tiema said they have not increased prices and will not take advantage of the situation to make profit. The travel company is charging Sh1,000 to South Nyanza and Sh1,200 to Kisumu.
The same scenario was replicated at Kinatwa Sacco, whose vehicles go to Wote and Kibwezi in Makueni County. Here, passengers boarded vehicles while others waited their turn - luckily, there were enough shuttles.
There was also heightened activity at Mfangano Lane, where the North Rift shuttles have a terminus, and majority of travellers had to remain patient as they waited for vehicles.
North Rift Station Manager Geoffrey Ng’ang’a said travel has increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There is a lot of travel. The challenge is there are many people but few vehicles,” said Nganga, who is also a pastor.
Ng’ang’a encouraged people to avoid travelling because they may end up transferring the virus to those in rural areas. He said the government should encourage sanitisation of public service vehicles. “The government should sanitise passengers before they enter matatus and once inside,” he said. Desperate passengers could also be seen at the Great Rift shuttles stage on Mfangano Street, with some saying they had missed vehicles.
Wilfred Ngige, station manager at the Great Rift travel company said the company was providing water and soap for passengers to wash their hands.
“People are travelling in huge numbers in fear of the coronavirus, but there are no vehicles. We have ensured they wash their hands by providing a tank with running water and soap. We are also ensuring short passenger queues inside the booking office as others wait outside,” he said.
Interestingly, there was little activity at the Machakos Country Bus Station, and nothing betrayed the panic portrayed in other bus stops.
And wananchi who feared the country may go into a lockdown could be seen panic buying.
At the Naivas Supermarket along Kenyatta Avenue, droves of shoppers bought foodstuffs and the now much-needed sanitisers.
“Most of them are shopping for cereals. The sanitisers are running out fast and we are replacing them often,” said a customer care clerk.
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