Nairobi and Coast counties isolated

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he made an address on enhanced measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic at State House, Nairobi on April, 6 2020.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s order stopping movement into and out of Nairobi has effectively banned upcountry travel and disrupted domestic flights.

It has also locked out individuals who work in the city but live outside the mapped metropolitan area from their places of work or business.

The operations of the Standard Gauge Railway commuter train, long distance bus companies and shuttles that either start or end their journey in Nairobi will be disrupted following the order of a 21-day cessation of movement into and out of Nairobi, where the first Covid-19 case was confirmed. The capital city has since recorded the highest number of the 158 coronavirus infections.

The ban that applies to boundary within the Nairobi Metropolitan Area came into force yesterday at 7pm, affecting travellers who were either already enroute to Nairobi or planning to depart from various city bus stations for upcountry.

It implies that travellers who were on transit to either Nairobi or upcountry for business or work-related assignments – and were able to beat the curfew – had the options of either cutting short their journey, or proceeding but being forced to stay at their destinations for the next three weeks.

Nairobi is a major circuit for most local flights, meaning airline companies will have to suspend a big chunk of their operations during the restriction period, and only continue with flights to towns not affected by the directive.

MPs who are set to attend the National Assembly special sitting tomorrow to discuss tax measures announced by President Kenyatta but were still in their constituencies by last evening will also be locked out unless they secure an exemption.

A similar restriction to movement will be enforced in Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa - which have also recorded coronavirus infections - but the ban will be enforced from tomorrow at 7pm.

The nationwide 7pm to 5am curfew remains in force.

However, the movement of food supplies and other cargo will continue as normal during the declared containment period through road, railway and air.

According to the order, the Nairobi Metropolitan Area includes Nairobi City County; part of Kiambu County up to the Chania River bridge (Thika); Machakos County up to Athi River and including Katani; and part of Kajiado County including Kitengela, Kiserian, Ongata Rongai and Ngong Town.

No passenger train

There are hundreds of employees and businesspeople who reside outside the defined area but commute to the capital city every morning. The order implies that they will now have to work from home from this morning, or take work leave for the next 21 days.

Already, Kenya Railways Managing Director Philip Mainga has announced the suspension of SGR passenger trains. Operations of two Madaraka Express trains that operated daily at 10.30 am were consequently suspended.

Mr Maingi, however, said cargo freights will continue operating uninterrupted, as will Nairobi Commuter rail services to Ruiri, Embakasi, Syokimau and Kikuyu stations under revised timings to cater for the hours of the curfew.

Uhuru made the cessation of movement orders as he announced an additional 16 new infections and two deaths. So far, 158 people have been infected with Covid-19, and six have lost their lives to the viral disease that has become a global pandemic.

The president said the additional restrictions, as uncomfortable as they are, are necessary following the trend that has been noted by the Ministry of Health that the four affected counties are high-risk areas.

Of the 158 cases, he said, 82 per cent are residents of Nairobi, while 14 per cent are from Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa. The president warned the pandemic is likely to continue spreading with lethal effect if drastic action is not taken.

“There is a choice we were asked to make as a government and as a people: to carry on as normal or to treat this like the extraordinary emergency it is and to fundamentally change how we act,” he said.

Uhuru said in issuing the additional measures, he is well aware of the inconvenience it will cause Kenyans.

“However, not doing it will lead to even greater suffering for the people of Kenya,” he said.

The movement of cargo, as per the previous order that effected the ongoing 7pm to 5am curfew countrywide, is still allowed, but with additional adjustments.

“Any cargo-carrying vehicle or vessel shall be charged to a single driver and designated assistants, all of whom shall be designated as such in writing by the owner and operator of the said vehicle or vessel reference to that vehicle or vessel,” said Uhuru.

He added that despite the restrictions that limit the number of hours spent on building the economy, traders and farmers of fresh produce should continue with their activities to ensure continued supply.

“No one should be denied the ability to carry on with legal trade within the boundaries of the protocols set out by the Ministry of Health,” the president said.

Unforgiving virus

Uhuru noted that while a majority of those who get Covid-19 recover without showing severe symptoms, they can still spread the disease to large numbers of people, leading to unprecedented pressure on already scarce medical facilities and causing an unimaginable loss of lives.

“The virus is unforgiving, and its rate of growth, if not arrested, is exponential,” he said. “I will, therefore, go to any lawful length to respond to this pandemic.”

Uhuru said governments around the world have gone to extra lengths to contain the virus and flatten the curve. He added that wearing a mask whenever one is out in public is now necessary, and to take precautions not to expose anyone who is as old as he is - 58 - or with underlying medical conditions.

“There are thousands of tailors all over the country who will also look to make masks. The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Industry and Trade should ensure that these tailors are provided with the right materials and proper ways of piecing the face masks,” he said.

The president further assured Kenyans that his administration is doing everything in its power to cushion Kenyans from the harsh realities that would come with the changes. Apart from Sh10 billion earlier approved to be disbursed to the elderly and orphans, he said collective management organisation will this week distribute Sh200 million to artistes and performers.

He directed the Ministry of Sports and Culture to disburse Sh100 million to actors, musicians and artists.