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Return of conferences and retreats despite the Covid-19 spike

Government agencies and corporate and international agencies have resumed physical conferences despite the rising coronavirus numbers.

Officials from the Health ministry have also thrown caution to the wind by congregating in Mombasa in total disregard of their own warning that the risk of contracting the infectious disease is higher in closed settings.

The second wave of the virus that is sweeping through the country, and which in the week leading up to Friday had claimed 54 lives and pushed up the positivity rate to nearly 20 per cent, could be attributed to the networks associated with such social gatherings.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which is among organisations that have recently held a physical conference, is now regretting its decision to congregate in Mombasa at an event attended by 47 county managers and senior members of its executive.

According to a memo by IEBC Acting CEO Hussein Marjan, the aftermath of the meeting has left the commission grappling to contain a surge in infections as well as coming to terms with the deaths of two employees.

Mr Hussein has since banned physical meetings of more than 20 people. "In the last two weeks, more cases of Covid-19 related infections have been reported in the commission leading to the hospitalisation of infected staff and leaving some in critical condition."

By yesterday, the number of those infected stood at 12.

The CEO attributes the cases to the Coast retreat held in mid-October, and has asked staff who may have come into contact with those who are ailing to get tested and go into self-quarantine for 14 days.

As complacency sets in, the Health ministry – which has the difficult task of ensuring that measures to combat the virus are strictly adhered to – convened a conference on Universal Health Coverage opened by President Uhuru Kenyatta in Mombasa.

Yesterday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe did not respond to our calls or texts seeking his comments on the return of conferences and retreats.

The Senate has also lined up a retreat this weekend. Members of the House Liaison Committee, which brings together the Speaker and committee chairpersons, was meeting in Naivasha on Friday.

MPs also converged in Naivasha to consider the Building Bridges Initiative report, and especially its recommendations on the structure of the House.

This flurry of activities shows complete disregard for a circular issued at the onset of the pandemic by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and his Senate counterpart Kenneth Lusaka suspending such meetings.

Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata, who was at the centre of planning the retreat, however, said they are cognisant of the spike in infections and were therefore employing all necessary measures to ensure members' safety.

"We are aware of the circular issued against such gatherings. That is why we'll be observing the same when we meet for our retreat,” he said, adding that members had divided themselves into two groups, with one meeting to be held on Sunday (today) and the other set for next week.