Many Old Town residents do not believe the virus is real, or that it can affect them [Photo: Courtesy]

More than half of the population in Old Town, Mombasa, do not believe the virus exists. According to a report published yesterday by Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri), 58.6 per cent of residents of Old Town, one of the first areas to be declared Covid-19 hot-spots in Kenya, do not believe coronavirus is real.

On the other hand, 41.3 per cent of the locals believe the virus is real, but it does not exist in Old Town, Kenya or anywhere else in Africa. Some respondents told a team of researchers that they believed the virus' impact and presence in Kenya was exaggerated.

They also believe that the disease, if it exists, cannot infect them. The report indicates that many residents of Old Town ignored calls to be tested for the virus during the one month of lockdown and afterwards. "Many Old Town residents do not believe the virus is real, or that it can affect them," states the report. On Covid-19 testing, the survey found out that 95.5 per cent of respondents had not been tested. The residents, aged between 18 and 60, believe the May to June lockdown was discriminatory and punitive.

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They said other areas in Kenya with similar viral infection rates at the same period were not locked down and now want compensation for "hardships suffered, loss of income and unwarranted restrictions," which they say caused them immense suffering.

By the time the government imposed the lockdown on Old Town, 39 people had died within the area measuring 78 square kilometres. A prominent herbalist and retired Islamic teacher was among the first to be infected.

REMAINED HOSTILE

However, throughout the lockdown, residents remained hostile to medical personnel, journalists and government officials who visited the area. According to Muhuri, the manner in which Covid-19 mitigation measures such as testing, quarantine and contact tracing were implemented might have led to the hostility.

Emotions flared especially because the lockdown coincided with the fasting month of Ramadhan. The report commends the Mombasa County administration for supplying food and water to residents of Old Town during the lockdown. It, however, faults the national government for failing to educate residents (on the virus) and not providing alternative means of sustenance.

Following the report, residents have demanded an explanation from the government over the lockdown. They are also demanding reimbursement of all expenses incurred and compensation for losses made by local businesses.

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"We felt our rights as Kenyans were trampled upon when the government declared the cessation of movement in our area that has over 10 distinct villages and an estimated 30,000 people," said Mbwana Abdalah, chairman of Old Town Residents Association.

The four-day survey was conducted by the residents' association, Muhuri and Okoa Mombasa to find out the locals' views on Covid-19 and what indicators led Health CS Mutahi Kagwe to identify Old Town as an epicentre of Covid-19.

The survey further sought to assess the impact of the lockdown on Old Town, particularly in relation to the provision of basic needs. A questionnaire was circulated to 1,015 respondents seeking information on the demographics of Old Town, status of Covid-19 testing, accessibility of basic necessities and residents' perception of the virus.

"The objective of the exercise was to assess the government's responses for adequacy and effectiveness, particularly in relation to the extreme measure of imposing a lockdown," said Collins Mwahendo, Muhuri's programmes manager.