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Home / Health & Science

Social distancing is a myth among Nairobi dwellers

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy PKEMOI NG'ENOH | Fri,Apr 02 2021 00:00:00 EAT
By PKEMOI NG'ENOH | Fri,Apr 02 2021 00:00:00 EAT


Navigating public transport during the pandemic has been a challenge to both commuters and operators. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

It is half-past 3pm on a hot afternoon in Nairobi and everyone seems to be in a rush.

At the Nairobi Railways Station, you literally have to squeeze yourself through the heavy human traffic as commuters are either arriving or exiting the city.

At the newly refurbished Kenya Railways bridge, the situation is the same - more city dwellers are crossing to and the from the Industrial Area.

Covid 19 Time Series


The commuter train is the preferred mode of transport at the moment for areas that have access to it due to high matatu fares which have either doubled or tripled following the lockdown measures announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi and four neighbouring counties to curb the spread of coronavirus recently.

Among the measures put in place by Uhuru was that public service vehicles should carry 60 per cent capacity so as achieve social distancing measures.

At the entrance of the railway station, security guards are hurriedly frisking those checking in while others are armed with hand sanitisers.

The train has also been forced to revise its time of departure in the evening to allow commuters to reach home before curfew hours.

However, social distancing is the biggest dilemma for those using the train. Inside a wagon that is supposed to accommodate around 30 people if the Ministry of Health rules were to be observed, more than 100 passengers are crammed inside.

A seat meant for one person accommodates two people while others are forced to squeeze in the small space between the seats. With the high cost of living and hiked matatu fares, the one-metre rule has been hard to meet in the public transport system. 

Mercy Wanjiru, an intern at a government office in Upper Hill, Nairobi, is among other city dwellers who prefer using the commuter train because it is affordable.

“This is the only means I can afford, I pay Sh80 to and from Dandora where I live. If I were to use a matatu, I would have to raise between Sh100 and Sh150 daily which is not possible since I’m not on a salary.”

Joseph Mulwa, a security guard in the city centre and a resident in Kibera slum says he has been using the train for five years now and he cannot think of any other means of transport as this is what he can afford.

“Train is my only hope, if I use a matatu, I will not even afford to pay rent and feed my family; my employer pays me Sh9,500, which is hardly enough for our needs,” he points out.

While the train attendants understand the danger of carrying excess passengers in the middle of a pandemic, they are helpless on how to ensure the social distancing rules are adhered to.

While the Kenya Railways management advised commuters that only those who would be seated would be allowed to travel after the government directive last week, the situation has not changed much. 

Kenya Railways Managing Director Philip Mainga did not respond to calls or text messages on the safety measures the management has put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

The situation is not any different for matatus plying different routes in the city. 

According to the Matatu Owners Association Chairman Simon Kimutai, there is little that can be done since the sector is hurting yet the government has not extended a helping hand to cushion them against the economic effects of the pandemic.

“The directive was quite simple but the sector is hurting as a result of multiple factors among them high fuel prices. Matatus owners are also suffering and the government hasn’t provided any form of help in these difficult times,” said Kimutai.

He further said the one-metre rule isn’t sustainable in the matatus wondering why the government has also not been able to effect the same in the commuter trains which are under its control.

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