For the 28,000 residents of Mombasa’s Old Town, the lifting of a month of total blockade to stem the spread of Covid-19 virus is a moment to celebrate new-found freedom.
But the end of the cessation of movement into and out of the 75-square kilometre enclave has not stopped the spinning of conspiracy theories by residents who resisted targeted mass testing and were often in denial about the existence of the virus.
Old Town and Eastleigh in Nairobi were placed under special restrictions on May 6, exactly a month on Friday, forcing the 28,000 residents into the small territory besides the closure of businesses, restaurants and mosques.
Unlike Eastleigh, Old Town or Mji wa Kale is an ancient town built over 1,000 years ago and whose residents hold sentimental attachment to its equally ancient houses.
“I have never left my house for a month, afraid to move out for fear of meeting police or encountering youth opposed to the curfew,” a female resident, who asked not to be named, told The Standard yesterday. She said she also feared the possibility that the virus had spiralled out of control across the crowded area.
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Another resident described the Old Town as “a prison” during the one-month restriction and added that “it is a tragedy, but also better to be leaving this tiny prison for a bigger one”.
Despite the end of restrictions on Old Town, the State has maintained a blockade of Mombasa due to soaring viral infections.
When the restrictions were imposed, Mombasa had recorded 201 infections, including 73 cases and nine deaths from Old Town alone.
County authorities indicated that testing continued in the area during the restrictions, but there was no statistics to show how many people complied.
In the wake of the restrictions, the county medical authorities opened a special hospital in the area and also donated food and fresh water through the Kenya Red Cross and health officials native to the area.
Yesterday, some residents claimed the lockdown in Old Town was politically-motivated, insisting the area did not have as many cases of Covid-19 as Kibera or Eastleigh in Nairobi and said they were taking up the matter with the government.
But others sighed with relief and welcomed lifting of the cessation of movement. For traders, hope of good tidings was high following the lifting of the lock-down, coupled with the change of night curfew hours from 9pm to 4am, from 7pm to 5am.
However, they raised concern over the continued cessation of movement in Mombasa County for residents of neighbouring Kilifi and Kwale counties who make the economy of Mombasa flourish.
Laila Yusuf, a resident and trader at the Old Town, said they have suffered a month without doing business while being forced to pay rent for the stores where they kept their merchandise.
Ms Yusuf said life for traders would not be normal until Kwale and Kilifi residents, who make the bulk of their customers, are allowed to come to Mombasa County.
“We have suffered a lot in the month of lockdown because we did not do business even as we rent.
“We thank the Government for lifting the lockdown but we expected a county-down-county free movement, particularly for Kwale and Kilifi, for our businesses to flourish again,” she said.
In Nairobi’s Eastleigh area, small businesses, including grocers and second hand traders, lined up the streets, eager to recover from their losses.
The entry points to the estate, which previously had roadblocks, are clear, leaving road users to move freely in and out of the area. The police who stood by on high alert are conspicuously missing.
“I have been in my home throughout the cessation period, living off my savings. I’m glad it has been lifted because now I’ll be able to make a little cash,” said Joshua Mutuku, who is employed at a second-hand clothes shop in one of Eastleigh’s shopping malls.
Ali Musa Isaak, who owns a clothes and textile shop, said that before the directive, and before the coronavirus crisis, he made around Sh30,000 profit every month.
Other shop owners told The Standard that retail shops would continue to suffer as most customers travel from outside Nairobi to shop at Eastleigh, given cessation of movement in and out of the city has been extended for another 30 days.
However, many traders and their customers did not seem to observe safety measures such as social distancing, and proper wearing of face masks.