Kenyans in mandatory quarantine have protested conditions in the holding centres risk spread of infections now that some have tested positive for coronavirus.
Some 2,050 individuals who flew into the country from March 23 have been in mandatory quarantine for two weeks - which has since been extended by a similar period after at least 29 tested positive for the deadly virus - in various hotels and government facilities.
The 29 have since been moved to isolation centres, but given the close contacts in these facilities, where in some cases people are converging in dining areas for meals, and considering the group had been huddled together for hours upon arrival at the airport, there are fears of more cases.
Others worry that workers in these facilities who were in contact with these confirmed cases, and who also go home daily, could also place others at risk.
The government announced on Saturday that 1,866 out of the 2,050 have so far been tested.
Waiting for results
The group says they are waiting for days for their results, with some adding they are learning of their positive tests from live press conferences during the daily Ministry of Health briefings.
And even days after the results are released to the public, some remain unsure of who among them turned positive because no official communication is made, except through a WhatsApp group that often posts an ambiguous message: “Those that have not been contacted should assume that they are negative."
On Saturday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said cases of people testing positive in quarantine facilities posed another risk.
"This is likely to pose risk of more transmissions especially for those who have been sharing the same facilities with the ones who have tested positive. In a bid to further contain any transmissions arising from those in mandatory quarantine, we have instructed our medical teams to extend the quarantine period for a further 14 days for the respective individuals in those facilities that have such cases," Kagwe said.
The Ministry of Health, through the Acting Director General Patrick Amoth, has since extended the quarantine period for another 14 days for all those in quarantine sites where people were confirmed as positive.
“It was observed that those quarantined within various facilities have not maintained optimal social distance, prescribed hygiene measures and have instead had close contacts and interactions,” the letter says in part.
There were reports of parties in some of the facilities prompting the action.
"…it is impossible to determine whether those who were quarantined in the facility are actually safe to be released to the general population,” it added.
Some have raised concerns that the mandatory quarantine as prescribed by the ministry was a bungled process that may have led to some individuals acquiring the virus.
One of the people in quarantine told The Standard of their disappointment on how the government handled the entire exercise from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, where they were kept waiting in crowded passport control and luggage collection points for over eight hours, exposing them to anyone else in the group who might have been unknowingly positive.
“I got tested on Sunday and I was shocked to learn that I was positive,” Chris says.
“I have been transferred to an isolation centre where I am awaiting a repeat test to ascertain my status.”
The travellers who were arriving from different parts of the world were transferred to the hotels in packed buses.
Lack of communication
“That may have been the period in which I may have been exposed,” he says, resigned to his unknown fate but thankful that he has remained asymptomatic since then.
Unlike Chris, Melanie Ligale is unsure of her status. She tuned to watch the Health CS's afternoon briefing last Thursday afternoon in which he announced that 29 more people in mandatory quarantine had turned positive. The CS read out the locations of these 29, and Melanie’s Pride Inn hotel had two people. She panicked.
“As a mother you can imagine the panic I was in, yet I cannot be with my daughter,” Etta, Melanie’s mother said.
While they had been told that the testing would be done on the 5th day of quarantine, it was actually done on the 8th day, with another final testing supposed to be done on the 14th day.
Since checking into the quarantine centre, Melanie has learnt to stay in her room to avoid contact with the others, especially at meal times, because meals are still served as buffet and everyone still crowds.
“I opted to pay extra for room service because I did not want my child exposed due to the lack of clear guidelines by the ministry,” says Etta.
They are unsure of whether the staff at the hotel have also undergone testing by virtue of them attending to all people in quarantine, including those unknown persons that have tested positive for the virus.
“Even if the two people who tested positive are transferred to an isolation centre, what of the staff who might have come in contact with them,” she questions.
Melanie, like others in quarantine, stays in her room the entire day, still keeping up with her online courses. She only comes out at about 8am, 2pm and either 5pm or 9pm for her meals when delivered to her room and when her temperature is being taken.
“It’s a hard situation for everybody here. I see a father with his four-year-old child and I wonder how they are coping,” Melanie says.
They express their frustrations by the Ministry of Health’s lack of clear channels of communication to them and even to their frontline staff assigned at the quarantine sites. While some of the frontline staff seem to try their best, they have noted that some seem ‘inconvenienced’ by the fact that there are people in quarantine.
“One officer wrote in the WhatsApp group that, “we should have stayed in the countries where we were” because he wanted to travel for Easter but could now not,” Melanie says.
This irked many who did not travel back into the country by choice, but rather because there were stricter restrictions for non-citizens in the countries that they were in.
The Ministry of Health in their daily updates continues to assure the public that testing is going on for those in mandatory quarantine, but they are yet to conclude this exercise 12 days since some started the quarantine.
Senator James Orengo took to his Twitter handle to post a picture of him getting samples taken for testing in a drive-through test in Parliament. This did not sit well with those under mandatory quarantine classified as ‘high risk’ yet they were yet to be tested.
“Are we expending energies and limited resources on persons who do not need them,” Etta asks.
Another directive by the Ministry of Health has laid down quarantine site rules to be enforced by their staff on a duty rota, who are expected to do impromptu inspections any time.
Any officer found not to be at their designated quarantine site shall be dismissed from service with immediate effect without reference to Human Resources regulations.
Some 1,781 people who came into contact with those who have tested positive for the virus have been monitored. Of these, some 1,109 have been discharged from the follow-up programme after the expiry of 14 days while 672 are still being monitored.