Why Kenya is slowing on total lockdowns despite Covid 19 surge

Kenya is going slow on total lockdowns following observations they may not be the best way to control the Covid 19 pandemic.

This week the government slapped highly lenient restrictions on 13 Western Kenya counties despite a sharp surge of the disease.

Unlike in the past where such surges in Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado, and Mombasa counties attracted near-total lockdowns, the latest has been a downgrade from a 10 pm to a 7 pm curfew.

Although the current surge in Western Kenya has been anecdotally blamed on recent officially sanctioned public gatherings, data shows the spike started as early as in March.

Virus sequencing data in the region shows the spike is likely being driven by new ‘variants of concern’ that have hit the region since March this year.

The sequencing is being done by a host of local and international organisations including the US CDC, US department of defense, The University of Washington, Kenya Medical Research Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute.

Preliminary sequencing data (see graph) shows the surge was mainly driven by the Alpha variant B.1.1.7 (UK) in March and April and to some extent the Beta variant (South Africa).

However, the sequencing shows in May the main driver of the surge may have been Delta variants first detected in India.

Neighbouring Uganda is experiencing an even worse surge and has declared a major lockdown of the country, a contradiction of what Kenya is doing.

Kenya which is unlikely to make its own decisions has recently indicated it hardly considers total lockdowns as the best way to fight the pandemic.

A recent comprehensive review of the first Covid 19 wave in Kenya, by the Ministry of Health, Office of the President, Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kenya, University of Warwick, UK and Pwani University, suggests a change of heart on lockdowns.

The study published last month says a lot still remains to be understood about the disease especially the low death rates in the country despite high rates of infections.

For example, the study says  the first wave of the pandemic last year  had declined especially in Nairobi and other urban centers ‘during a period of relatively few restrictions or physical distancing.’

“Consequently policymakers need to balance the direct and indirect health and socio-economic consequences of any control measures; a balance that becomes more precise as we develop a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 dynamics in Kenya,”  says the study which also involved the Director-General of Health Dr Patrick Amoth.

By Gatonye Gathura

This study is available here: https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16748.1

About Gatonye Gathura 126 Articles
Science Journalist

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