Kenya: Mt Kenya Residents Ignore COVID-19 Safety Tips

Tailors sew masks at Mukiria Technical Training Institute.

Compliance with measures put in place by the Health ministry to curb the spread of the coronavirus is still low in the Mt Kenya region, spot checks by the Nation reveal.

As the numbers of reported cases in the country approaches 300, it is business as usual for businesspeople and residents.

Breaching social-distancing, sanitisation and handwashing regulations is pronounced at markets, matatu terminals, shops and supermarkets.

When the Nation team visited Kirinyaga County, for instance, it was business usual at the Ngurubani and Kimbimbi markets.

NO FACE MASKS

Here, we found traders and their customers without face masks crowding and mingling freely. Some told the Nation they believe the disease is concentrated in Nairobi and Coast counties and there is no need to worry.

"There is no such a disease in this area and there is no good reason we should not interact freely and shake hands with one another in markets," said resident Mary Wanjiku. "Even masks are not necessary as the disease has not been confirmed in our region."

Mr Patrick Waweru, a boda-boda operator, admitted that people are ignorant and careless and expressed fears they may be caught off guard.

"People, including my colleagues, don't care. They think the disease does not exist while the matter is of grave concern," he said.

In Tharaka-Nithi County, people are still crowding in markets, tea-buying centres and in police and public service vehicles.

Though market days were suspended in all shopping centres, the Chuka open-air market is usually packed and, therefore, impossible for the required social distance to be maintained.

In the evening, farmers crowd tea-buying centres as they deliver their produce in a hurry to avoid being caught up in the curfew rush.

Tharaka-Nithi County Commissioner Beverly Opwora said that to avoid crowding, she had asked police enforcing the curfew to be lenient with farmers found outside a few minutes after 7pm.

BREACHING RULES

"Because we need farming to continue uninterrupted and we don't want farmers to scramble at the tea-buying centres, they will not be arrested even if they are found outside a few minutes after 7pm," said Ms Opwora.

In public service vehicles, operators are breaching the rules by carrying excess passengers who are eager to beat the curfew deadline.

Police officers arresting people found without masks in public places have also been bundling them into their vehicles, exposing them to more risk.

The Nation established that police and Tharaka South sub-county administrators have been demanding bribes from people arrested without face masks in Kibunga and Marimanti. County Police Commander Charles Mbatu vowed to investigate.

In Meru, miraa and muguka vendors are at great risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19 as a majority of them do not wear masks and have no handwashing points or sanitisers.

A spot check in Makutano, Makadara and Gitimbine revealed that the traders do not adhere to social distancing and allow their customers to touch the stimulant with bare hands.

Most of the dealers handle cash and proceed to pack the stimulant without washing their hands.

The issue is compounded by the fact that most of the customers then proceed to chew miraa at the buying point as they chat.

GUIDELINES

In Isiolo, most of the businesses are yet to comply with official guidelines. Among those disregarding the regulations are miraa traders, hotels, supermarkets, vegetable sellers and boda-boda riders.

At the Kasarani market, adjacent to the town's main bus stage, grocers operate next to each other, without face masks and water for handwashing.

Young men in boda-boda and taxi businesses have bought masks to avoid arrest but hardly wear them as they wait for clients.

Hotels also hardly advise customers on the need to observe social distancing. The Nation found many comfortably seated next to each other in what could fuel transmission of the virus.

Traders at the market said that because of the limited space, social distancing is not possible.

"We are aware of the virus but due to few customers, we have to scramble for the available ones," said a trader, who did not want to be named.

Reporting by George Munene, Alex Njeru, Waweru Wairimu, Manase Otsialo and Charles Wanyoro

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