Kenya: 'Black December' as Covid-19 Fears Cloud Festivities

(file photo).
1 December 2020
opinion

Today marks the start of a December like no other in recent memory.

The Covid-19 cloud will be hanging over the December 12 Jamhuri Day, Christmas and New Year festivities; forcing many families to choose between taking the relished trip to the countryside and staying put to avoid picking as well as spreading the viral infection.

Medical experts fear that increased travel is certain to raise the Covid-19 infections and fatalities, painting a grim picture of a month that could make or break the country's fight against the global pandemic first reported in the country in mid-March.

"This will not be a normal festive period and the risks of transmission remain very real, even if it means meeting as a family on zoom, please do stay and remain safe," said Dr Patrick Amoth, the Director General at the Health ministry.

Travel to the countryside, health experts fear, is likely to spread the virus to the elderly by the younger, asymptomatic relatives; exacerbating the pandemic chokehold in the country. The number of infections in the country shot to 83,618 yesterday following 302 new positive tests from 3,038 samples.

Total recoveries

An estimated 1,469 have lost their lives to the disease so far, while total recoveries stand at 55,344.

Kenya's positivity rate has gone down to 12 per cent in the past two weeks, from a high of 16 per cent, Dr Amoth said in an interview, while calling for muted celebrations.

"If we go overboard during the festivities, and we lose it, then we are likely to witness a bad holiday ahead of us," he said.

The average positivity rate as of Sunday, for one week, was 14.5 per cent.

The National Emergency Response Committee (NERC) is meeting this week to come up with projections on how the virus is likely to behave in the coming month.

An expert, who is part of the committee, has expressed fears of a black December should infections rise to a level that county health facilities cannot manage.

"It is very unfortunate that with the numbers as they are now, counties are not equipped to handle them, how about when those in the urban counties move to the rural counties? We are yet to witness a surge in the numbers," he said, adding: "Our plea now is to have everyone celebrate the festivities where they are."

Curfew

The early October modelling of the disease trajectory had indicated that December would be its peak, pointing to President Uhuru Kenyatta's decision to extend the curfew till January 4, and also the move by the Education Ministry to reopen all schools on the same day.

In September, experts had predicted "a long-tailed decline" of Covid-19 from August onwards, but that did not happen. In a research paper published as a pre-print by the medRxiv, the researchers including Dr Amoth had indicated that the rate of infection decline would be less "steep than the rapid growth phase as the decrease in the main cities is partially off-set by growth in the rest of Kenya."

According to experts, what is being experienced now is the second peak of the pandemic, which may prolong to next year, putting into doubt the 'psychological safe January bubble" the country is awaiting.

"We seem to be at the peak of the second wave as the number of new infections and positivity rate have all peaked in the last two weeks having risen steeply in the month prior to that," Dr Ahmed Kalebi, a pathologist and the CEO of Lancet Group of Laboratories said. According to Dr Kalebi, new infections and positivity rates may start coming down in due course over the coming weeks but deaths will continue to rise.

This is because deaths lag the infections for two to three weeks, "so we expect to see more deaths in the coming weeks before they start coming down, after the infection rate subsides," he said.

According to Dr Patrick Oyaro, an epidemiologist at Health Innovations Kenya, "the positivity rate is still high and we may not know when the curve will flatten," he said.

Whether a second wave or second peak, the fact is that the number of infections is too high, and the curve is steeper than the first one.

Reported by Angela Oketch, Bernadine Mutanu and Allan Olingo

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