The overzealous enforcement of the night curfew on Saturday amounted to illegal detention and collective punishment that could have exposed thousands to Covid-19, legal and health experts charged yesterday.
On a night of fury and frustrations, thousands of motorists and passengers were stuck for hours after police blocked major roads across the city to enforce the restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
However, their actions may have defeated the purpose of the health protocols and are now at the sharp end of a debate over the connection between excessive use of force and a surge in cases.
A constitutional lawyer, Victor Olao, called the operation "an unlawful detention" of Kenyans who were simply going home.
"Ambulances were caught up in the chaos. If the end goal is to mitigate human activity at night, did the operation achieve it? What we saw was short of unlawful detention; you cannot hold people on public roads and purport they were all on the wrong. Even in court, everyone gets a chance for mitigation before they are punished," he said.
Health experts described the operation as counterproductive, as it created gatherings.
There was no social distancing, children were exposed to cold weather for long, while emergency services were disrupted as stranded Nairobi residents vented their frustrations at the police on social media.
Supported the operation
"Compliance with necessary Covid-19 health measures is not about torture, but about national dialogue and community engagement in protecting lives," tweeted Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO of Amref Health Africa.
The roadblocks were mounted at the Kayole Junction, Wilson Airport, Lang'ata Road, Mwiki, Kasarani, Junction Mall, Coptic hospital, Arboretum, Ruai, Utawala, Two Rivers, Kenyatta University Hospital, and on Thika Superhighway.
African Population and Health Research Centre executive director, Dr Catherine Kyobutungi, warned against treating Kenyans like 'robots'.
"Uncaring, clueless, out of touch, violent leaders make foolish decisions. People are not babies without agency that have to be policed into submission in order to control Covid-19. There are more humane non-health ways to incentivise compliance with Covid-19 mitigation measures," tweeted Dr Kyobutungi.
Nation could not, however, confirm claims of several deaths in ambulances caught up in traffic from calls made to hospitals based along Thika road, including the Thika Level Five Hospital.
E-Plus Kenya, a subsidiary of the Kenya Redcross in charge of managing its fleet of ambulances, said none of their vehicles was caught up in the traffic.
"I have confirmed that we did not receive any distress call at our dispatch centre on any of our ambulances getting stuck in traffic Saturday night. Neither have we received any case connected to the gridlock," said Mr Felix Musila, E-plus communications manager.
Inspector-General of Police Hilary Mutyambai supported the operation.
"I urge Kenyans to observe the Ministry of Health protocols on Covid-19 and adhere to curfew hours in force across the country. The public is also urged to cooperate with the police," tweeted the IG
Nairobi regional commissioner James Kianda said compliance with the revised Covid-19 protocols in the Nairobi metropolitan area stands at below 50 percent.
In a statement, Mr Kianda said the latest review and assessment of implementation of the Covid-19 measures have shown that residents of Nairobi, Kiambu, Kajiado, Nakuru and Machakos have been willfully violating protocols put in place to guard against the spread of Covid-19 by continually holding in-person gatherings in estates and flouting the curfew hours.
"In light of the above, we wish to remind Kenyans that each life matters, and we must all take part in breaking the chain of transmission of the virus. However stringent these rules may appear, they are imperative for our survival. As such, civic responsibility is a more potent weapon in this war than enforcement of the guidelines by the police," Mr Kianda said.
He added that the low compliance rates were the cause of Saturday night's curfew operation on major roads in the city.
"Yesterday's traffic snarl-up along Thika Road was occasioned by efforts by our police officers to strictly enforce the curfew restrictions, and we acknowledge the inconvenience this may have caused the road users. Going forward, our traffic management will be reviewed and enhanced to facilitate smooth transition into curfew hours," he said.
Mr Kianda urged motorists resuming work today from the weekend to plan their movements early to avoid further inconveniences even as construction works on major roads continue.