Kenya: Covid-19 - Kenyans Caught Up in Curfew Amid Slow Africa Vaccine Drive

Police vehicles on standby at Thika Superhighway's Exit 7 as police officers wait to block curfew violators in Nairobi on April 19, 2021.

Police blocked roads after the East African nation imposed a nighttime curfew to help curb a third wave of coronavirus infections. Many were trapped for hours. Vaccination drives are also slow to pick up all over Africa.

Kenya's capital Nairobi was brought to a standstill this weekend when a curfew aimed to curb the spread of COVID-19 was enforced on the streets.

Thousands of pedestrians, owners of private cars, and passengers traveling on public buses were stuck on the country's major roads for more than eight hours on two consecutive nights. Police set up roadblock spikes to prevent people from continuing their travels as they had broken the dusk-to-dawn curfew.

"You should have been at your homes by now 8 p.m.," a policeman told the crowd. "People possessing special passes for essential services are allowed to pass our roadblocks."

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had introduced a 20:00 to 4:00 curfew last month trying to flatten the third wave of coronavirus infections. This curfew has now been extended until May 29.

Unpopular curfew

"The cost of not acting now would be far much greater," the president said about the unpopular curfew. In a moment like this, the government had a responsibility to protect life above all else, he added. "One life lost is one too many."

While some Kenyans agreed the measures were good in principle, many complained that 8 p.m. was just too early. They said that would leave them with not enough time to get back home from their jobs.

Many also voiced their anger on Twitter under the hashtag "Unlock our country."

"As a business person, I know many people are suffering in case of like public service vehicles, also for people in businesses or food businesses," a man told DW. They had to close earlier than they usually do, he added.

Some were outright rejecting the measures, saying they didn't know how this would help curb the further spread of the virus.

According to data from the John Hopkins University, the East African nation now has registered over 150,000 confirmed cases and about 2,480 deaths. Beds at the intensive care unit of Kenya's biggest public hospital, the Kenyatta National Hospital, have filled up. Daily case totals have fallen slightly since they peaked in mid-March when Kenya recorded the highest official numbers since the pandemic began.

Slow vaccination rollout

As cases rise in Kenya and elsewhere on the African continent, vaccination efforts have been slow to pick up. Even though the first African countries started vaccinating their populations at the beginning of March, fewer than 2% of global vaccinations have been carried out on the continent.

The vaccines delivered via the COVAX initiative won't be nearly enough. COVAX aims to deliver 600 million shots to Africa this year - that would be roughly enough to vaccinate 20% of people.

Expired vaccines

And then there are delivery issues, vaccine skepticism, a sense of vaccine nationalism, logistical problems - in some cases, vaccine doses actually end up being discarded. Malawi, for instance, announced last week it would destroy over 16,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines because they had expired in the meantime. They were sent as part of a 102,000 dose COVAX shipment back in March. South Sudan also said it would destroy 59,000 doses because they had expired.

Other African countries might also run into problems administering the vaccines, particularly in rural regions. And those few who were lucky to get the first dose might not get their second shot in a while.

"We cannot predict when the second doses will come, and that is not good for our vaccination program," said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). He urged countries to use their doses before they expire.

According to the Africa CDC, Africa lags behind most other regions, having administered fewer than 14 million doses on a continent with 1.3 billion people. The majority of those doses are AstraZeneca shots. Some countries have suspended the Oxford-manufactured vaccine over a risk of blood clots. The vaccines for Africa are mainly produced in India - however, last month, India suspended its exports to meet demand in the country amid a surge in COVID cases at home.

James Shimanyula and Antonio Cascais contributed to this report.

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