Opinion

Government urged to reopen the economy

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A member of a team that advises the government on coronavirus has urged authorities to reopen the economy and remove restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

Prof Omu Anzala, a virologist and immunologist in the Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Nairobi, said that while managing the immediate health crisis is vital and necessary, there is also a need to look at stability of the economy.

He said the reopening should be done while putting in place strict measures like enforcing wearing of masks and washing hands or sanitising. 

“This virus is here with us and it is now becoming endemic and we are going to leave with it like the influenza virus, things need to be moving. Do you think it’s just the coronavirus that kills people? The economic shutdown will kill many,” he said, pointing to growing poverty and despair.

Prof Anzala, a member of the National Emergency Response Committee (NERC), the team behind the modelling of Covid-19 trends, says the government needs to drive the vaccination agenda while urging more people to take the jab.

“We must be real. Kenyans are locking themselves in bars at night, matatus are carrying full capacity and other violations of the restrictions. We need the economy to be opened and urge individual responsibility,” said Prof Anzala, who also advises the President. He said that with the availability of the vaccines, the government should aim at vaccinating a million Kenyans a week so that we get the numbers up and allow people to do their business.

The Covid-19 pandemic has injected an unprecedented amount of uncertainty into the Kenyan economy as prices of key commodities, including fuel and food rise.

Countries across the world battling a growing number of infections implemented a wide range of measures, including curfews and social distancing strategies.

Reviving economic growth

However, many countries are now lifting the measures and, in some instances, implementing plans to reopen their economies. While specific guidelines and milestones vary widely, the fundamental challenge is the same in every country, how to protect lives and public health while reviving economic growth and employment. 

The Health ministry’s Covid-19 vaccine task force chairman, Dr Willis Akhwale, said the government will be confident to open up the economy should the number of those fully vaccinated by October 20 hits 5.8 million.

“The numbers would advise the President on whether to open the country or not. Prison is important and if we have a huge number of our population vaccinated, then we can say that we are partly safe and we can open up the economy,” he said. 

Dr Akhwale observed that there are six million doses of vaccines available and people must show up to drive the numbers up.

“Kenyans are pushing for the reopening of the economy yet they are taking time to have the jabs. We started a campaign targeting those not vaccinated “get vaccinated, tufungue nchi”, he said.

He added that with the reduction in the number of cases, it is the best time to get vaccinated.

“Kenyans are very funny people when the numbers are low, they feel that the virus is gone, but it is still here with us and playing games. If we cannot take the jabs, putting on masks and social distancing is a problem, are we really ready for the opening of the economy? Behave and we shall behave,” he said 

The Health CS Mutahi Kagwe said it is the wish of the government to reopen the economy as fast as possible but this will only be dictated by science and data and it is only Kenyans behaviour that can make this happen.

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Current positivity rate

“The government can only reopen the economy when the positivity rate is less than five per cent for 14 days, currently this is the trend though it is the citizens behaviour that drives up the numbers. If we warn people not to give food in public gatherings, they think we are just making noise since it is the time of eating that people get to remove their masks ,” he said 

With the current positivity rate at 2.2 per cent, it means that the number of those testing positive has dropped from the 1,000 mark to an average of 300 a day and those in the Intensive Care Unit are less than 100 .

Addressing the poor uptake of Covid-19 vaccination in all the counties, Mr Kagwe encouraged the counties to start mobile centres to drive the numbers. 

He suggested that the counties should start door-to-door vaccination drive, more so for the elderly and those living with disabilities.

Given that only 3.9 million people have been vaccinated, with 2.8 million partially and less than a million fully, the government targets to reach 5.8 million people by October 20.

Mr Kagwe called on people to get vaccinated. He added that he was not against the reopening of the economy but Kenyans need to prove that they can get the vaccination without having to be reminded to take individual responsibility.

“Come out and get vaccinated, if you are in the hospitality sector, push your people to get vaccinated so that come December, you operate to full capacity. Of the people that are being admitted in various hospitals, 98 per cent of them are not vaccinated,” he said.

Prof Matilu Mwau, an infectious disease researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, said the government should only open the economy if they have the confidence that it can vaccinate, prevent and hospitalise Kenyans.

Health and safety protocols

“Even if the numbers are low now, the trend with the virus is that once in a while we are going to get a surge because not all Kenyans are going to faithfully adhere to the measures,” he said 

He added: “The risk that comes with the virus must be very clear to the government, if everyone is going to be vaccinated, wear a mask and social distance by all means, please open the economy and if we are still pushing and begging people to go vaccination, then we need to rethink.”

Countries are relying on data to increase compliance with health and safety protocols, gauge the success of the reopening process, and make improvements along the way.

Zambia is the first country in Africa to reopen its borders and airports to boost the economy, which had been undermined by restrictions imposed to combat the disease. 

China was one of the first countries to start reopening its economy. It began by considering which sectors were most important to its economy and then looked at the risks of transmitting the virus in those sectors. 

Denmark reopened childcare facilities and schools first since people couldn’t return to work if their children had nowhere to go.

Germany, on the other hand, focused on understanding and managing the infection vulnerability and economic impact of different job types while Switzerland began reopening in the sectors with the lowest degree of customer-employee interaction.

New Zealand opted to target the total elimination of new cases before reopening. BY DAILY NATION


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