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Kenya's upcountry counties new frontier of COVID-19 spread

Wednesday June 24, 2020

A member of Kenya Red Cross demonstrates hand-washing to members of the deaf community in Nairobi amid the COVID-19 pandemic [Georgina Smith/Al Jazeera]

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- As Kenya continues to record a surge in COVID-19 infections, counties outside the capital Nairobi are emerging as the latest hotspots where the disease is fast spreading.

While the capital still accounts for the bulk of the cases, infections in the counties are rising at a faster rate.

Mombasa, a coastal city and the bedrock of Kenya's tourism, leads in counties outside Nairobi with the most infections.

The county has so far recorded 1,309 COVID-19 cases and the number continues to rise, with the infections attributed to port activities in the city.

Other counties with elevated cases include Busia in the west with 361 cases, Kajiado with 179, Machakos in the south with 48, Kwale at the Coast with 56, Migori with 55 and Mandera in the north on the border with Somalia with 18.

Out of east Africa nation's 47 counties, at least 40 have recorded COVID-19 cases and the Ministry of Health has warned that the disease would continue to spread.

The ministry identifies Kajiado, Busia, Migori and Mombasa as some of the hotspots, with most of them are asymptomatic.

"The rise in cases is an indication that this disease has established itself in the community and is the reason why it is spreading," Mercy Mwangangi, the chief administrative secretary in the health ministry, said on Tuesday.

Kenya on Tuesday recorded 155 more COVID-19 cases, pushing the total tally to 4,952 as the country gravitated towards the 5,000 mark. Nairobi had 104, Busia 19, Mombasa 16, Uasin Gishu 4 and Migori 10.

The east African nation has so far confirmed 128 deaths and 1,782 recoveries, largely local transmissions.

As the cases surge, Mwangangi said, the government officials will meet with county government authorities on Wednesday to assess the COVID-19 level of preparedness in the devolved units in terms of intensive care unit bed capacity provision, number of ventilators and provision of personal protective equipment.

The rise in cases in the counties is attributed to failure by a majority of people to adhere to containment measures like wearing masks, social distancing and washing of hands.

In public transport vehicles in rural areas, most operators are flouting the passenger limit set by the government, making social distancing a problem in the vehicles.

"It is business as usual on these sides. Some people are not wearing face masks in public and you are forced to share a seat in case you board a public transport vehicle," said Moses Otiato, a teacher in Busia County.

The county that borders Uganda has become a hotspot of COVID-19 due to truck drivers ferrying goods from Mombasa to the landlocked country.

"They are spending days here due to the restrictions placed at the border and interacting with residents. This can only help to spread the disease if people are not careful," he said.

Hand washing is also a major challenge in most upcountry towns, thanks to lack of piped water.

Most residents, therefore, have to fetch water from rivers or buy, which becomes a challenge when it comes to improving sanitation.

"In Nyeri, we have so far nine cases and one death. All the cases were asymptomatic but some people still believe the virus is a Nairobi problem and that is where the challenge lies," said Grace Wanjuki, a farmer.

The government has noted that the rise in COVID-19 positive cases across the east African nation threaten to overwhelm the health system.

Most of the cases are asymptomatic, thus, the country has moved to implement a home-based cared system, according to the ministry.

Meanwhile, the military said Tuesday it has introduced a raft of measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 in its establishments amid unconfirmed reports 80 of its soldiers have tested positive to COVID-19.

Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) spokesperson Zipporah Kioko said entry and exit to military establishments have been restricted with exceptions made for essential services only.

Kioko said the KDF has established and equipped two specialized coronavirus treatment centers at its barracks in Nairobi and at the Kenya Navy Base in Mombasa.

"Every military camp has designated quarantine and isolation centers to process those from leave, those with a history of contact, those on deployment transit, those reporting for courses or those with history of travel," she said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

Kioko said the KDF has ordered mandatory testing for COVID-19 pandemic of its entire staff as part of efforts to contain the spread of the disease.

She said so far 7,000 personnel have been tested and those found positive have been taken for quarantine. One soldier, she said, has however succumbed to respiratory disease and was buried in Nakuru, about 180 km northwest of Nairobi.

"Testing and repeat testing takes place in all military camps. In line with this, appropriate measures have been taken to ensure personnel who have turned positive receive medical care," said Kioko who did not disclose the number of personnel so far affected by the virus.

She added a situation update on KDF COVID-19 data is submitted and included in the national statistics issued daily by the ministry of health.

"We are soldiers and citizens of the Republic of Kenya thus KDF figures are captured within the national figures. We discourage discussion on COVID-19 which aims to segregate the data and refocus it on institutions," she said.


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