Kenya is staring at a possible spike in coronavirus infections in rural areas from January as Kenyans start travelling to join their families for the festive season.
Public service vehicles, hoping to cash in on the high demand, are breaching Covid-19 restrictions and past trends show it will be a tall order preventing Kenyans from travelling and partying.
Cessation of travel between certain counties during the first few months of the pandemic and a dusk-to-dawn curfew played a big part in keeping the number of Covid-19 infections low.
This has since changed after the reopening of the economy in September by the President. By yesterday, corona cases in Kenya had risen to 94,768 after 154 more people tested positive from a sample size of 3,262.
This represents a 148 per cent increase in infections in just three months from 38,115 when the economy was reopened on September 28.
Despite a nationwide spike in infections during the last three months, the bulk of the new cases have been in populous urban areas close to the capital city.
Surge in travel
Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru and Kajiado are currently leading in the number of infections.
This trend could, however, change in the coming days due to a surge in travel usually associated with the festive season.
Rural areas have more elderly people and poorer health systems, a fact that would make them vulnerable should there be a spike in infections after the festive season.
“Increased movements and interactions will lead to a new wave, which will likely spike towards the end of January with the reopening of schools and workplaces,” said Dr Ahmed Kalebi, a pathologist, and CEO of Lancet Group of Laboratories.
A spot-check by the Nation yesterday across the country showed a high demand for travel.
The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger train service from Nairobi to Mombasa is currently fully booked until December 27, 2020 as holiday goers start flocking Mombasa as has been the tradition in past years. Unlike PSVs, which are required to adhere to Covid-19 spacing rules on public travel, the SGR has been operating full trains — raising questions about applications of double standards by the government.
Transport operators hoping to cash in on the festive season have modified their vehicles in order to enable them carry more passengers. PSVs are only allowed to carry 50 per cent of their capacity.
The ingenious ones have removed their seats and fixed smaller ones in order to increase their passenger capacity while giving an illusion of adhering to the Covid 19 spacing requirements.
Covid-19 PSV rules
Others have transformed private vehicles like vans into PSVs, which allows them to operate outside the Covid-19 PSV rules while night travel has also resumed.
There is a 10pm to 4am curfew, which means anyone found on the road who is not part of essential services is supposed to be arrested.
While this rule somehow works in Nairobi and the other big towns, the Nation has found out that it is business as usual on the highways at night.
PSV operators said that as long as they are able to make their way out of Nairobi before 10pm, they are able to buy their way oit in case they are stopped by police officers along the way.
Alarmed by the turn of events, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) has warned that action will be taken on PSVs found to be carrying excess passengers.
“There shall be impromptu checks along major highways. To avoid any inconveniences, we urge motorists and passengers to adhere to all road safety standards and requirements of the Traffic Act,” said NTSA Director-General George Njao.
In Kericho and Bomet counties, even though the fares have not been increased, passengers were being crammed into vehicles as operators throw caution to the wind.
In Nakuru, bus stops were filled with huge crowds of travellers who were headed to different locations such as Nyahururu, Nyeri, Eldoret and beyond, Narok, Kisumu and Kisii.
Additional reporting by Hillary Kimuyu, James Kahongeh, Phyllis Musasia, Vitalis Kimutai, Siago Cece, Bernadine Mutanu and Derick Luvega.