By HENRY OWINO (Senior Correspondent)

Wearing masks now mandatory in public places in Kenya

Kenya Government in collaboration with medical practitioners are putting in place several policies and measures to contain and cut short the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Most of these guidelines and procedures are actually working and people adapt it as new normal.

Closure of international movements, personal hygiene and social distancing are some of interventions of reducing chances of contracting Coronavirus.

The latest guideline to date is restricted movements for residents in Nairobi, Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale Counties. This is to slow the spread of virus to other counties and especially to elderly living upcountry. However, should this measure have no better results, then other Counties must psychologically get prepared for the same as the first four moves to stiffer measures.

These masks come in various types depending on the use. Some protect you from dust only but not the virus. Others have certain percentage of protection against the virus and dust. So, medics recommend the surgical mask or respirator (N95) mask which is fully protective against the Coronavirus.

The other measure which seems to come with lots of confusion among Kenyans is wearing of face mask. It is now mandatory to wear it in all public places. These include supermarkets, bank halls, public transport vehicles (SPVs), motorbike riders and their passengers, you name them.

This directive was issued on Thursday, April 2, by Mutahi Kagwe, CS for Health while warning of a heightened threat of contracting Coronavirus.

Types of masks available in Kenya markets

The CS Health said the government is working with local producers who are already manufacturing the face masks which would be available in the market, with free distribution to motorbike riders. The CS also warned Kenyans to take precautionary measures at all time as the number of people with virus is increasing.

“We have many people with the virus. Boarding a matatu without a mask means you can easily get infected,” Kagwe CS cautioned.

“We are doing this so that Kenyans can live,” he said while warning that more stringent measures are coming in few days ahead.

Betty Maina, CS Trade and Industry explains mask preparations and its distributions

On Friday, April 3, Betty Maina, the Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary said garment companies had material enough to produce six million face masks locally to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

On Saturday, April 4, CS Kagwe said anybody will be violating the Ministry of Health’s regulations on Coronavirus if found in public places without a mask. This includes markets and supermarkets and other public places with high populations.

“This is a new requirement that must be complied. People must wear masks in public places,” said CS Kagwe, at a regular media briefing.

CS Kagwe also said a factory in Kitui was producing up to 25,000 masks daily. This means in a week’s time all motorbike operators should be issued with the face masks.

Nevertheless, before more stringent measures comes, let the government provide Kenyans with these protective equipment.  Otherwise, the measures could push people to wear funny pieces of clothes on their faces with discomforts and suffocate to death or generate yet another ailment.

“The government must bear in mind that protective equipment shortage remains a headache to most Kenyans who cannot even put food on the table now,” Tom Kituyi argues.

“We are unable to afford the mask being sold hawkers in the streets between Ksh 50 and Ksh 200 considering that many of us have lost jobs hence no money to purchase mask,” he added.

Discarding masks

Hawkers could be another source of spreading the virus as customers touch masks selecting their best colours, fabric, fittings to buy. Others pick up used masks and clean it to sell for innocent customers.

Kenyans must again be responsible on how they are disposing off the used face masks.  Careless dumping of the masks in open places exposes others to risks of contracting the virus.

Careless disposal of masks risk people’s lives

Majority are disposing off the masks anyhow and anywhere, by the roadside, foot-paths, markets, illegal dumping sites among places prompting filthy. Not only the masks litter the environment but exposes people more so children to risk of the virus.

According to Dr Loice Ombajo, Head of Infectious Disease at Kenyatta National hospital, warned Coronavirus is aerosol transmitted and so uncaring disposal of face masks is highly contagious to people especially with weak immune systems.

So, another effort of sensitization on discarding the disposable masks is crucial. The Ministry for Environment headed by CS Keriako Tobiko must come out together with National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) for this task.

This is the time Kenyans would like to see collective responsibility among Cabinet Secretaries in all ministries. Ministry of Transport on roads, air, and water while Foreign and Defense Ministries on Kenya’s borders.

Lending hand

The government has also invited the youth through their respective groups, to join in the war against Coronavirus. Surely no stone is left unrolled. However, youth should not take advantage to harass people or beat, rob, loot, snatch property in the disguise of implementing the Coronavirus regulations.

 “It is a personal responsibility to ensure the disease does not spread. We cannot police distancing. It is very difficult,” Kagwe said, “You can only take responsibility for yourself. Please, don’t wait until you turn positive and then you start blaming the government.”

Kibera youth use motorbike to ferry water-tanks for hand-washing

The disease has claimed thousands of lives across the world and infected a million plus others. Italy, Spain, New York are the worst hit as per April, 7 data.

“The youth are a very important component of the society, that is why we want them to work with authorities in their respective regions to help in the fight against Coronavirus,” Kagwe said, “the youth have worked very well through groups and that is what we want them to do in this fight.”

He cited the various welfare groups and SACCOs in the matatu, boda bodas, tuk tuks among other ventures as an example that can be replicated in the war against COVID-19.

“If they bring that synergy in this war we will definitely succeed,” he said when releasing new data for the virus infection in the country, “we want to see the youth organising themselves on the ground and ensuring they are enforcing social distancing and other measures put in place.”