Opinion

The Covid-19 numbers that don't yet seem to be adding up

The Covid-19 numbers that don't yet seem to be adding up
  • Still, let’s stop fantasising that a full lockdown can work in Kenya. How do you even enforce it in slums and rural villages?
  • In Nairobi’s CDB it’s back to business as usual. Street vendors have returned. Shops are again packed as ever. Customers jostle for space.

At some point, the Ministry of Health (MoH) had projected a possible 10,000 Covid-19 infections across the country by the end of April.

When, halfway that month, it became clear the actual number would fall far, far short, the MoH communicated this as indicative of the success of the government’s mitigation measures. I scratched my head and wondered: Really?

There’s no question that aggressive mitigation can stop coronavirus in its tracks. That’s what China achieved with its ruthless lockdown edict when the virus surfaced in Hubei province.

Other lockdowns in Italy and France have recently seen the number of daily infections and deaths go down there. Conversely, a relaxation of lockdowns in several US cities has seen a spike in infections and fatalities.

Certainly, Kenya’s 7pm-5am curfew and quarantines in select counties are playing an important role in checking Corona’s advance.

But are these measures really having the kind of impact on the ground which the MoH insists they have? There’s a lot about this Covid-19 that remains a mystery.

DISCREPANCY

Let’s first check out the numbers. As of Thursday, the global caseload was at 3,934,711, and 271,095 deaths. In Europe, Britain is currently in particularly bad shape, with 175,756 active cases and 30,615 deaths.

Worse off is the US, with 998,686 active cases and 76,942 fatalities. Compare those numbers with the sub-Saharan Africa (excluding Arab North Africa) caseload of 32,546 and 853 deaths recorded by then. Heck, what is going on here?

I have no clue why there is such a glaring discrepancy between confirmed cases in sub-Saharan Africa (excepting South Africa) and North Africa, leave alone with Europe and North America.

The scientists don’t seem to know either, though many theories and myths are circulating. Or could it be there are hundreds of thousands of untested people walking all over the continent who are asymptomatic, meaning they are infected but not showing any symptoms?

If so, why are we not seeing waves of related deaths in Africa? Or, maybe, is there a likelihood we will become the next epicentre of infections as the pandemic sweeps from Asia and Europe to North America and Latin America?

Let’s remember the restrictive measures we have instituted do not amount to a total lockdown, like there was in Italy and Spain and New York City.

RESTRICTIONS

There, people were strictly confined to their houses day and night, with only limited movement to buy food at specified stores.

We have a curfew at night, yes, but are free to go out and about at daybreak. In addition, quarantines have been imposed on four counties: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale.

Travelling in and out of these counties is restricted, but movement within is allowed.

If the virus wants to roam this country freely, I frankly don’t see these curbs stopping it. Take the case of Nairobi, with the highest confirmed Covid-19 caseload in the country.

More than 60 per cent of the city’s population lives in informal settlements, the smug term for slums. Take a stroll, when you can, into any of them – Mathare, Kibera, Mukuru.

You will notice life going on blissfully as before, pre-Covid. Social distancing is as alien as Latin there. Crowds mill everywhere, with many individuals not bothered to wear face masks.

The so-called middle-class suburbs are not much different. The crowding may be less, but the general absence of caution at shops and markets and matatu terminuses is plain to see.

Carefree socialising is back in full swing, with no evidence that frequent handwashing has become the norm.

EARNING INCOME

In Nairobi’s CDB it’s back to business as usual. Street vendors have returned. Shops are again packed as ever. Customers jostle for space.

Even with the ban on travelling in and out of Nairobi and Mombasa, boneheads are defying this and using ‘panya’ routes to evade police roadblocks – or are bribing their way through.

When a partial lockdown of Nairobi’s Eastleigh was decreed last Wednesday, a beeline was witnessed of some residents leaving to move in with friends and relatives elsewhere.

The same behaviour was witnessed in Mombasa’s Old Town, which was placed in a similar quarantine. Meanwhile, evangelical sects are ranting that they be allowed to congregate, and infect more people.

I am not even sure the curfew is a gamechanger. It can’t be that corona is only active at night and goes dormant at daybreak when the curfew ends.

Still, let’s stop fantasising that a full lockdown can work in Kenya. How do you even enforce it in slums and rural villages?

Eighty per cent of our workforce survive on informal jobs. You expect them to lounge for weeks like Frenchmen on lockdown getting regular upkeep cheques from the government?