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County orders closure of major markets over Coronavirus fears

A section of Taveta traders washing hands at a water point inside the market. Photo by KNA.

The  County government of Taita-Taveta has ordered the immediate closure of major markets in the region as part of public health measures to combat possible spread of the corona virus.

Speaking  in  Voi  on Tuesday, the Deputy Governor, Majala Mlagui said the markets in Mwatate, Wundanyi, Voi and Taveta sub-counties were potential hotspots for infection and spread of the virus and hence the decision to close them down. She however, added that the small markets and roadside stalls will still be operational.

“We are doing this as a way of avoiding crowding in public places. We need all your support,” she appealed to the public.

She further disclosed that the drastic step was taken after Tanzania confirmed its first case of a person infected with the Coronavirus, COVID-19.

However, the abrupt closure of the markets triggered a public backlash with traders terming the move as punitive and informed by fear.

While the announcement was being made, hundreds of traders in Taveta wholesale market at the Kenya-Tanzania border were unloading their farm produce in readiness for the market day on Wednesday.

Taveta wholesale market, one of the largest markets in the coast region, is patronized by traders and buyers from Kenya and Tanzania. The market days usually fall on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Michael Power, an Irish potato dealer, termed the move as uncalled for. He said that the traders were taking their health seriously and had water jars, soaps and sanitizers on their stands. He further accused the county of sowing seeds of unnecessary panic in the public.

“We have been washing hands because we care for our health. We have already told buyers not to crowd around our produce and they have complied. The county is killing our only means of livelihood,” he said.

His sentiments were echoed by Ms. Sarah Wambua, an onion seller, at the market. She said she had received her onion stock from Ethiopia on Monday in readiness for Wednesday market, adding  that though traders and the public have been supporting the county preventive measures to combat coronavirus, there was need to temper some decisions with rational actions.

“You cannot close the main market without giving an alternative to the traders. This is tantamount to killing us even as we keep safe from Corona,” she said.

She also said the small markets and stalls that will continue to operate will eventually die because they get their stock from the main markets.

“This might appear like a simple decision but in the end, it will affect everyone,” she said.

The market closure comes even as the county complained that delayed funding from the national government risks derailing efforts to establish proper infrastructure to combat the novel coronavirus in the border county.

Department of health reported that it established two isolation wards in Voi and Taveta sub-counties. Each of the isolation wards has a 10-bed capacity.

Two more units were in the process of being established at Mwatate and Wundanyi sub-counties.

The County Executive Member for Health Services, John Mwakima said the county was working on convincing the national government on the need for Taita-Taveta County to be classified as a high-risk county due to the proximity to the Tanzania border.

He said the county experienced high traffic movements as thousands of vehicles passed through the region along the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway and also Voi-Taveta-Holili highway.

“We need to be classified as a high-risk county to access government intervention through the ministry of Health,” he said.

The Ministry of Health had last week identified high-risk counties where the Coronavirus could spread. Most of these counties are in the border region. They include Kisumu, Busia, Migori, Kajiado, Wajir and Garissa. Nairobi, Mombasa and Kilifi are also in the Ministry of Health’s watch-list.

In  Taita-Taveta County, the national government said it was enforcing directives to keep the public safe. Ms. Kimondo, representing the County Commissioner, said all meetings were banned and the government was using community policing and Nyumba Kumi security initiatives to monitor activities across the county.

As part of enhancing security in security agencies, all police stations and posts are fitted with water tanks, soaps and sanitizers.

The  County Police Commander, Saidi Kiprotich said everyone who was seeking services from the police stations had to wash their hands as part of enforcing cleanliness and upholding safety measures. He stated that normal police duties would continue and warned against criminal activities.

“Though courts have suspended some operations, criminals will still be sought and be arrested,” he said.

However, even as the county moves to secure the region from Corona, anxiety amongst the medics runs high with reports saying hospitals lack proper equipment and gear to handle Corona cases should they be reported.

A medic at Moi County Referral Hospital who declined to be named said the facility was most likely to be the first place any suspected Corona case will be referred to before being transferred to an isolation unit.

He stated that the medics who will receive the patient for preliminary tests remain very vulnerable and required proper personal protective equipment to receive patients.

“Should we have a case, the corona patient will be received by a medic at this facility. This means that medics will be exposed because he or she handled a patient without proper gear,” said the medic.

Meanwhile, a 47-year-old man suspected to have been infected with coronavirus and admitted in isolation earlier at the Londiani Sub-County Hospital in Kericho, yesterday, has been confirmed negative of the dreaded disease.

Confirming this, the Kericho County Chief Health Officer, Dr. David Ngililco Ekwam told KNA today that the patient’s tested case does not meet the diagnosis as the Coronavirus disease at present, but would still be isolated for further investigations.

Dr. Ekwam said that the patient was responding well to the normal treatment of the upper respiratory tract infections.

“The patient is now receiving respiratory medicine for tract infection since his symptoms do not match those of the COVID-19 disease,” Dr EKwam clarified.

The patient who is said to have travelled from Mombasa four days ago had been rushed to Londiani Sub-county Hospital with severe cough and was complaining of weak joints, befitting symptoms of coronavirus (COVID 19).

He was later moved to Kericho County Referral Hospital for specialized medical attention.

The patient was immediately quarantined in an Isolation Ward at the Kericho Hospital. Dr. Ekwam said that the patient was stable and was responding well to medication.

In  Nairobi, Jamia Mosque, the largest Mosque at the Centre of Muslim community in the country will from today open prayer premises 15 minutes before and additional 15 minutes after prayers.

Access to the mosque will also be limited to only three entrances for the men and one entrance for the women.

In a press release on the measures the Muslim community has put in place to avert the spread of covid-19, Sheikh Mohammed Osman Warfa, Chairman of Jamia Mosque Committee, said Friday congregation prayers will open at 12.30pm, and the prayers held at 1.25 pm before the Mosque is shut at exactly 1.45 pm.

Approximately 8,000 people frequent Jamia Mosque daily for prayers.

“The pandemic is now right on our doorsteps, three cases of Coronavirus infections have been confirmed. We still don’t know the extent of the spread and the severity of this disease and its consequences might even be severe,” Sheikh Warfa noted.

Jamia Mosque Committee together with the Council of Scholars of Jamia Mosque had yesterday engaged in a consultative meeting with the Kenya Association of Muslim Medical Practitioners (KAMMP) where they deliberated on the realities of the pandemic and its magnitude as well as appropriate preventive measures to manage its spread.

Apart from the schedules at the Mosque, the Sheikh said, Ablutions and toilet facilities will be shut down as these areas, according to the medics, have the potential of aiding the spread of the coronavirus.

The faithful have been advised to make ablutions before coming to the mosque. And that the Committee shall keep monitoring the situation and keep the community updated from time to time as the situation progresses.

Sheikh Warfa said hand sanitizers have been placed in different strategic locations for Mosque users and in order to further enhance safety measures, carpets in the mosque will be regularly cleaned and disinfected.

“To further enhance on safety measures, the elderly and those with medical problems are being encouraged to perform their prayers at home and all Imams in all Mosques around the country to make special supplications (Qunoot) during all prayers, seeking refuge and protection with Almighty Allah from Coronavirus and other epidemics,” Sheikh Warfa advised.


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