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Minute but Dangerous Gaps in the Fight Against Coronavirus

The  Chuka University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Erastus  Njoka addressing the media outside the  County Commissioners’ office on Wednesday April 29, 2020. Photo by KNA.
Joram Murithi, a cobbler at Chuka town who volunteered to repair shoes for police officers at the Chuka Police Station. Photo by KNA.

Both the National and the County Governments in Tharaka- Nithi have given the fight against Covid-19 the seriousness it deserves, Leaders have also come out in support, especially such as in the free distribution of protective gear to the residents. This is to ensure that the assistance reach the most vulnerable members of the society.

This week Chuka University also threw its weight into the fight against the pandemic through the distribution of protective gear to the local residents.

Addressing the press outside the County Commissioner’s office on Wednesday, the University’s Vice Chancellor (VC), Prof. Erastus Njoka, said the University being the highest institution of learning and research in the County, cannot be left out as the global threat continues to force lockdowns to more and more counties in the country.

In the same week, an established cobbler, offered to repair police boots at no cost. The 40-year-old, Joram Murithi, who has been repairing shoes at the Chuka Open Air Market for more than five years now, volunteered his service as a way of appreciating the work being done by the disciplined forces at the battle front in ensuring that the public are safe as they observe the health directives.

The Inua Jamii Cash Transfer beneficiaries in County also had a reason to smile. The Tharaka-Nithi County Coordinator for Social Development, Ms. Lilian Olunga, disclosed that a total of Sh. 100,808,000 for 12,601 beneficiaries would be disbursed to the elderly with each person receiving Sh 8,000 for the months of January, February, March and April 2020.

All beneficiaries and any other person accompanying them were advised to have face masks and ensure one metre social distance during the disbursement exercise.

“This time payment will be done as per location to avoid overcrowding. The schedules have been sent to the Deputy County Commissioners for them to disseminate the information through their Chiefs and their Assistants as earlier on agreed,” said Ms. Olunga.

A spot check by KNA, revealed that KCB Bank placed a tent at Chogoria Boys’ High School, where the payments for Maara Sub-county were being paid.

On Monday at KCB Chuka, the beneficiaries started trickling in as early as 6.00am, However, due to insufficient space at the Branch, the payments were relocated to Chuka Township Primary School, Tuesday, None the less, the elderly were still subjected to long queues on Thursday when they turned out in large numbers.

On the flipside, Marimanti Member of County Assembly (MCA), Ms. Susan Ngugi, was arrested for allegedly holding a public gathering and endangering the lives of the residents on Wednesday.

The  MCA was arraigned in a Chuka Court the following day. The prosecution told the court that Ms. Ngugi was arrested for holding a public gathering and putting the people of Tharaka-Nithi in danger which should be treated as a crime. A more disturbing scenario, was when a policeman allegedly caused a commotion when a supermarket guard directed him to wear a face mask while entering the shop.

When the first coronavirus case was reported in Kenya and the reality over the pandemic hit the rural counties, the Tharaka-Nithi fraternity went full-swing to prevent the virus from infiltrating into the County. Isolation Centres were established in readiness for any eventuality. The business community in Chuka town seemed to make a paradigm shift from their ‘business as usual’ tendency and started adhering seriously to the directives by the government to curb the spread of the virus.

A spot-check by KNA in Chuka town then, revealed that matatus, Open Air Market traders, hotels and virtually all bar operators heeded to the government directives announced by Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe ,after eight more Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the country by March 22 , 2020.

At the Chuka Open Air Market and the Matatu terminus, businesspersons were very keen on their safety and that of their customers, they maintained the requisite social distance of one meter and provided soap and clean water where they and their customers washed their hands.

The matatu operators were adhering to the government directive with ten and fourteen seater matatus restricting their number to eight.

Later on, both the traders and their customers were required to wear protective face masks and all worked perfectly everywhere.

However, there seems to be a gap at the market place which is either an oversight on the part of the authority enforcers or negligence on the part of the traders.

To quote the words of a trader in the market who declined to be named, “If Covid -19 hits Tharaka-Nithi County, it’s main conduit will be the Chuka Open Air Market. I think it will spread like wildfire because the market catchment reaches the entire county all the way to Tharaka and as far as Runyenjes in Embu County,” wondered the trader.

A  spot-check by KNA confirmed that customers who are mainly retail traders, throw all caution to the wind as they scramble to purchase the wares from the wholesale traders who start selling their farm produce as early as 6.00am on regular market days.

There is enormous contact as they converge to trade in vegetables and spaces where maintaining the social distance is not practical and who has the time to wash their hands as cash flows from one trader to another.

The impracticability of maintaining social distance during this rush hour at the Chuka Open Market and the imminent queueing of the elderly as they receive their cash transfers not forgetting the gathering of people as they receive free face masks from well-wishers, were among the few gaps observed by KNA despite the authority’s efforts in the fight against the highly contagious disease.

If we have to stop the spread of coronavirus and avoid total lockdown as has been witnessed in some other parts of the world, we have to play our cards in manner that we beat the global threat in it’s own game by making sure we tighten the loose ends.

By  David Mutwiri

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