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China virus epicentre eases travel restrictions after lockdown : The Standard

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A woman wearing protective gear as she boards a train stopping at Wuhan, which has opened stations again to incoming passengers. [AFP / Hector RETAMAL]

The Chinese city of 11 million people that was Ground Zero for what became the global coronavirus pandemic partly reopened on Saturday after more than two months of almost total isolation.

Wuhan was placed under lockdown in January with residents forbidden to leave, roadblocks ring-fencing the city’s outskirts and drastic restrictions on daily life.
But the major transport and industrial hub has now signalled the end of its long isolation, with state media showing the first officially sanctioned passenger train arriving back into the city just after midnight.
People are now allowed to enter but not leave, and many trains had been fully booked days in advance.

SEE ALSO :China virus cases spike, 17 new infections reported

AFP saw crowds of passengers arriving at Wuhan station on Saturday, most wheeling suitcases alongside them.
Some had managed to slip back into the city a day earlier on rail services that were stopping in the city — but nominally banned passengers from disembarking — as enforcement of the travel ban began to ease.
One woman who arrived on Friday said she and her daughter had been away from her husband for nearly 10 weeks.

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“As the train neared Wuhan, my child and I were both very excited,” the 36-year-old told AFP on Saturday.
“It felt like the train was moving faster than before, and my daughter said the driver must know we really want to go home.

SEE ALSO :China confirms virus spreading between humans

“She rushed toward her father, and watching them from behind I couldn’t help but cry,” she added.
Staff at Wuhan station were all clad in full protective gear with reception desks lined up ready to process returnees who had been overseas.
China is now battling to control a wave of imported cases as infections soar abroad.
As passengers lined up to exit the station Saturday — some wearing two face masks, gloves, face screens or full protective suits — a worker in a hazmat suit shouted for anyone returning from overseas to come forward.
All arrivals in Wuhan have to show a green code on a mobile app to prove that they are healthy.

SEE ALSO :Factbox: What we know about the new coronavirus spreading in China and beyond

Elsewhere in China long lines of travellers queued up at train stations to board high-speed services back to Wuhan.
Passengers in Shanghai had their temperatures checked by staff in goggles and masks after boarding their Saturday morning service.
Restrictions on residents heading out of Wuhan will not be lifted until April 8, when the airport will also reopen for domestic flights.
Wuhan is the last area of Hubei province to see overland travel restrictions lifted, although some highways leading into the city had already reopened this week.
Gao Xuesong, a worker in Wuhan’s auto industry, arrived in the city Friday night.

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SEE ALSO :Travelers to be screened for ‘Chinese’ coronavirus- Government

“It almost feels like returning to an alien land, because I haven’t been back for more than two months,” he told AFP.
Zero cases, not zero risk
The new coronavirus was detected in December and has been linked to a market in the city that sold wild animals for human consumption.
Wuhan has paid a heavy price for the outbreak, with more than 50,000 people infected and more COVID-19 deaths than any other city in China.
There were three more deaths in the city on Saturday, health officials reported.
Wuhan initially struggled to contain the outbreak and AFP reporters saw long queues of sick patients at one overwhelmed city hospital in January.
But numbers have fallen dramatically in recent weeks. Official figures show there have been fewer than 20 new cases across the province in the past fortnight.
Most of Wuhan’s subway network restarted on Saturday, while some shopping centres will open their doors next week.
Banks reopened earlier this week and bus services resumed but residents have been warned against unnecessary travel and those over 65 have been told to avoid public transport.
A study this week found the lockdown in Wuhan succeeded in stopping the fast-spreading virus in its tracks and gave health care facilities crucial breathing room — but warned against opening up the city too soon.
More than 2,500 people are still hospitalised with the disease in Wuhan, including nearly 900 “severe” cases.
Liu Dongru, of the Hubei Health Commission, said Friday that although parts of Wuhan had been reclassified as “low-risk” areas, work to control the virus needed to continue.
“Zero reported cases does not equal zero risk,” he said.


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Ex-CIC boss Gitogo paid Sh154m on early exit

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Ex-CIC boss Gitogo paid Sh154m on early exit

Tom Gitogo
Mr Tom Gitogo when he was CIC Insurance boss. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Former CIC Insurance Group #ticker:CIC chief executive Tom Gitogo was paid Sh154.4 million when he cut short his employment contract on October 9, 2019, the insurer has disclosed in its annual report.

The payout included Sh76.3 million in gratuity which was calculated at 31 percent of the annual basic pay for each year worked.

For the nine months he had served by the time of his departure, he was paid a salary of Sh55.3 million annually or Sh6.1 million per month and allowances running into Sh22.8 million annually.

In the previous full year (to December 2018), the two pay items had earned him a total of Sh74.8 million.

Mr Gitogo’s five-year contract was to end in February this year but he left before the end of his term for unexplained reasons.

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The company appointed Elijah Wachira to replace him in an acting capacity.

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Mr Gitogo joined CIC in 2014 when he replaced Nelson Kuria who retired after holding the chief executive position for many years.

He left days after the company repaid its Sh5 billion corporate bond on October 2, 2019.

Mr Gitogo had also initiated plans to sell the insurer’s 712 acres of freehold land. His term at CIC was turbulent, characterised by business decline across various performance measures.

The insurer’s market capitalisation, for instance, dropped 68 percent from Sh25.1 billion in December 2014 to Sh8 billion by the time he exited.

Mr Gitogo steadily bought the company’s shares and still held 11 million shares by December 2019 when he was ranked ninth among the top 10 shareholders, according to the annual report.

The shares are currently worth Sh26 million, assuming he has not sold his stake.

Over his tenure, CIC’s earnings and shareholder funds also dropped, partly due to losses at its regional subsidiaries, competition and the weak stock market. After his exit, the insurer reported a Sh321.5 million net profit for the year ended December, representing a 33.1 percent decline from Sh480.9 million the year before.

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Shhh! Economy is already reopened, but don’t go tell it on the mountain

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Ideas & Debate

Shhh! Economy is already reopened, but don’t go tell it on the mountain

makeshift market
People sell groceries from their vehicles at a makeshift market near Windsor County Club. PHOTO | RAPHAEL NJOROGE 

In business, as in careers and life generally, there is always a secret to unlocking value, success, growth and wealth. In the times of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, that secret was encrypted in two magic words: “Open, Sesame!” Today, in Kenya, a country of 47 million, the question on almost every lip as we inch closer to June 6 has been: “Will he or will he not open?”

At the beginning of the movement restrictions meant to slow down the spread of coronavirus, Kenyans welcomed staying at and working from home. It had its high points. For instance, senior managers could be called Baba Boi during working hours. It was novel. We got to learn about Zoom and the more we used it, the richer Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of the platform, became.

Today, if I am not wrong, he is worth about $7.6 billion. That is about five times the size of the Budget that Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani will be reading to us next Thursday. Never mind that Yuan, who shares a name with the Chinese currency, is still three years shy of his 50th birthday, which makes him nine years younger than Kenya.

With time, the novelty of working from home began to wear off as many businesses felt the harsh financial effects of the restrictions, which were more painful than the coronavirus swab test. Bills were growing but incomes were shrinking for both companies and individuals. Where it had started raining, it was now pouring, with workers being sent home on unpaid leave, taking pay cuts or losing their jobs.

Surveys started showing that employees considered working from home less productive compared to working from the office. People started finding reasons to step out. Some forgot social distancing when they met their friends. In no time, photos of well-intentioned Kenyans being hauled into police vehicles for enjoying a beverage near each other started emerging on social media, followed, in short order by more worrying images of excessive indulgence in tea estates. The result was an extension of the restrictions for a further 21 days.

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Since the first case was reported, Kenyans have spent 50 days in an economic wilderness where the definition of work, income generation and building the nation has been turned on its head, with the role of side hustles growing as professionals looked for new ways to bridge their income gaps.

That is why the story about buying milk from the boot of a BMW and managu (amaranth) from a Range Rover trunk excited us. Ah, so these luxury brands could be used for ordinary, nay, mundane tasks! Suddenly, the rich were humanised. They had, in a sense, become purveyors of healthy organic foods and we could mingle with them by the road sides that they had cleverly converted into informal markets.

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Considering that one of the markets was right outside a golf course, one could safely presume that once the super-rich hawkers had sold their last onion, they would head to the course for a well-deserved round.

However, due to social distancing, they had to caddie for themselves, meaning that even the way the rich play had been disrupted. Now, there are not only more people on the golf course but clubs have tentatively opened their ninth holes where members can do business while social-distancing.

For many, however, this is not enough. The other day, a board member with a government agency argued that the economy can no longer afford the restrictions.

“He should open,” the man said. “Those who will die will die.”

However, there is an important lesson that Kenya should learn, especially from America and France, where thousands upon thousands of angry citizens have poured into the streets to protest police brutality on people of African descent: Human rights are as important, if not much more, than public health.

Citizens have put themselves at the risk of contracting coronavirus to demonstrate to their governments that they will not accept injustice. This is an important lesson for the police in Kenya, who have used excessive force, leading to needless deaths — including of innocent children — as they enforce movement restrictions. As such, even as the government tells Kenyans what to do to stay safe from corona, it must also rein in its police officers so that they — and the country — can stay safe from the wrath of Kenyans. They should borrow a leaf from Mama Mbogas, who have repeatedly warned that they would rather die of corona than of hunger, meaning that the government must continue investing in social capital.

On a less political note, we must not forget that without the courage of the Mama Mbogas, we would be worse off economically. They kept at it, even as Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe repeatedly warned that he would not treat them normally. Indeed, their resilience inspired the BMW owners we are now celebrating.

And this brings me to my final point. Kenyans have already re-opened the economy, especially in places like Nairobi. We have traffic jams each day. Hotels have opened. High-end ones have started dusting their receptions, ready to receive visitors. And every so often I get asked by members of my team whether it is illegal for them to come to the newsroom. It never was.

When I met a leading hotelier earlier this week, he explained to me why he never closed the establishment in the first place.

“Big hotels are like city lights,” he said. “You never switch off city lights. The rest of the world needs to see you when investors start travelling again.”

Were I to be asked to advise the President on what he should tell the country on Saturday, I would tell him this: “Open, Na Usiseme!”

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Yatani will read Budget from House despite virus

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Economy

Yatani will read Budget from House despite virus

Parliament
Parliament in session: Less than 50 MPs will attend the Budget reading next Thursday. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

Despite a lingering threat of Covid-19 that has seen Parliament cut numbers within its precincts and changed Standing Orders to permit virtual sessions, Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani will next Thursday read his first Budget Statement from the floor of the National Assembly.

Speaker Justin Muturi on Wednesday said that he had approved Mr Yatani’s request to read the 2020/21 Budget from Parliament Buildings in a session to be attended by less than 50 lawmakers.

Mr Muturi, however, said that only the House leadership, members of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, chairpersons of departmental committees and other select committees will be allowed in the chamber with the rest sitting in designated areas.

This will be the first time in the country’s history that lawmakers have been locked out of the House on the Budget Day due to restrictions and health directives to curb the spread of the respiratory disease.

“I wish to inform the House that I have received a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury, requesting to make public pronouncements on the Budget highlights and revenue raising,” Mr Muturi said in a statement. This means that Mr Yatani, just like 13 ministers who have held the position before him, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, will preserve the tradition.

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Months after passage of the 2010 Constitution that effectively dimmed the traditional aura of Budget Speech, Mr Kenyatta fought successfully to read the first Budget Statement from the floor of the House on June 9, 2011.

He convinced Speaker Kenneth Marende that reading the “Statement” on the appointed date and time would enable Kenya to fulfill a regional commitment of delivering such speeches at the same time as Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Two years after that the tradition was to come under sharp focus when Henry Rotich became the first non-MP holder of the treasury docket.

The government side had to lobby ahead of the 2013 Budget Day to have Mr Rotich, a Cabinet Secretary, read the Budget Statement from the floor of the House.

It remains to be seen whether the whole Budget Day tradition, that includes posing outside Treasury building with the iconic briefcase for photos, before heading to Parliament to read the spending plans will apply for Mr Yatani.

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