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Measures will help all cope with Covid-19

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EDITORIAL

By EDITORIAL
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The country has entered a difficult moment in the war against coronavirus.

Consequently, drastic actions have to be taken. Starting Friday, there will be no night movements as a 7pm-5am curfew will be imposed, severely constricting activities such as business, work and social interactions.

Except for essential services like medical, national security, broadcasting and information, all others will be cancelled during the curfew hours.

This is the severest step taken so far as the number of Covid-19 infections hit 28, largely due to reckless and careless behaviour of citizens, as witnessed recently when health protocols were violated with abandon.

Public gatherings, among them burials, weddings, worship and open-air markets, as well as non-essential travel, have continued.

In the transport sector, social distance regulations have been flouted without a care.

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In articulating the new measures, President Uhuru Kenyatta belaboured the fact that the greatest threat is ourselves — our inability, or refusal, to follow guidelines.

Notwithstanding the curfew, unless there is change in behaviour, the threat will persist.

The dusk-to-dawn curfew instead of a lockdown, as has been imposed in several countries, including South Africa, will allow room for businesses and public engagement.

We all must respect and appreciate that window and act judiciously.

Significantly, the government announced a stimulus package to stabilise the economy and insulate it against the ravages of Covid-19.

President Kenyatta announced an 80 per cent pay cut for himself and his deputy William Ruto, 30 per cent for Cabinet secretaries and 20 per cent for principal secretaries.

Concomitantly, several tax reliefs have been proclaimed vide a 100 per cent waiver for low-income earners with a gross salary of Sh24,000 and below.

High-income earners got a five per cent relief. Value Added Tax goes down from 16 per cent to 14 per cent from April 1 and corporation tax from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.

The salary cuts for top government officials will release additional cash to the National Treasury to boost its reserve to deal with the pestilence, while tax breaks will put more cash in the pockets of employees and cushion businesses from the devastation resulting from economic slowdown.

These are timely measures, which the business community, faced with drastically falling revenues and prospects for mass layoffs, had been asking for.

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They add to the lowering by the Central Bank of Kenya of the threshold of cash that commercial banks should maintain by one percentage point, from 5.25 per cent to 4.25 per cent, which in practical terms releases Sh35 billion into the economy.

That gives banks flexibility on cash reserves, allowing them liberty to use the deposits more robustly.

In effect, they now have more money to lend, hence increasing the amount of cash for businesses.

Similarly, the Central Bank Rate (CBR) has been reduced by one percentage point, from 8.25 per cent to 7.25 per cent, which will reduce the cost of borrowing.

Businesses thrive in commercial borrowing and this works well when the interest rates are manageable. Commercial banks should reduce interest rates on lending.

Two things are crucial. First is adherence and second is prudence. Oftentimes, commercial banks circumvent such declarations by introducing several invisible charges that wipe out the intended gains.

Contrariwise, some borrowers mismanage bank loans and fail to make repayments, hence attract punitive actions.

As we have argued before, the novel coronavirus contagion is first a health challenge and second an economic and social threat.

International Monetary Fund chief executive Kristalina Georgieva captured the reality in a statement this week when she proclaimed that the impact of Covid-19 will be worse than the great global recession of 2007-9 that resulted from the vulnerabilities of the financial systems, including the US housing bubble.

The global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell to the negative.

In Kenya, new projections show that the economy will grow by 3.4 per cent, nearly half of what was reported last year.

But it could be worse, considering that agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, has been ravaged by locust, and matters are further complicated by unpredictable weather.

But at the core of all this is citizens’ responsibility to stop infections by following health regulations.

China’s Wuhan city, which was the epicentre of the epidemic, has turned the corner through implementation of tough measures.

Kenya has no option. Utmost sacrifice is paramount.

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NDINDA: Dream about baby symbolises opportunities

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By DIANA NDINDA

I’m jolted awake at 11.45pm by a strange dream. In the dream, a baby is sleeping beside me, his small arm draped over my neck. I can feel his rhythmic breathing on my neck.

I try to move his arm, but for some reason, I cannot. After struggling to the point of breathlessness, I manage to move and turn so that I can see the baby better.

He wakes up and starts to whimper. He looks scared, so I pick him up and sit him on my lap. I touch his forehead and he has a burning fever. Concerned, I say, “Let me get you something for your fever,” but he puts his small arms around my neck — he doesn’t want me to leave.
I ask, “Who is your  mummy?”

“Mr Pee Pee is not my mummy,” he replies in a tiny voice. Were this conversation taking place in real life, I would have probably laughed out loud at this answer, but since this is a dream, I don’t get to appreciate the sense of humour.

INTERESTING DREAMS
Like happens in all interesting dreams, I wake up suddenly, and voilà! There’s no baby, it’s just me in my bed in the hotel, still stranded in Nigeria where I’ve been since March 21, and sorely looking forward to going back home. With nothing better to do, and aware that I will not go back to sleep until morning,  I spend quite a bit of time mulling over what that dream means.

After all, this is not the first time I’ve had it. I had dreamt about this baby a day ago and the day before that. I go through one theory after another, striking each out until I settle on the one I decide is the most probable.
I believe the baby is symbolic of new opportunities I hadn’t envisioned knocking on my door in the near future.

The dream seems urgent and is unrelenting, trying to find space in my life no matter how resistant I am. I figure out that I only need to accept  it, and allow it to take me where it wants to. However, no matter how much I try decipher what “Mr Pee Pee is not my mummy” means, I don’t succeed, so I let it go.

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WISHFUL THINKING
True, my conclusion may be wishful thinking, but I’m determined to look on the bright side of things, to remember that in the midst of gloomy situations, good things do happen.

Satisfied and at peace, I go online to catch up with  the news in Nigeria, Kenya and the rest of the world, as well as what’s trending on Twitter. Twitter can be quite interesting sometimes.
When morning comes, I call my first-born son.

It’s his birthday today, and it saddens me that I’ll not be able to wish him a happy birthday in person and spend some time with him.

Had I been at home, I would have probably bought  him cake, and together with close relatives, we would have shared a meal together.
I refuse to despair though, I tell myself that there is always tomorrow, that come next year, I will not be stranded far away from my family, and will therefore get to celebrate this important day with him.                       
                            
Ms Ndinda is Research Manager, Transform Research Africa Ltd. She is stuck in Nigeria, where she has been since March 21.                                             

TOMORROW: The number of Kenyans looking forward to returning home keeps growing. I know I should be patient. After all, I have been here for weeks, so what’s another week? But  I can’t help getting anxious as we inch towards to D-Day.

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CHESOLI & MAJE: Why post-Covid-19 mitigation must have disaster prevention at its core

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By KENNEDY CHESOLI

By HAFIZ MAJE

The fallout from Covid-19 pandemic could rise to the levels of the World Wars, the Great Depression and the Spanish influenza of last century. Governments are scrambling to mitigate and control its spread even as the response against other threats — such as climate change, terrorism, cyber-insecurity and economic sabotage — has to be preserved and upgraded.

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INFECTION CONTROL
Though laudable, some of the current infection control or prevention and treatment measures will not work for an epidemic caused and transmitted by a different infectious agent.

Social distancing, hand hygiene and face masks will not protect us against an infectious disease transmitted by, say, mosquitoes.
Ventilators would not be useful if the next epidemic, which, instead of causing respiratory failure, affects the kidneys — in which case we will need dialysis machines.
So as not to be blindsided by an infectious disease again, we would need adequate stockpiles of antimicrobial agents and vaccines directed against threats.

These include the potential use of infectious disease agents, such as anthrax and plague, by hostile nations and terrorists.

The challenge, however, is to have rapidly scalable domestic production and supply chain capabilities to meet emergency needs — sometimes for items whose need cannot be anticipated or predicted ahead of the actual epidemic.

PERIODIC UPGRADES
Here, public-private partnerships could be a game-changer. Existing stockpiles would need constant replenishment since drugs expire and machines need periodic upgrades.

Interventions such as social distancing, lockdown and curfews come at a cost, which we must check if they are commensurate with the threats.

After all, engineers grapple with how much resilience to incorporate into the design of a structure by weighing the cost against the risk and consequences of any threat.
Since prevention is always better than cure, communities must decide how much to invest in disaster prevention.

The current Covid-19 toolbox may be ineffective against future pandemics but a range of general measures could avert or mitigate their impact.
An adequately funded fit-for-purpose public health infrastructure with a sound grassroot footprint will be critical.

It would be designed to collaborate with the relevant regional and international health organisations and ensure public health measures that come out of centuries of knowledge and experience pertaining to food and water safety and sanitary living conditions are enforced.

FEAR
A constant source of angst in infectious disease practice is the fear of missing the first case, which then goes on to become an outbreak.

Vigilant public health institutions would be on the forefront performing disease surveillance, identifying incipient outbreaks and rapidly instituting control measures.

Detecting disease patterns in real time, bearing in mind that some infectious agents may be novel, could prevent sporadic cases from becoming outbreaks.

Ordinarily, knowledge of a disease, such as transmission patterns and cell and tissue-level damage inform the choice of control measures, treatment and vaccine. However, the explosive nature of Covid-19 has necessitated reliance on “make-shift” science instead of well-performed research.

There is no assurance that future work may not prove the current control and mitigation efforts to be ineffective or even counterproductiv — thus the need to rapidly scale up research and development capacities, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence.

COVID-19

Covid-19 has affected the private sector and corporations have played a vital role in its prevention and mitigation.

In the post-pandemic world, they should invest in infection control infrastructure and processes, analogous to their investments in physical, cybersecurity and other risks, including in a strong layer of infection control personnel to advise on production and customer care processes.
It is imperative to institutionalise these as well as optimise our overall healthcare infrastructure. Reduction of poverty and income disparities will, obviously, be critical to achieving these goals.

Dr Maje is an infectious disease-trained physician, [email protected]; Mr Chesoli is a developmental economist, [email protected]

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MUTAVA: Guards unsung heroes of war on Covid-19

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By COSMAS MUTAVA

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A 700,000-strong workforce of guards in the private security providers continue to fill extra-routine roles since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country.Though not gazetted essential service providers, guards play volunteer roles in crowd control to safeguard people — from ensuring the safety of residents and workers at homes, offices and factories and shoppers at malls to patrolling premises and taking the temperature of visitors or managing logistics for patients in quarantine centres and critical care units.Besides, the men and women in uniform play an outstanding role as frontline workers, complementing the medical emergency response, as guardrooms have been turned into triages to support the new safety policies and guidelines.GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVESPrivate security firms have stepped up to the challenge of implementing government directives through provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs) to their guards.In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, private security firms have trained guards in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.They also update the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus through monitoring and screening of weapons and tracking of persons with an abnormally high temperature.In partnership with entities such as the Private Security Congress, National Counter-Terrorism and OptiWatch, PSIA is developing a Covid-19 Command and Communication Centre for Private Security to keep guards safe through adoption of cloud technology on cellular networks to convey information and instructions.The President recently announced a Sh53.7 billion stimulus package to revive the economy, which has been slowed down by the pandemic, by supporting micro and small businesses and vulnerable Kenyans.As most businesses reopen, that will rekindle their partnership with private security firms for the safety and security of their homes and businesses, as well as back-to-business Covid disinfection and testing. HIGH RISK OFFICERS During these unprecedented times, the government should pivot on private security firms doubling as safety providers from Covid-19 alongside their traditional role of enhancing safety and loss prevention, which is no longer a sole focus.While guards often receive a supply of sanitisers, facemasks and other PPEs, they are high-risk protection officers.They require extra protection as they work in public and patrol deserted streets, especially during the overnight curfew, as most other people rest at home.Distinctively, guards work behind the scenes to support critical infrastructure against the rapidly spreading virus.They deserve to be regarded as frontline heroes who deserve recognition by the government.The government should set aside Covid-19 allowances for them, not only to improve their livelihood but also heighten the care package from contracting coronavirus infections.Yet, at the end of their respective shift, guards go back to their families, putting their loved ones at risk.A report by the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) cites men working as security guards as having among the highest Covid-19 infection rates, with 45.7 deaths per 100,000.Let us safeguard those who guard us.Mr Mutava is the chairman, Protective Security Industry Association (PSIA). [email protected]

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