Covid-19 deadly third wave in Kenya sparks gradual shut-down

Thursday March 25 2021
Passengers in a crowded matatu

Passengers in a crowded matatu on Thika Road in Nairobi sit close to one another yesterday in blatant violation of Covid-19 rules on social distancing pictured. PHOTO | NMG

By Nation Team

The surging third wave of Covid-19 in Kenya is slowly shutting down both public and private institutions, as the virus holds sway amid soaring deaths and infections.

From national government departments to public sector corporations, county governments to their assemblies, key services are grinding to halt as workers are quietly being sent home.

From Monday next week, the national government and counties will start scaling down their operations as they battle to stop the virus that had killed 2,066 people by Wednesday.

The Ministry of Labour and the Public Service Commission (PSC) have already directed public servants to begin rotational work shifts to maintain social distance in the offices. The skeleton staff will only offer critical services, indicating that the public may not be fully served.

In the internal memo signed by PSC chief executive officer Simon Rotich and dated March 21, the commission will start operating at 50 percent capacity beginning Monday.

Scaling down activities


The staff will work on a one-to-two-week shifts in which they will alternate between the workplace and home to reduce crowding and unnecessary human contact.

Last week, the Labour ministry also ordered its staff to scale down field activities as the vulnerable, including those aged above 58 years, work from home.

“… duty rosters (should be) developed to reduce congestion in offices. Government offices should remain open both at headquarters and field offices,” a March 18 circular by Labour Principal Secretary Nelson Marwa reads in part.

Private companies in Nairobi, including manufacturers and media houses, have also started scaling down their operations, with some staff ordered to work remotely.

In Nandi, multi-national tea companies have enforced strict regulations including introduction of tea plucking machines and working in shifts to avoid crowding.

These new measures are likely to hit businesses hard as the public braces for lack of some non-essential services in the public sector. 

Banned public gatherings

In September, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance released a report showing that 13 percent of businesses that shut during the first and second waves of the pandemic are yet to reopen, as many struggle to recover.

Nyeri County has scaled down operations at its headquarters amid fears of full-blown Covid-19 crisis. The county government has banned public gatherings, meetings, and trainings for 30 days. Also, all food handlers are to be re-tested and will only continue working after being certified Covid-19 free.

Some 1, 364 out of 5,377 tested cases have turned positive since the first case was reported in the county. In Mandera, the county last week temporarily closed the Treasury department for fumigation after a member of staff tested positive for the virus.

County Finance and Planning CEC Ibrahim Barrow Hassan, who succumbed to Covid-19, was working at the same office block and had been engaging ward representatives over a supplementary budget.

Nakuru, Nyandarua, Samburu, Narok and Laikipia counties have also cut down operations.

In Homa Bay, services will be scaled down from next week. Residents seeking services from both county and national government offices have been advised to lodge service requests and file documents online.

Asked to stay away

In Vihiga County, aged workers and vulnerable groups have been asked to stay away.

In Bomet, teachers have been directed to seek services at the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) online or by telephone.

The resurgence of the virus has sparked panic in Elgeyo Marakwet, with the county government shutting down offices.

“Residents are asked to use alternative channels of communication to seek services within the county offices,” said Mr Paul Chemmuttut, the county secretary and head of county public service.

In Uasin Gishu, County Secretary Edwin Bett said they were only offering essential services such as ambulances and revenue collection.

“We are encouraging use of alternative means of communication as opposed to physical interaction such as phone calls instead of visiting the offices or mobile transactions for general services,” said Mr Bett.