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The Response of the Kenyan Government to COVID-19

Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease of 2019, there have been different measures taken around the world to combat and mitigate the disease. The disease has become a global pandemic prompting different measures including limited social gatherings and enforcement of various related restrictions.

The coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) is a communicable respiratory disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus that causes illness in humans. The disease spreads from person to person through infected air droplets that are projected during sneezing or coughing. It can also be transmitted when humans have contact with hands or surfaces that contain the virus and touch their eyes, nose, or mouth with the contaminated hands.

The first case of COVID-19 was first reported in China before it spread throughout the world.

By January 15th, 2020, there are 93.5 million COVID-19 cases in the world. Out of the total, there are 66.8 million recoveries and 2 million deaths. In Kenya, there are 98.6 thousand reported cases with 81.9 thousand being recoveries and the deaths totalling to 1,723.

The first case of COVID-19 in Kenya was reported in March 2020. Before that, the Kenyan government was lax with the response to the disease. There was a great uproar in the country when the government allowed a China Southern Airlines flight to land in Kenya with 239 people on board, despite other countries taking measures to restrict flights from China and other countries considered to be COVID-19 hotbeds.

The flight occasioned a decision by the Kenya government to resume flights to China despite the pandemic. Kenyans took to social media to express their frustrations with the government. They questioned the preparedness of the government to deal with COVID-19, by resuming flights to China, which was the hotbed of the disease, when other African countries were restricting or completely ceasing their flights to the country (China).

It took a lawsuit from the High Court to temporarily halt the flights to China over the coronavirus outbreak. The presiding judge, had this to say.

“I find that unless conservatory orders sought are granted Kenyans will continue to be exposed to the deadly disease coronavirus.”

Judge James Makau

Meanwhile, at the time, more than 100 Kenyan students were stranded in China due to the outbreak. Kenya was among the East African countries at the time that adamantly refused to bring home students, instead choosing to support them with essential supplies, while “closely monitoring the situation”.

Yet, it was a grave decision for the government to be lax at the time. Even the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) stresses on the gravity of the issue when it says the following–

But COVID-19 is much more than a health crisis. By stressing countries like Kenya, the pandemic has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crises that will leave deep scars.

Every day, people are losing jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normality will return…

United Nations Development Programme
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Kenyan government’s response to COVID-19

The response by the Kenyan Government to COVID-19 has been aimed towards mitigating the political, economic, social and human effects and impacts of the disease. The Kenyan government has taken and continues to take several decisive steps to limit the human and economic impact of the pandemic. These decisions range from monetary measures, fiscal stimulus proposals, individual relief and official actions by governmental agencies and regulators.

However, the effectiveness of these measures has been put into question from some quarters who feel like the government is not doing enough to combat the effects of COVID-19.

On 25th March 2020, the President delivered a national address on the State’s intervention to cushion Kenyans against the economic effects of COVID-19. Among the measures proposed are as follows.

First, the National Treasury was to implement immediate reliefs and increase disposable income to the people through:

  • 100% Tax Relief for persons earning a gross monthly income of up to KES 24,000;
  • reduction of Income Tax Rate (Pay-As-You-Earn) from 30% to 25%;
  • reduction of Resident Income Tax (Corporation Tax) from 30% to 25%;
  • reduction of the turnover tax rate from 3% to 1% for all Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs);
  • appropriation of an additional KES 10 Billion to the elderly, orphans and other vulnerable members of our society through cash-transfers by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, to cushion them from the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • temporary suspension of the listing with Credit Reference Bureaus (CRB) of any person, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and corporate entities whose loan account fall overdue or is in arrears, effective 1st April 2020.
  • the immediate reduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 16% to 14%, effective 1st April 2020.

Second, all Ministries and Departments were to ensure the payment of at least of KES 13 Billion of the verified pending bills, within three weeks from 25th March 2020.

Third, the Kenya Revenue Authority was to expedite the payment of all verified VAT refund claims amounting to KES 10 Billion within 3 weeks; or in the alternative, allow for offsetting of Withholding VAT, to improve cash flows for businesses.

Fourth, the lowering of the Central Bank Rate (CBR) to 7.25% from 8.25% which would prompt commercial banks to lower the interest rates to their borrowers, availing the much needed and affordable credit to MSMEs across the country.

Fifth, the lowering of the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) to 4.25 per cent from 5.25 per cent, which would provide additional liquidity of KES 35 Billion to commercial banks to directly support borrowers that are distressed as a result of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other measures the President announced for the government’s response to COVID-19 are as follows.

  • That KES 1 billion from the Universal Health Coverage kitty be immediately appropriated towards the recruitment of additional health workers to support in the management of the spread of COVID-19. The Ministry of Health, the County Governments and the Public Service Commission were to expedite the recruitment process.
  • A voluntary reduction in the salaries of the senior ranks of the National Executive, in the spirit of sharing the burden occasioned by COVID-19, as follows:
    • The President & Deputy President – 80%;
    • Cabinet Secretaries – 30%;
    • Chief Administrative Secretaries – 30%;
    • Principal Secretaries – 20%
  • Encouraging Kenyans to reduce movement and congregating in large groups to support the efforts of Medical Professionals, Health Workers, Critical and Essential Services Providers, and the Government as a whole.
  • A Daily Curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. would be in effect countrywide from 27th March 2020, with all movement by persons not authorised to do so or not being Medical Professionals, Health Workers, Critical and Essential Services Providers, being prohibited between those hours.
  • Encouraging basic changes in individual behaviour and hygiene to curb the spread of COVID-19 such as-
    • heeding the guidance by the Ministry of Health on self-quarantine and social distancing.
    • washing hands frequently with hand sanitisers or soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
    • covering one’s nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or flexed elbow;
    • avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.

Deloitte has a document expounding on these measures introduced by the government.

On 6th May 2020, the President introduced further measures to enhance those already put in place, These measures primarily dealt with limiting mobility within the country to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the extension of curfew and mandatory testing for truck drivers coming from outside the country.

There are other measures which the government has put in place as a response to COVID-19, and you can find them compiled by this tracker by Bowmans that was last updated on 10th November 2020. It contains a comprehensive list of all the measures the government of Kenya has taken in response to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The Kenya Law website has also compiled directives, policies and laws that touch on public health, fiscal policies, social status (behavioral) and the administration of justice that have been passed, cited and used by the Government since the 13th of March 2020 when the 1st case of the COVID-19 was reported in Kenya.

The question that remains now is how effective have these measures by the Kenyan government in response to COVID-19 been? A study by BMC Medicine on the impact of COVID-19 control measures on social contacts and transmission in Kenyan informal settlements was done 4 weeks after the Kenyan government introduced enhanced physical distancing measures and a curfew between 7 pm and 5 am. It aimed to show the impact of COVID-19 and control measures on income and food security. The study shows that COVID-19 control measures have had a large impact on direct contacts and therefore transmission, but have also caused considerable economic and food insecurity.

The government’s response to COVID-19 in Kenya has also faced challenges. The first is human rights violations by law enforcers charged with enforcing the COVID-19 restrictions. The mandate of the police has expanded to include including enforcing public health issues related to COVID-19 which has resulted in several human rights violations especially in low-income areas. In the first five days alone of a curfew in Kenya, at least seven people were killed and 16 hospitalized as a result of police operations.

There has also been widespread corruption linked to the misappropriation of funds meant for the response of COVID-19. Kenyan investigators recommended the prosecution of at least 15 top government officials and businesspeople over the alleged misuse of millions of dollars meant for buying Covid-19 medical supplies. The probe uncovered evidence of tenders being allegedly given to politically connected individuals and businesses. The government ordered an investigation following a public outcry.

Health workers have also been working under risky conditions whereby several of them have succumbed to COVID-19 in the line of duty, which has been blamed on government neglect. Health workers have complained about a shortage of public protective equipment (PPE) which puts their lives at risk. In August 2020, health workers went on strike over poor working conditions and lack of supplies, they went to work later, but are currently again on strike.

Shortage of mass testing equipment for COVID-19 has been another challenge. There have also been reports of some health centres, especially private ones, forging COVID-19 results for unethical profit. The limited capacity of county governments to handle the pandemic, including the shortage of resources has also hampered the response on COVID-19.

While there has been a collaboration between the national and county governments in the response against the pandemic, including receipt of over KES 1.2 billion from donors, it seems that much remains to be done in the response to COVID 19. There is need to take urgent proactive measures to curb the increase in COVID-19 cases, especially with the recent measures the government made to relax restrictions to alleviate the economic impact on low-income households, which has exacerbated the situation.