Nairobi, Kenya – With limited resources and insufficient beds in intensive care units (ICUs), many African governments are looking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible. In almost every East African country, cases have been confirmed.
Kenya on Thursday reported its first death from COVID-19, while the total number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 31. All international flights are suspended, and a curfew from 7pm to 5am is in place.
According to the United Nations, the African continent is seeing an “extremely rapid evolution” of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kenya is known for its matatus – minibuses that often transport more people than they have seats. The vehicles are typically used by millions of Kenyans on a daily basis. But amid fears that the informal network could be a weak link in the fight against the coronavirus, Kenyan authorities have issued a series of directives for matatu companies.
All matatus now have to provide hand-sanitisers for all passengers before entering. Vehicles need to be cleaned twice a day and long-distance operators are asked to keep a detailed list of all their passengers. In order to prevent contamination, Kenyan officials have said that 14-seater matatus will carry only eight passengers, and vehicles that carry more than 30 passengers will carry not more than 60 percent of their capacity.
But with the country not in lockdown, Kenyans continue to go to work, while many people have jobs that cannot be done from home. For some, a day without work would mean a day without food.
In an interview with Kenyan newspaper The Star, Cabinet Secretary for Transport James Macharia said matatu companies have to act now. “I have been telling the matatu associations that if this thing hits us hard, there will be nobody to carry. They must invest themselves to ensure their business model is sustained,” he said.
And so, among many drivers and matatu touts who are not yet taking precautions, some matatu staffers in Nairobi’s Westlands matatu terminal are wearing face masks as they disinfect their buses and clean their passengers’ hands.
“Many people will not be able to afford to go to the hospital. And if you can’t seek medical attention, you will die. We are taking every measure seriously,” said one driver.